Podcast: Habits for Better Bible Reading (Drew Hunter)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

A Life Saturated with Scripture

In this episode, Drew Hunter discusses advice for Christians eager to reinvigorate, or maybe jumpstart for the first time, a consistent Bible-reading habit. He reflects on how to avoid viewing time in God's word as merely a task on a checklist, shares his thoughts on the pros and cons of reading plans, and highlights the importance of seeing God's word as one unified story culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ and why that perspective fundamentally changes how we read Scripture.

Unfolding Grace

Featuring 40 Scripture selections coupled with easy-to-understand introduction paragraphs, Unfolding Grace helps readers grasp the overall storyline of redemption as it unfolds throughout the Bible.

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | RSS

Topics Addressed in This Interview:

01:46 - Motivation for Bible Reading in the Christian Life

Matt Tully
Drew, thank you so much for joining me on The Crossway Podcast today.

Drew Hunter
Thanks for having me. It's great to be with you.

Matt Tully
Today we're going to talk about Bible study and the goal that we as Christians have to get into the word on a regular basis, to love God's word, to read God's word with understanding, and to go deeper in our appreciation for what he has said to us. But I think it's one of those topics that often provokes, in many people, different responses. For some Christians, the idea of Bible study and Bible reading can be this life-giving idea where we know how valuable it is in our own lives; but for other Christians who are maybe new to the faith or have been Christians for a long time but have struggled to really be in the word on a regular basis, it can often provoke other kinds of feelings and responses. That leads me to my first question: Where would you plot Bible study and regular Bible reading on the chart of the importance for the Christian life? There are some Christians who would say, You need to be in the Bible, reading God's word, every day—start your day with that—and if you don't do that, you're really going to be hamstringing yourself in the Christian life. If someone's struggling with some kind of sin or some kind of issue, that's the first thing they ask, Well, how's your Bible reading going? And then I think there are people on the other side of the equation who might say, I want to be careful not to overemphasize in some kind of legalistic way—maybe an unbiblical mandate—that we be reading the Bible every single day. Where would you fall on that spectrum?

Drew Hunter
That's a good question, and I'm not sure that I plot myself on a point on the spectrum, because at one level I think for those who may be on one end emphasizing that we've got to have it every morning at least a half hour, that's coming from a place of recognizing its importance; but it also could come from a place of not even recognizing just how important it is. I think of Jesus who compared God's word to a meal. He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). He was saying that in the midst of temptation, he was meditating on God's word, that itself was a quotation from the Old Testament. And then I think of it being just God's very word to us. Psalm 1 says, Meditate on it day and night (Ps. 1:2). So there's more than just Read it once a day. It's actually a Meditate on God's word day and night, throughout the day, saturate your life with God's word. So that both raises the level of how important this is to have Bible saturation in life, but it also removes the need to have specific rules of saying, You need to have thirty minutes in the morning; you need it twice a day now, or anything like that. For me, I want to keep growing and saturating myself with God's word, and then find what ways work best for my life and my season. I find myself having to reset rhythms all the time. It starts drifting and I need to find out what works for me in a new season. Part of it, I think, is recognizing that God's word is his very speech to us. It's not so much How do I block off time to get this spiritual, religious task done?. But it's I want to hear from him. And then I want to talk to him. If God himself is my Creator who knows me and loves me, I want to prioritize spending time with him in a focused way.

Matt Tully
You mentioned that it's more about a whole-life saturation in the word. It's not just about checking off a to-do list every morning. But so often it does seem like we can get pulled toward that mindset when it comes to reading our Bibles, let alone a host of other good spiritual disciplines that we might want to do. Why do you think it is, in your own opinion and experience, why is it that we're so prone to turn these things into just a checklist?

