Nothing has been better for my consistency in God’s Word- leading to greater intimacy with God and understanding of Him- than reading through the Bible each of the last two years.
I think the reason it is so helpful is simple, in the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne:
“Time will not be wasted in choosing what portions to read. Here the question will be solved at once in a very simple manner.”
That’s it. Not having to decide what I’m going to read every morning- I just open up and let the calendar tell me what to read – is enough to reduce the friction on the tracks to get me going.
Some tips and helpful tools:
Use a plan where you read from multiple parts of the Bible every day- that keeps you from getting bogged down in more difficult books (I’m looking at you Major Prophets). The Navigators and Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan are excellent. The Navs plan has 25 days/month to give you some grace days. M’Cheyne’s method is everyday and reads through the NT and Psalms twice in a year, which I modify to read the NT and Psalms only once – which makes it more like 2-3 chapters/day instead of 4 which I find to be more doable.
I highly recommend DA Carson’s For the Love of God Volumes I & II. Carson provides commentary and reflections on each day’s scriptural passages in the M’Cheyne plan. I just wake up and open up For the Love of God on my Kindle. It tells me what to read, and then gives me a brief commentary on what I read. It’s almost always insightful, and always short. For the Love of God is also available for free online.
Dr. Constable’s is like a best-of-commentary: he does all the heavy lifting, reading all the commentaries and presenting to you the best of what he found to be helpful. He’s my go-to commentary when I don’t understand a passage and he almost never disappoints. Just google “Constable Philippians” or whatever book you’re reading and it will be the first Google result.
The Bible Project has phenomenal, short (8 minute) summary videos for every book in the Bible. They illuminate how each book of the Bible tells one story of redemption through Christ.
You don’t have to start at the beginning of the year in January. And you don’t even have to finish the Bible in a calendar year (though it IS very doable; and having a measure of my progress spurs me on to keep going and not fall behind).
I’ve had several friends push back on reading through the Bible in a year (RTtBiaY). They’ve said that it led them to duty instead of delight. They felt that they were merely checking boxes, rushing through the daily reading to get it done.
All I can say is that it has had the opposite effect for me. Maybe it’s personality differences. For me, RTtBiaY has been incredibly motivating and life giving. I’ve found it also helps to give yourself plenty of time: if you only have 15 minutes to read, RTtBiaY will feel like duty and a checklist. But if you have 30min-hour, you can really soak in the Scriptures.
I’ve found a regular time in God’s Word, making regular process plodding through the entire Bible does not produce a rut but freedom. John Piper offers great insight on routine and structure in your Quiet Time:
“If your longing is to be spontaneous in the way you commune with God, then build discipline into your Bible reading and prayer. It sounds paradoxical. But it’s no more so than the paradox of corn spontaneously growing in a Minnesota field because of the farmer’s discipline of plowing and sowing and guarding the field. He doesn’t make the corn grow. God does. But God uses his farming disciplines as part of the process. The rich fruit of spontaneity grows in the garden that is well tended by the discipline of schedule.”
Tim Keller, John Piper, my wife… All the great spiritual giants recommend RTtBiaY as a daily Quiet Time plan.
My only regret is that I haven’t been doing this for the past two decades that I’ve been walking with God. Early on in walking with God I read through the Bible annually. But somewhere along the way I stopped.
May we see Jesus more clearly in 2017 as we soak in God’s Word this year!
What tools and tips do you have that have helped you read God’s Word?
The past couple of years I’ve made a conscious effort to shift from less input to deeper reading.
I’m reading less blogs, bookmarking less web pages and reading more books (yes, I appreciate the irony that you are reading this on a blog).
It started in 2011 when I read Tim Challies’ book The Next Story. He illuminated a huge idol in my heart (and I believe a chief idol of our age)- informationism:
We have begun to believe that the accumulation of information somehow leads to wisdom, that more information will solve society’s ills and improve our lives. We place our faith in information.
We find joy and life in that information – not in using that information or turning that information into useful action, but simply in its constant flow.
Without the distraction of dealing with vast amounts of information and without overtaxing our brains with hundreds of sources of information, we will have the time to know more about less.
Success in life “is not in the accumulation of facts, but in living a life marked by wisdom, by the application of knowledge.”
What we are finding is that more information does not necessarily lead to more wisdom. In fact, the very opposite may be true.
More information may lead to less wisdom.
That last sentence rocked me. My voracious reading of new blogs and articles is actually making me less wise.
I want to know more about less. It was actually the very secular BBC that reminded me that, primarily, that means I need to read less “news” and soak in God’s Word more:
One of the more embarrassing difficulties of our age is that most of us have quite lost the ability to concentrate, to sit still and do nothing other than focus on certain basic truths of the human condition. We are reluctant to admit that we are simply swamped with information and have lost the ability to make sense of it.
The prestige of the news is founded on the unstated assumption that our lives are forever poised on the verge of a critical transformation. Contrast this with how religions think of what is important. The great stable truths can be carved into stone rather than swilling malleably across hand-held screens. Rather than letting us constantly catch up on “news”, religions prefer to keep reminding us of the same old things.
