Reading the Bible cover to cover in a systematic order is a great way to acquaint oneself with the teachings and overarching story of God's redemption, and every Christian should make it a habitual practice. It is good for Christian devotion.
That is if one doesn't skim.
Skimming over or getting stuck at "boring" passages is something we all seem to face. We might be prone to think we're done with our Bibles for the day after reading a chapter or two, or we don’t see the theological and devotional properties of most passages, and so we skim. What ends up happening for many Christians is a shallow palate for the Bible.
The Bible is meant to be read deeply; not for verses to be raked over as one does leaves on a brisk autumn day, but mined as one does for gold. It is difficult for most to read the whole Bible this way in 365 days, so it might be a better idea to read it in two years, or three. That is just a suggestion, but the goal should be to read the Bible deeper, not faster.
The question, then, is: How do we read the Bible deeply?
Let me begin by pointing out three errors many make when trying to read the Bible deeper. They can creep into our Bible reading and cloud our understanding.
1. The Word Hunt
This error happens when the reader finds a word in the verse and goes on a hunt to find the same word everywhere else in the Bible. There is a time and place for word studies, but only to supplement the study of the context and meaning of the passage in which it's located. The word hunt can be dangerous when the reader does not first think about the definition of the word beforehand. If they use a definition of a word that does not fit the context of the word, it throws everything into confusion and they will more than likely unintentionally twist the Scripture.
2. Disconnected Stories and Laws
Another error is to read the Bible as a disconnected collection of stories, historical events, poetry and commands. Think about Abraham's faith. Is it just a story about a man with great faith to be emulated? No. It is a story about God choosing a people to bring about the promised redemption. Or think about David. There are many stories in his life we could separate and pick apart to find various applications, but do we think about him as a type of Christ; the king of God's people whose failures reveal the need for a better king? What about the commands? Should we legalistically attempt to gain our righteousness through them, or realize our need for Jesus' righteousness by them? If we do not read the Bible in light of the grand story, we disconnect the stories and laws from their divine intention for us.
3. The Quick Application
This is the what-this-verse-means-to-me-schtick. I remember hearing a preacher begin his sermon on one of those ‘forgettable’ stories in the Old Testament by pointing out our need for everything in the Bible because we don’t fully know what is truly relevant to us. We need everything in God's Word because it is God's Word, and God knows what we need to hear. When we place ourselves in the story before understanding the story as it is, we lose out on real, deep, sanctifying application.
3 Steps to Reading Your Bible Deeper
Biblical literacy does not come easily or automatically when you become a Christian. Many Christians struggle with comprehending what they read in the Bible, and when they arrive at the end of Revelation, find they haven't grown too much in their understanding. But we are called to grow, to understand more, and to go deeper into the Bible. You will find many instances throughout the Bible where holistic, in-depth teaching over a long time is encouraged and even commanded. So, don't worry if these three steps take some time to apply.
I've narrowed it down to three for easier application. They are not everything there is to studying your Bible, but they will aid you as you set out to read your Bible deeper.
1. What is the point of the passage?
When you read a chapter or a select passage of Scripture, stop and ask yourself what this passage would mean if you never existed. That is probably the best way to figure out what the passage means. But it will probably be the most difficult.
This step requires you to let both the divine author and human authors tell you what they intended by the words used, their proper definitions, and the context in which they used them. You will have to look out for verse and chapter breaks so that they don't get in the way of you finding the main point. Verse and chapter breaks are helpful, no doubt, but they can also hinder you from finding what a verse or chapter means because the next verse or chapter might give you the answer.
Essentially, don’t miss the forest for the trees by digging so deep into what a word means that you miss what it means combined with the words around it. Don't miss the trees for the forest, either, by looking so much at the big picture that you miss the details of the words. Find the point of the passage by carefully paying attention to how the words interact with each other.
2. How does this passage fit into God's plan of redemption?
The message of the whole Bible is God's redemption of sinners. From Genesis 3:15, redemption begins to unfold in shadow form until we get to the New Testament. From there, we see it unfold in its application to sinners. When reading through the Bible, two simple questions will help you calibrate your understanding to center on the gospel.
(a) Where does this passage fit in the unfolding of redemption?
This question will help you find historical grounding for the gospel. Take the story of David and Goliath. It sits in the part of the Old Testament where God's people are an established nation, having conquered much of the promised land. They finally have a king in Saul, but they are still not at peace in the land. They are fighting the Philistines who intimidate them with a giant warrior named Goliath. You know how the story goes: the underdog ends up defeating the giant. But what does the story mean for us? If we look at how the story fits into God's story, it becomes less of an example for us in defeating the giants in our lives and more of a story of how God rescues His people and defeats the enemy, ultimately showing us another picture of how Genesis 3:15 will be fulfilled.
(b) How does it point to Christ and salvation?
The second crucial point we have to think about when reading the Bible is reading it in a Christ-centered way. After all, the whole story of redemption is about Him. Everything points to Him and everything is fulfilled in Him. Let's look at the story of David and Goliath again and ask, how does it point us to Christ? It is the story of David, an unsuspected hero, who stands against the enemy in the place of God's people and defeats it. On the cross, Jesus stood against the enemy of sin and Satan in the place of God's people and defeated it. The story of David is a foreshadowing or typology of the reality of our salvation through Jesus. That is ultimately how you go deeper in reading the Bible.
3. What should I be thankful for?
I remember the poor advice I received as a teenager when I wished to really know what God wanted to tell me. I was told to randomly open my Bible and place a finger on the page, and that was it. The problem was, if it wasn't relevant to me at the time, I should just try again. What made it poor advice apart from the obvious misuse of Scripture was the underlying selfish attitude that the only things in the Bible relevant to me were the things telling me what to do.
Don't get me wrong, there is plenty the Bible tells us to do—and we should listen and obey it! But the Bible tells us more. It gives us doctrine to believe and set down as a firm foundation. It gives us promises for our assurance, hope, and peace. It gives us a lot more than things to do. So, perhaps it would be good this year to take a break from always asking what you should do, and add the question, "What should I be thankful for?"