Drew Hunter
There's probably a number of reasons. Different personalities are wired a little differently, but I do think that deep down we treat these kinds of things as spiritual checklists where we can feel good about ourselves if we do them. When we reduce it to that—rather than hearing from God and being transformed by his word, when we reduce it to something that we have to get done—then we can feel good about ourselves for just having done it. And then we treat it like we treat so many other things in life that we view as just important to get them done. Make sure you mow the lawn once a week—I feel good that I've gotten it done. Make sure you read the Bible every day—got it done. So we just feel good about doing spiritual things, or then despairing and guilty if we don't do them. It's because it's detached from viewing this for what it actually is, which is hearing God himself speak to us.

Matt Tully
As you think back on your own life and think about seasons in which you struggled to be consistent in your Bible reading, whatever that looked like, did you experience discouragement and disappointment? If so, how did you work through that? I think sometimes that can be, ironically, something that keeps us from actually making progress on these things. We feel so disappointed in ourselves that we actually lack a motivation to start.

Drew Hunter
I've had many, many, many seasons like that, even recently. I have to keep coming back to what the Bible actually is, and what the heart of God's message to me is. When I return to God's word, the central message that he wants to speak to me in his word is I love you. When I confess my spiritual apathy, he says, I forgive you, and I'm happy you're back. Who wouldn't want to return to that kind of God and that kind of message? When I remember what the central message of the Bible is, that actually itself is motivating to me. And over time, that's been just a little bit more built into my instincts so that when I start to feel guilty, I think, No, God's word has proven itself so many times to give me joy, and he is so welcoming to me that I don't need to feel guilty—and he doesn't want me to feel guilty—and so I'm going to return to him. There's this motivation where I'm drawn back into God's word, but I remember who he is and what his word really is.

08:24 - Utilizing a Reading Plan

Matt Tully
One of the things that many people have found to be very helpful when it comes to their Bible reading—and I would just love to hear you comment on how it fits in with what we've been talking about—when it comes to making a habit out of Bible reading and Bible study, many people find reading plans helpful. Have you used reading plans? Have they been an important part of your own journey towards reading the Bible? How do you see them fitting into this idea that we don't want it to just be a checklist item for us?

Drew Hunter
It's important to even recognize that even with all the This isn't just a checklist thing, and it's not just get your twenty minutes in the morning done, we are built to work with rhythms in life. If we recognize that food is important, and we don't want to just say, Eat these three things in the morning and you're done, we still do build rhythms in our life. And for things that we prioritize, we schedule them, we get patterns in our life to spend time with friends or to eat or to exercise. So I think even recognizing the value of God's word—not reducing it to just something we do once a day—it still is really helpful to have patterns. I have consistently tried to have different kinds of patterns. I've never been stuck for too long with just one. The three that I end up rotating between are sometimes I'll do a Bible read-through where I'm thinking, How do I read through the whole sweep of the Bible in this next season? If I do it in a year, there's one-year reading plans that are great—there's a bunch of those. In recent years, I just did the math on my own and asked How many chapters are in the Bible? How many days are in a year? I decided I could read about four chapters a day, and then I would basically get through it in a year. There's no guilt if I don't because I'm not going to keep track; I don't have my checklists, so it's kind of a no-guilt reading plan. I started in Genesis and moved straight through. Or I've done three Old Testament chapters, one New Testament chapter, and I'll just do that everyday. And then about the end of the year, if I'm broadly consistent, I'll get through it.

Matt Tully
About how long does that take you on a daily basis?

Drew Hunter
About twenty minutes. If I'm just reading it and I have already had some coffee, I can get it done a little more quickly. Sometimes I just go slower and my mind drifts and I've got to re-engage with it again. And sometimes if I'm really curious about something, I do slow down. So I just create space for that.

10:48 - Consistency during Dry Seasons

Matt Tully
How do you balance the reality that there are seasons, when Bible reading is dry and it's hard and we have to exert some level of self-discipline and consistency, with what you're saying that we don't want it to be just a rote activity that we do. We want to be doing it for the right reasons and have the right heart, but where's the balance? Sometimes people will say, You just need to push through and do it, and that will create the feelings. But then on the other hand, if you do that too long and things don't change, it can become a pretty legalistic type of activity.

