My first job as a pastor was to take survey teams door to door, asking people about the spiritual influences in their lives and inviting them to a Bible study in their neighborhood. To my amazement, most survey respondents claimed familiarity with the Bible. Many said they had read through the Bible. However, when asked to name five books of the Bible, four of the Ten Commandments, or three of Jesus disciples they could not.
Apparently, the Bible readings people hear in church, wedding and funeral services, and spot readings here and there add up in peoples minds to reading through the Bible. This phenomenon is hardly limited to non-Christians. How many Christians have actually read through the entire Bible? How many have read it more than once or twice?
Personally, I have found a way to stay motivated and to remember what I have read. It involves setting a specific goal, something other than the general target of reading from cover to cover, and it involves reading through rapidly without breaks (about once every six months).
My goal is to investigate a particular topic or theme, and I ask for Gods direction in choosing it. Usually it is suggested by some question over which I have struggled, the answer to which will help me grow and help me help others grow. It may be finances, predestination, creation, marriage and family, government, faith, salvation, or heaven, for example. As I read I make note of every scripture verse that hits upon the theme.
As I read, I think about how these verses fit together to shape my understanding of that theme. Later, when additional personal questions about that theme arise, I can go back to my notes and prayerfully look through the listed verses once again.
In describing my approach I do NOT wish to imply that its a one-size-fits-all (a misnomer if I ever heard one). We are all different. Our learning styles, reading speeds, and retention capacities are different. I just want to encourage each reader to find a method that is challenging, fulfilling, and thus sustainable.
As I travel from place to place, I observe a growing hunger among believers and non-believers to discuss the relationship between facts and faith, to consider what we know and how we know about God and His good news. Lets all get better prepared!