It is not by reading more, but by deepening and refreshing our understanding of a few volumes that we best develop our intelligence and our sensitivity.
We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than St Augustine or Dante, thereby ignoring that our problem lies squarely with our manner of absorption rather than with the extent of our consumption.
This clip from Portlandia was me in 2009-2013 (and probably me still!):
Here’s what that has looked like for me. I have over 3,000 unread pages saved in Pocket (a save-to-read-later service)!
Not sure when this “later” is when I’m going to find time to read them.
In 2013 I bookmarked 1,500 sites that I never got around to reading. At that point, I was literally checking 75 blogs every week. I even blogged about why you should read a lot of blogs http://www.timcasteel.com/blogs/how-and-why-to-subscribe-to-blogs/! I still read blogs but almost exclusively blogs related to college ministry (my field of work)
In 2014, I had 1,000 unread bookmarked pages.
And 500 in 2015. If you do the math, that’s not exactly a trickle – I’m still bookmarking almost 2 pages a day. But it’s progress!
I’m replacing those “must read” late-breaking-this-is-going-to-change-your-life blogposts and articles with the slow, harder work of reading a book. Trading candy for meat. Books make me slow down and absorb information instead of just letting information go in one ear and out the other.
If I could choose only one habit to pursue growth it would be to develop a love for books. Reading requires focus and commitment. But the payoff is huge. If you want to jumpstart your leadership growth, spend at least thirty minutes a day reading
A few steps I’m taking to read more:
I’m tracking how many books I read each year
I don’t necessarily want a goal of number-of-books-read because, again, the goal is not more information input. It’s deeper, slower reading. Last year I read 17 books. And I want to read more this year. But I feel like a goal will make me rush through books instead of slowly absorbing them.
I’m not finishing every book I start
I’ve found one of the easiest ways to read more is to take advantage of dead time in my schedule – like driving. 15 minutes here and there really adds up. So I sucked it up and subscribed to Audible.com (a ridiculous $22/month for two books). I listen at 1.25 speed and can get through two books in a month.
I’m committed to reading every night. A couple of years ago my wife introduced the new rule of “no blue light an hour before bed” = no checking twitter or reading online. I’m thankful for God’s grace through her! It made me take up the habit of reading before bed every night. A great side-effect: when my head hits the pillow I’m asleep in seconds.
The trick is finding when to read the right kind of book:
In the morning I read a spiritually developmental book (right now I’m reading John Piper’s Bloodlines on ethnicity and racial reconciliation). I need to carve out more time for this category. I rarely read during the day.
In the car on audiobook I can’t listen to any book that I want to take notes on. I need a book that can just wash over me. That’s more of a story/biography. Shadow of the Almighty – the story of martyred missionary Jim Elliott was perfect. Though there’s plenty of quotes I’d want to underline, I’ve read it enough times that I can just let the story and Jim’s singleminded pursuit of Christ and the Great Commission wash over me. How We Got To Now was also a great one for audiobook. VERY interesting stories of the 6 most important innovations – great stuff to inspire your thinking and own innovation. But nothing much that I’d need to write down to remember.
At night, again, I can’t read any book that I’d want to underline or take notes on or that will get my brain’s gears turning. At night my goal is to unwind. So I stick mostly with biographies that inspire. “Readers of good books, particularly books of biography and history, are preparing themselves for leadership. Not all readers become leaders. But all leaders must be readers.” Harry Truman
In the last post I looked at the value of conferences for the development of our staff – as an opportunity to get to know other leaders and grow our network of advisors.
In our organization (Cru) most staff love staff conferences, but there’s definitely seasons where staff get conferenced out. On top of our staff conferences, we typically have 4-5 student conferences that we put on every year (August Leadership Retreat, Fall Retreat, Winter Conference, January Leadership Retreat, Spring Break trip/conference).
It seems that a lack of enthusiasm for staff conferences comes from three sources:
They take us off campus
We have to pay for them
Here’s some ideas on how we can look at each of these and make conferences better for our staff.
They take us off campus
This, for me, is the biggest cost of conferences.
In moderation, I think conferences are a great investment (see previous post). But we’ve had seasons where our staff are off campus every other week all spring for various regional conferences. And it kills our momentum in our ministry to college students. Conferences were made for staff, not staff for conferences.
Particularly for more isolated campuses (I live in Northwest Arkansas) travel to and from any conference costs me two days. That’s before we even get to the conference.
We need higher-up leaders to help protect the local level from unnecessary conferences. Because the reality is there’s often not communication between the different regional/national leaders as to how many conferences we are asking our staff to go to. Someone needs to step up and say, do we really need this conference? Could we accomplish this objective in another, less costly way?
Maybe they do this already, but maybe regional leadership could keep a 12-month view of a typical staff’s year, a typical Team Leader’s year, a typical intern’s year, and think through how often they’re off campus.
We have to pay for them
To be blunt, that’s why you raise support. To be able to develop as a minister of the gospel. Not to be cheap. You can be bitter about having to pay for all those conferences. But your life in full time ministry will be FAR more enjoyable if you just suck it up raise enough support to account for conferences.