Drew Hunter
I think for me I just need to ask, Why am I feeling dry in this season? There could be a number of reasons for it. Sometimes there's no real explanation I can figure out, and I've been encouraged by others to view this as a marathon and not a series of sprints. If for five days in a row, ten days in a row, or longer than that feels broadly dry, the only way the kindling is going to get sparked is if I am just still here. This is how the Lord rekindles my spirit. So, I do just keep pushing through with my pattern even if it's dry. But other times, I do need to recognize what's going on with me that perhaps is leading me not to engage with this. There are often answers that I find. Sometimes I am really distracted. In some seasons I've realized my problem is I'm checking the news before I'm reading the Bible, and I'm checking my email, my head is cluttered with the stress and tasks to do. Then I spend too much time reading the news, so I lose the time that I had planned to be in the Bible, so now I'm kind of rushed, and I feel guilty. That can be such a pattern that I get locked into, and I just have to hit “reset” and say, Okay. For me, I'm having a hard time checking the news before the Bible, so I've just got to be disciplined to get time in the word before I do news. I read the Bible right now in the morning, which is not necessarily the plan for everybody, but I just noticed for me that's been a key way in which I can tell if I'm going to be dry or distracted is what I'm doing in that thirty minutes before I have time in the word.

12:59 - Making Bible Reading a Habit

Matt Tully
I'm curious to hear your thoughts—I recently read a book on habit formation, and there are lots of books these days on that topic. It was written from a secular perspective, not anything explicitly Christian about it. It was eye-opening to see some of the research that's gone into habit formation and the ways the human mind thinks and makes decisions and creates these habits and patterns in our lives that are then easier to fall into after a period of intentional effort. Have you explored any of that, and how do you think that relates to these areas of spiritual disciplines—starting and being consistent on something that we know is going to be spiritually good for us, but it can be really hard to get going?

Drew Hunter
I'm really glad that there's been a lot of attention on habits. It's been really enlightening for me to learn about as well, and to just make sense of how we experience life. We do form habits of even just eating a meal at a certain time; habits of gathering with family, if we have a family at home, to eat a meal. Once you get into that rhythm, you don't need to think so hard about making it happen every time because it's just set. This is why I often have to reset my habits and try to start a new one, because if I don't have any kind of habit, then any time I want to read the Bible, I'm left to my spontaneous feelings—and I did that for a season of life. I said I'm not going to have a rhythm, I'm not going to have a certain time, I'm going to do it whenever I feel like it. I felt that way in a season when I was really spiritually alert and happy and excited, but after a week when that apathy sets in, then the Bible is gone. If we have a habit, it's there for us. It's like rails on a train—the train is going to move, and it's not going to be dependent upon my fickle emotions. I'm going to get this time, and it's valuable. I don't have to think about Where am I going to do this? When am I going to do this? What's my plan? That's why I think it's helpful to have a plan, to have a place that you go to read God's word, to have a time that you usually do it. Because once you decide all of those things, you don't have to think about them everyday. You don't have to look in your schedule and just squeeze it in. It's just kind of settled in your schedule. And, of course, you need to change that all the time and reset habits, but locking into that for a time makes it easier than to focus on the actual task at hand because your mind is so free from all the other questions—What am I going to read? Where am I going to read? When am I going to read? How long am I going to read? That's already settled, so you sit down and think, I'm going to focus on what I'm reading, and I'm going to focus on the Lord here. So, habits can free you to do that.

15:49 - Can Secular Resources Benefit Our Spiritual Life?

Matt Tully
It's so interesting. I know I've learned a lot as well through some of these books. I've wrestled with—and other Christians have expressed similar things—wrestled with understanding how to bring those things together—secular, “non-Christian” insights into how we think as humans, and applying them to things like spiritual disciplines and Bible reading. I think sometimes we can have in our mind, The Bible is God's word. I know that. I believe that. I should just want to do that, and so it's really just an issue of my will and getting that in line with what God has said is important for me. We maybe look down on, or neglect, some of the more practical things like getting a good time set up ahead of time, having a plan, and having a consistent place to be. Have you ever wrestled with that kind of tension between these being spiritual activities, but then there are maybe very practical, worldly types of things that can impact us?

