She walked into my classroom on her first day, took one look at all of the books on the back wall, and said, “No. Miss, no. I hate reading.” I loved her immediately. She took a seat at a desk off to the side and shook her head before I could even introduce myself.
(Hi, I’m Ms. Laitkep, your friendly neighborhood English teacher.)
She looked around and watched the other high school students flipping books open to where they left off during their last class, and I waited, knowing she’d learn more from observing their enthusiasm than from a lecture from me about the importance of reading. She studied their faces for a few seconds, and when she realized they were lost in their books and not paying attention to her, she pulled her body away from her desk and followed me to the back of the room to choose a book of her own. I tried so hard not to smile.
She stood in front of a row of unfamiliar titles and stared for a minute, refusing to make eye contact with me. Grabbing a book, she turned it over a few times and hesitated before putting it back on the shelf.
This was her, trying, I realized. As she turned away and reached for another book, I could tell that she was afraid that she was already failing. She didn’t hate reading—she just didn’t know where to begin.
When I think about her now, I rarely picture those early days: her struggle to stay focused for more than a few minutes, her panic when asked about what she’d just read. Instead, I see her sprawled out on the carpet at the back of the room, dark hair falling over an open Bible, her head popping up to ask another question. I hear her mumbling because the timer stopped, because it’s time to reach for a bookmark and move on to the rest of the day.
When I think about her now, I don’t picture the girl who had never finished a book before. I picture the girl who learned to love the story of Scripture.
The Fear of Failure
I’ve seen it time and time again: new students take one look inside my classroom and realize it will be hard for them to hide in such a small space. They put on masks of apathy or defiance or the appearance of confidence so that their academic weaknesses won’t be exposed. As hospitalized kids in custody of Child Protective Services, my students are used to slipping in and out of group homes and residential treatment centers without anyone paying much attention to them. As they go from place to place, many of them bring along feelings of embarrassment that they’re working at a level below their peers, and anxiety that others could find out the truth.
Maybe you feel it, too. Maybe you’re entering this new year with the fear that you’re too far behind everyone else to ever catch up. Maybe you’ve given up hope of ever reading the Bible on your own because you’re scared you won’t be smart enough to understand it. Maybe you’re excited about digging into Scripture, but you don’t want anyone to know that you have no idea how to begin.
Here’s where the apostle John began: with one word. The Word. Jesus.
In John 1:1, he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John could have used countless other names for Jesus, but this name—the Word—reminds us that not only has God chosen to make Himself known, but He has done so by His Son.
All things were made through [the Word], and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:3–4)
“In Him was life,” John wrote. In Jesus is life. That’s why we have a written book about Him. John wrote “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
If your journey into the Bible this year is going to be successful, it has to start and end with the Word. We must begin with Jesus.
Start with Jesus
If you’ve been feeling like reading Scripture will be too hard for you, as though there’s no way you’ll be able to do it on your own—stop now and thank God. Knowing that we need Jesus is a gift. We can’t do this without Him, and He’s ready and able to help.
Isn’t it our weakness that shines the spotlight on our need for God’s Word? Our failure to transform ourselves that keeps us opening our Bibles for help? Isn’t it our failed attempts to see ourselves as God truly sees us that prompt us to look for Truth in the mirror of the Scriptures?
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor. 12:9)
In your weakness, you have a secret weapon: the Author of the words you’ll be reading wants to reveal Himself to you through them. He is the Truth (John 14:6). Before you sit down to read, ask God to help you understand what you’re reading, and ask Him to open your eyes to trust Jesus and obey what He says with every turn of the page.
Start with Genre
Let’s get practical. If you’re starting out this year, you don’t have to read the Bible cover-to-cover, front to back. The Bible is a library of sixty-six books broken into two major sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament leads to the arrival of Jesus, and the New Testament tells who Jesus was, what He did, and how we are to live because He came. Within those two sections is a collection of books that cover several genres. Which one should you choose?
In the classroom, I’ve found the fastest way to help students find their favorite genre is through their knowledge of Netflix. (Nothing confuses them more when I mention movies while they’re standing in front of a bookshelf.) Think about the last time that you scrolled through the curated categories while deciding what to watch. What did you pick? Drama, Documentaries, Romance, Adventure? What do you tend to skip?
The Bible contains genres like poetry, history, and narrative, among others. If you want to follow the dramatic story of Jesus’ life, start with Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. If you love music and lyrics, start with the Psalms. If you’re looking for a love story, read Ruth (you can even grab a copy of this book to help you out!).
All Scripture tells the story of Jesus. One day you’ll want to read every last page. But you don’t need to start with the book that will be hardest for you to get through. Begin with the categories God has hardwired you to enjoy, and go from there.
Start with a Friend’s Recommendation
If Netflix is not really your thing, ask your friend for her recommendation. Who do you know that loves the Bible? Text her right now and ask what her favorite book of the Bible is and why. Ask her why she thinks that one in particular is worth your time. Ask her if she minds if you send her your questions as you read. (If she doesn’t answer fast enough, my personal recommendation is to start with John. You’ve already read the first few verses in this post!)
Start with an Audiobook
You can listen to the Bible this year, and it will still count as reading. It may even help you to listen and follow along with the written words at the same time. My students who are not in the habit of reading often prefer this method, as the steady pace of a professional reader allows them to spend more time thinking about what’s happening in the text instead of tripping over words they don’t use in their everyday language. And if you find your attention wandering away from the book? Try increasing the speed; sometimes, a slightly faster pace makes it easier to follow.
Start with Thirteen Minutes
At the beginning of every class I teach, we read for thirteen minutes. Ten minutes was too short, twenty minutes too long. Fifteen seemed obvious, so we went with thirteen. With every new student, I watch how the time stretches them at first, and then they grow out of it after a few weeks have passed (and want it longer and longer and longer).
When you’re just starting out, try setting a time goal instead of a page or chapter count. Build your stamina slowly, without worrying about how much you’re finishing. Savor the time, and if that means reading the same sentence over and over again, the time will be well spent. The goal is to know the Word better by reading, not to fly through the book so fast, you miss Him along the way.
When my students walk into the room on their first day of school, they always look a little doubtful when I tell them they won’t be tested on the book they read at the beginning of class. They won’t be given a list of questions to answer before, during, and after reading. Why? Because I know that what will make them want to pick up a book long after they leave my classroom is a learned love for reading. So we practice delighting in books day after day.
Once you start reading, it won’t be long before you want to study the Bible, to go deeper in understanding the God who designed the storyline to point the way to Jesus. But you don’t have to analyze the text today: just get started.