BUT, Team leaders – consider investing financially in your staff’s conferences. It communicates “We believe in you, and think you’re a great investment! We want to invest in your training give you time to pull away and sharpen your saw.” For our region’s Field Training in February we’re investing $200 in each of our staff. Hopefully they feel the love and see the week as an opportunity rather than an obligation.
I wonder if we should make more conferences optional. It would definitely affect how people come into the conferences (begrudgingly or eager to learn). I understand that there are some conferences we need everyone at. But there are some that we don’t.
The danger in mandatory conferences is a lack of excellence and making them worth it. If we made some conferences optional, it would force us to make them worth it – to make them useful enough that staff would pay to be there! It’s what we do on the local level – every conference is “optional” for students so we work our tails off to 1) make them excellent and 2) convince students of the benefit of the conference for their growth. Consequently, every year our student conferences are greatly improving. Because the free market forces us to innovate and improve.
It’d be great if we could integrate our conferences with the New Staff Development (NSD) that interns and staff already have to complete. If by going to the Sent Conference, that is required for all Interns, they could have checked off a complete module of development (because really, that’s better content/development than the 8-12 hours of official NSD they would be doing, and the same amount of time). That might help interns/staff see how a conference is moving them forward, helping them progress in their development.
We should heed this wisdom from Brian Virtue: “Eliminate any of them that can even remotely have their objectives met in an online context or distance format. If you can do it without forcing people to travel and spend time away from their family and context, then you should. If you’re doing it because it’s always been done or because it’s a source of income then you’re behind the times and contributing to oppression by conference.” (it would be worth reading all of Brian’s thoughts on conferences here).
What are your thoughts? How can we improve how we do staff conferences?
Cru staff sometimes joke about us being Campus Crusade for Conferences (OK, I may have been that guy), like this tongue-in-cheek tweet:
But this is great vision for the value of staff conferences:
One of the biggest examples of investing for the long run for the knowledge worker is attending conferences. I believe that all knowledge workers should go to every conference they can because these are prime opportunities to connect with people and share ideas — the essence of knowledge work. But many think that going to a conference is a luxury or a bonus, something to do only if you can get your other, “real” work done. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Going to conferences is a key part of the work of any leader and manager. It is one of the many intangibles that define the essence of knowledge work in our day.
I’m not saying sign up for every conference you can go to. Mostly, take advantage of the conferences you HAVE to go to!
For me, it’s not the content of the conference. I have been tremendously impacted by the people I’ve met at conferences. They have formed my loose-knit, non-official network of advisors. Quick conversations at conferences have opened up to me a wealth of wisdom and college-ministry-know-how. Both the content learned in those conference interactions and the open doors for future phone calls and emails to learn over the years.
Big, generic leadership conferences like Catalyst have not been as helpful as targeted college ministry conferences (in Cru, it’s our regional and national staff conferences; and our Team Leader conferences). Again, because what is beneficial is not the content (which was great at Catalyst) but the conversations and meeting other college ministry leaders.
My boss (Tim Norman – Cru National Director for the Red River Region) shared with me a conversation he recently had with a UT professor who is an expert in leadership:
“I told him about one of the challenges of leading in a non profit is not being able to reward people–there are no bonuses for a job well done. One of the things he suggested was investing in the training of your people.”
Our region is having a week long “Field Training” in February for many of our staff. What if, instead of bemoaning having to be off campus for a week, staff saw that week as an investment in their professional development and expanding their network of advisors?
This is great Biblical insight from Tim Norman (that he recently shared as the Missional Team Leaders (MTL’s) prepared to pull off campus for a conference:
Paul makes a passing comment in 2 Cor 2:12-13 that has intrigued me over the last 4-5 years. He writes “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on toMacedonia.” When Paul arrived in Troas to gospelize the area; the Lord opened up a door for him—a door of evangelistic fruit. Yet, Paul pulled away from a fruitful ministry, which is something I would have never imagined him doing. But, he expressed concern for his fellow laborer, Titus, and he wanted to know what the Lord was doing in the Corinthian church (this was the message that Titus was to give to Paul). This is one of the many passages that highlights that Paul was so networked into a first-century gospel network. Paul was plugged in to connections that went beyond himself and his concerns were beyond what stood in his face. He valued hearing from those who co-worked the gospelization of the world with him and wanted to hear the news of what the Lord was doing whether good or bad, whether prayer-letter worthy or something we’d all just as soon forget.
One of the aims of the upcoming MTL conference is that the Lord would use it to refresh you and create a place where you can be with fellow laborers, who like you have been making themselves ‘slaves to all so that you might win some.’ Some of us have seen great fruit this Fall. Some of us have experienced a difficult and puzzling Fall. We trust that this time will give you a chance to hear from your friends about what God is doing, to share our joys and our struggles. Across the region you’ve been leading staff and students to trust Jesus more and to encourage them to take steps of faith that they would have never imagined. That’s hard work. We trust that our time will refresh you in the midst of your labor, which is not in vain.
In the next post I want to look at three reasons why there is a lack of enthusiasm for staff conferences – time, money, and mandatory – and what we can do about it.