Drew Hunter
I think over recent years I've just seen how the Lord has made us embodied creatures, and he's made the world to operate with rhythms—he has seasons, he has sunrise and sunset, and we need sleep and rhythms. So, I've just grown in my appreciation of recognizing that I'm a creature and that so much of spiritual and physical life is integrated. If I don't get good sleep, the fruit of the Spirit ends up not being born and ripened in my life very well the next day. Sleeping, eating well, and exercising are important. For me, I actually had a season where I realized I had a gluten allergy. I didn't know it for seven years, and I was exhausted all the time, I was irritable, I was impatient. I had thought of myself as basically and loosely patient. Obviously, I needed room to grow, but it was just really hard for me. And then once I realized I had a gluten issue and changed my diet, I was like, Whoah! I feel like I have a few more seconds to control my emotions right now. It's been really helpful. So even that was helpful for me to recognize that the physical and spiritual intertwine, they interact with one another. So, knowing God through his word and prayer, we shouldn't be surprised that it could fit into rhythms of life like day and night, morning and evening, and set rhythms of time because that's just how he's made life, and it's a good thing. We can embrace that.

18:20 - What Is Christian Meditation?

Matt Tully
Another topic that we often hear in conversation about Bible study and Bible reading is the idea of meditation. I think for some Christians listening today, there might be a lot of baggage associated with that word. If you look at our broader culture, there is a lot of talk about meditation. I was just looking through the app store on my phone and I saw that there are so many apps that purport to help you meditate everyday and that give you tips for that with nice, calming music in the background and breathing exercises and all of that. What do you view Christian meditation to be, and why is that important in all of this?

Drew Hunter
I think it is really important, but you're right, we do need to ask the question, What is it, in particular, according to the Bible? The idea does come from the Bible. Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who . . . meditates on the law of the LORD . . . day and night” (Ps. 1:1-2). The way that Psalm 1 describes the result of this person who meditates on the law of the Lord day and night is really appealing and something that shows the importance of this. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, his roots are sinking deep, his leaf isn't withering, he's bearing fruit, he's stable, he's secure, he's fruitful—we want that. We need that today. Meditation is the key in Psalm 1. The question then is What is it? The word there can, if I remember right, can be translated to something like “to speak or mutter.” It's used in a lot of different contexts, so that's really a good indication that it's a speaking in your mind and heart—it's a deep thinking on God's word. So that means it's not passive. It's not just clearing our minds. It's actually filling our minds and hearts with God's word, and slowing down enough to really think it through: What does this mean? What does this mean for me? What would the Lord have me do in response to this? One of my favorite moments in the Bible where we see this is Lamentations 3. You have this man who is in complete despair, saying there's no hope. Lamentations is a very dark and sad book, and the turning point is in the middle of it—chapter 3—and the translations say something like, “But this I call to mind.” It could be translated “But this I cause to return to my heart.” Either way, the point is the same, but I love that—he's causing something to return to his heart. It's in his mind, it's in his heart, and what is it? “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases” (Lam. 3:22). That's Bible meditation. He got that from other scriptures. He's calling God's word to mind, causing it to return to his heart, and then he says, “and therefore, I have hope” (Lam. 3:21). The turning point in this man's soul happened through a moment of Bible meditation, of bringing God's word to bear in his soul and slowing down to let that happen. I want that, so that means I need to slow down with God's word, to think it through, to let it drop into my mind and heart, and then to begin to respond. So there's a very heart-level orientation here, in God's presence, with meditation.

Matt Tully
What does that look like practically for you? Some people like to walk, some people like to sit and close their eyes—are there any particular practical things that you do on a regular basis to help you meditate on God's word?

Drew Hunter
The most common way that I do that is just make sure that toward the end of my regular rhythm of Bible reading, I slow down and have time to meditate. I'll read through four chapters or so—right now I've just been working through Isaiah one chapter at a time—so I'll just slow down and return and revisit something that I read. I often always try to read a Psalm as well, so sometimes I'll use a Psalm for this. I just return to it and slow down. I've spent time reading it, I've spent time thinking about it, but I need to just sit with this. I usually just ask a few key questions—I've even written them out on a note card just to help me sometimes. One way to do it is even just use the A.C.T.S acronym that's usually used for prayer, and use it for meditation. Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. You can use that when looking at a scripture and think, What is there here for me to respond in adoration to the Lord about? What have I learned about God here? I'm trying to do this with a prayerful posture that says, Lord, what are you revealing in your word here that I can praise you for? And then I want to turn that into prayer. Confession: What have I read that I really should be doing some confession about? I don't want to just breeze through this and then say, Great! I got my Bible reading done. No, I want to respond to this, so I need to slow down and think. And then I need to actually do the confession in prayer. Thanksgiving: What can I thank God for here? What am I grateful for that he's revealed here? And then supplication is, Is there anything I need? So really, it's a bridge to prayer—I think others have said that—meditation is between Scripture reading and prayer. I just make sure that I give time and space for that bridge between Bible reading or study and prayer to make sure my heart is engaged and I'm responding well. One other question I love—I think Tim Keller mentioned this question at some point for meditation . . . the idea is: What do I see here in this text that if I really believed it, would absolutely transform my life? Asking that question is surprising, and I think it's one of the most fruitful moments of meditation for me because I realize in that moment that I've been assuming that I've been understanding this and applying it, but when I actually slow down and think, Hold on. What would it be like if I took this seriously and took God seriously? I think I would be less anxious today. I think I would be eager to encourage the person I have a meeting with later today. All of a sudden, this would transform my life. And now I'm ready to pray, and Lord willing, the Spirit can bear some fruit in my life.

24:36 - Do I Really Believe God’s Word?

Matt Tully
Do you ever think that question—really asking that question and being willing to face up to the answers—is kind of scary?

Drew Hunter
Yeah. And painful, right? We're comfortable with who we are. Some of us also despise parts of ourselves—we're frustrated with ourselves, however you want to put it. But, to be confronted with who we really are, and to just have to acknowledge that we're maybe not even as spiritually engaged as we were thinking. It's just really eye-opening, and it has implications for our life. At another level, this really is the path of joy, and the Lord does this for our good, so it shouldn't be scary. We should be thinking, If this is hard—whatever it is—the Lord wounds to heal, and this is for my good, and he's proven himself so often that I've never regretted obeying him. I've never regretted doing the hard work of responding faithfully to his word. So, at one level it can be scary or painful or challenging. At another level, this is just a new world of joy that has opened up and we're now ready to step into it.

25:51 - The Relationship between Prayer and Bible Reading

Matt Tully
You mentioned meditation as a segue to prayer, especially when it comes to the idea of Bible reading and Bible study and in so many other contexts. I think, if we're being honest—and I'll speak for myself—it can feel like such an obligatory, mundane thing to emphasize. Like, Okay, yes, we should be praying. That makes a lot of sense, and I'm probably not doing it as much as I should. You feel a little guilty, but the thought is that prayer is maybe even a little bit boring at times. Can you help cast a vision for us of why prayer is such a valuable thing to not just skip over or rush through, especially when it comes to our Bible reading?

Drew Hunter
Returning back to what we were talking about at the beginning that when we think about Bible reading and prayer together, what we're talking about is a conversation. When we read the Bible, we're hearing God's voice to us. He's speaking to us. Prayer is us speaking back to him. So, Bible reading and prayer together become a conversation. When you think of any relationship, it would be really weird if you just showed up and . . . people are honored by listening—it's actually a way to love people is to listen. But, they wouldn't be honored if you never talked and never responded and you didn't even say, I'm here to listen. Imagine if you just show up and look at them and expect them to start talking and then you're just silent and staring, right? The Lord is speaking, and it's a conversation. I don't know that I've really thought about this that much before, but the early disciples, in relating with Jesus, they knew what it was like to have conversations with him. I wonder if, when he departed, they were able to take that experienced relationship with him and then recognize that's what's happening in their ongoing walk with the Lord—with the Father and the Son, by the Spirit. They heard from him and talked with him, and now they can't see him, but that relational dynamic is what's happening through the word and prayer. So I think if we really just believe what we believe—in other words, what would change in my life if I actually believed I was going to have a conversation with the Lord and him speak to me through his word and in prayer, then, of course, it's not a duty or anything like that. I think the other part of it is that it really matters what posture we have before the Lord. I mentioned I've been reading through Isaiah and I was struck towards the end with the Lord saying, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Is. 66:2). That's who we want to be. We want to be humble—which is open, teachable; contrite in spirit—open to correction; and trembling at his word. That would be, I think, impossible to do without speaking to him about this and asking him, Lord, help me be this way. Lord, speak to me. Teach me. So for me with prayer practically, I want to start Bible reading with prayer, by asking him to help me understand his word, to give me a humble disposition, to transform me. I want to have a posture of prayer throughout, and then I want to respond in prayer in different ways.

29:20 - Reading the Bible with Other People

Matt Tully
What about reading the Bible with other people? I think that's something that, for those who have experienced the joy of that and the benefits that come with digging into the Bible with someone else, you get it; but what would you say to someone who's never really done that in a meaningful way? Can you explain why that would be a valuable thing to pursue?

Drew Hunter
It's really helpful because we all process God's word a little bit differently and see things differently in it. It's not that there are multiple truths or contradictory things; but just like in our own life, one year we may notice something that's true. The next year, we notice something else that's true, but we just didn't have eyes to see it before. So, we really can help each other in learning from each other and what other people are learning in God's word. We also have an opportunity to just be encouraging each other with God's word. We learn by watching each other respond to God's word. In Acts 2, we see that the early church said they were gathering together all the time and they were devoted to the apostle's teaching. So they’re devoting themselves together to the teaching and, no doubt, talking about it and encouraging each other with it, correcting each other with it. So, it's really important to fill in our own blind spots, to help each other grow, and for mutual accountability and encouragement. I've had different ways I've done that over time, and it's invariably been really helpful to have people that I walk through the word with.

Matt Tully
Speak practically to somebody who's listening and says, I want that. I would love to find somebody to read the Bible with. Maybe they know somebody already that they would love to sit down with on a regular basis and read the Bible. What might that look like, very practically speaking?

Drew Hunter
I can share a few different ways I've done it. One way that I've read the Bible in different seasons with people is during a regular time where I'm catching up with someone, part of our conversation is we ask each other the question, What's been encouraging in God's word? The assumption is that we want to be in God's word, and even asking each other helps us be a bit accountable and reminds us, and then we get to encourage each other. So we just ask, What's been something that's been encouraging to you in God's word recently? And we share about that: Here's what I'm reading; here's what I'm thinking about. Another way to do it is setting up a time to read God's word together. When I do this with someone, we get together about eight times over the course of a few months and read God's word together and talk about it. When I've done that with someone, I just have that as a category. I may be talking with someone and it just seems like we would both benefit from getting together, getting to know one another, and reading God's word together. It would be for coffee or breakfast, and the plan is usually to get to know one another, enjoy the meal, enjoy the coffee, and then at some point turn the conversation to read God's word together. Shorter books like Paul's letters work really well, so I've sometimes taken Colossians or Philippians—4 chapters—and said, Let's just read a half a chapter and talk about it. At our first meeting, we just read and talk through the first half of the first chapter. It's no pressure—it's not like we had to prepare to study ahead of time. I've done that before a long time ago—you forget, you feel guilty. So with this model, you just read it and ask, What stood out to you? I know some people hate that question, but I think that could be a good question if you're also asking other good questions. You can ask, What does this mean? What stands out to you? How should this change our life this afternoon? And then the next time, read through the next half of a chapter—read it out loud together—and just ask some good questions about what it means, what the context is, maybe some other study questions, talk through implications, and then pray together. That's another way I've done it. Another thing that comes to mind is doing a Bible-reading plan together. Maybe you're not actually reading together, but you're reading the same thing and then talking about it whenever—either on a schedule, or not. We have done this a couple of times as a church—a church-wide reading plan. And you don't have to do that as a church necessarily. You can just have a friend and say, Hey, let's do this reading plan together. But it was incredible how encouraged people were to know that others were reading along together. As spouses, they found themselves talking about the Bible for the first time ever. Other people would come across something in Judges that just seemed absolutely bizarre and they had no idea how to process it, but they knew that their two other good friends read that as well. So they could say, What do you think about that? And then they just started talking about it. So, you're just moving through the Bible together, and it's just shaping your conversations together. So those are a few different ways: reading something at the same time and talking about it, meeting to talk about what you're reading, and actually reading together.

34:12 - Should Spouses Read the Bible Together?

Matt Tully
You mentioned spouses and how having a shared Bible-reading plan, even if you're not sitting down and reading the Bible together every single time, it can still be a valuable thing—what would you say to the person who hasn't done much together reading or parallel Bible reading? Maybe it just hasn't been a feature of their marriage. What encouragement would you offer that person?

Drew Hunter
The first thing would be to recognize that there's not just one way to have the Bible be a part of your conversations in marriage. My wife and I have done different things, and we found different things easier and different things harder. I say that because some people have said, We tried. We sat down, we opened it up, and then my husband just started teaching for a while. Or the guy is saying, I tried to teach, and she wasn't really interested. So, it doesn't need to be a sermon every time. There's a lot of different ways you can do it. For instance, right now my wife and I are not doing a certain plan together, but we're each in the word on our own, and then we just make sure that it's a regular part of our conversation. We occasionally ask each other, What are you reading? What's been encouraging to you? And then, we are curious and we're encouraged by one another and we just want to make sure that it's not awkward. We're just celebrating each other and what the Lord's teaching. The other thing we do—and we've done this off and on in our marriage—is just before we go to bed, we read a Psalm out loud. Maybe take turns, or whoever is less tired, read it out loud, and then we just try to respond. Did anything stand out to you? What do you think this means for us right now? How should we respond? Then, we just pray in light of what we've read. Some of those other ways could be great as well, just having the same Bible-reading plan. I know some couples that actually do read together. I have a friend who has young kids, and after dinner they dismiss the kids, and that's when they just read something together. They may have a plan—I don't know what they're doing right now—but maybe they're just working their way through certain books of the Bible and just read it, talk together, and pray.

Matt Tully
How do you get through that awkwardness? There may be someone listening in and all of those options sound good in theory, but it just seems like that would be such a weird kind of thing to start doing all of the sudden. What would you say to the person who may be worried about that?

Drew Hunter
There's probably a couple of different kinds of people listening—are we thinking about spouses right now?

Matt Tully
Yes.

Drew Hunter
If you're a spouse and you sense, even as you've been listening, you're like, My wife, or my husband, they really do want that and they've really been eager for that, and I've been slow or I've been awkward or . . . , then it's really on you to ask the Lord to help you engage happily, and just try something with them. Open the conversation, because your spouse may just be waiting patiently for the Lord to do that work in your life—to have you engage with them. You may be listening, though, and you're thinking, I've tried those things, and it hasn't worked. I'm now having to refrain from bringing it up again because I don't want it to be awkward. That's a really hard situation to be in. It's just like so many other things in life where we long to see them happen, and we want to continue to ask the Lord to bring a new idea into your life or change your heart or your spouse's heart, and then just try something new. Over time, just keep floating new ideas that may work, maybe one of the ideas we've talked about today. Say, Hey, what do you think about doing the same Bible-reading plan this year? Or, just saying, What are you reading recently? If they give any indication of something that was encouraging to them, you just celebrate it. Not over the top to make them feel like you're only a positive reinforcement, but just make it easy. Those are a couple of things, but it is hard when two people aren't quite on the same page.

38:11 - Should I Use a Study Bible?

Matt Tully
Last question: As you think about your own Bible reading and Bible study, all of us are aware that there are so many resources that we could be turning to to help us understand the word better, so I wonder if we could focus in on maybe the most common and the most well-known—that would be a simple study Bible. Some Christians would argue that everyone should have a study Bible: You should have that. You should use that regularly. It's your go-to, basic tool. Others would say, Well, I don't know about that. I think it's better to primarily use a Bible that is purely God's word so that you don't lean on the study notes as a crutch. Where do you fall on that conversation?

Drew Hunter
I don't think there's a rule that says, You need to have a study Bible as your go-to all the time. That's just not how the Lord gave us his word. You need to have the Bible, and you need to study it in community and get help, but there's different ways in which you can do that. Now, with that said, good study Bibles—and you guys are producing great ones—are an incredibly helpful resource. So, I think for some people, it could be that rather than trying to pick whether or not you're a study Bible person, say, For this next season of Bible reading, I will use a study Bible. With each book, I'll read the introductory material and some of the notes. And that's how I'm going to read the Bible this year. And then let it be for a season. Then maybe do a different kind of study Bible a different time, or not. Or, have it on hand and when you have a question, read it. In your Bible reading, you're going to come to sections where you're thinking, A lot of help would be really beneficial to me right now. Now you have a really good resource that won't be five hundred pages to read on Isaiah, it will just give you the quick notes, in summary, to get you moving to understand the text, and it's a resource right there. I think that's incredibly helpful. And even with Isaiah for me, I love the book of Isaiah—I don't know how many times I've read it—I still need that help. This last time, I picked a short commentary, and I've used the ESV Study Bible too, and I've just kind of read the notes alongside because it really helped me understand his word without distracting me from it. That's the benefit, and also the caution, is not to make your reading mainly about the study notes. The studying should focus on God's word and using the notes in a way that's helpful to you.

Matt Tully
I'm struck that in this conversation—and, honestly, the whole conversation about Bible study, but even more particularly when it comes to supplemental resources—I sometimes think that it can be easy for us to feel pressure to do things a certain way, to use certain resources in a certain order based on what other people have recommended or found to be helpful. How much in this conversation, would you say, is somewhat subjective and based on maybe someone's personality or their background or their disposition or maybe the season of life that they're in?

Drew Hunter
I think all of those factors are at play. That's the mark of wisdom is to just recognize the complexity of life, the difference in seasons, the difference in personalities, and also to know yourself well enough. If you're someone who's never pursued resources, maybe there is a benefit to that, and maybe it would be helpful. Maybe you don't have all the answers, and resources would be useful to you. Or, if you're someone who has a Bible and a commentary and you read the Bible for one minute and then you read the commentary for twenty minutes and you've been doing that for twenty years, maybe that's a bit imbalanced. Just rethink what does that affect in your life when you're not immersing yourself in God's word? So, knowing yourself, and finding out what would be wise and helpful for me right now. I think of George Whitfield who, in his biography that I was reading recently, the author described his time in the word. He would read the Bible, he had Greek and Hebrew, and he had Matthew Henry's commentary. He would read the text, he would read Matthew Henry's commentary, then he would push all the resources aside, and the author said he would pray over every line of Scripture. He was meditating and praying. So there's a balanced approach—he was reading the Bible, he had a resource, and he made sure to meditate and pray. No doubt, it didn't look the same all of the time, but he was trying to do a balanced approach by integrating these things.

Matt Tully
There we go again—nuance, and it's a both-and.

Drew Hunter
Right.

Matt Tully
Drew, thank you so much for taking the time today to talk with us about tips and ideas and encouragement for engaging with God's word on a regular basis, digging in and learning more and really benefiting from that as God intends.

Drew Hunter
Glad to be here, and grateful for the opportunity to consider it together.


Popular Articles in This Series

Podcast: Help! I Hate My Job (Jim Hamilton)

Jim Hamilton discusses what to do when you hate your job, offering encouragement for those frustrated in their work and explaining the difference between a job and a vocation.

View All


Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at crossway.org/about.