How to Change Your Mind

The beginning of a New Year is an an excellent time to try something new. As you make your list of resolutions and goals I want to recommend adding a simple four step process that could transform your life by, quite literally, changing your mind.

change-your-mindAfter reading the entire post the vast majority of readers will snicker at such a hyperbolic claim and never implement the method I outline. A smaller number will consider the advice intriguing, my assertion only a slight exaggeration, but will also never implement the method. A tiny minority, however, will recognize the genius behind the process and apply it to their own life. This group will later say that my claim was an understatement.

This post is written for those people.

A few years ago I stumbled across a variation of the four steps in an article by theologian Fred Sanders and implemented his recommendation that day. I later had the pleasure of meeting Sanders in person and telling him how his post had transformed my life. My hope is that at least one other person will follow this advice and experience the same transformative effect.

Before I reveal the four steps I want to reiterate that while the advice could transform your life, it likely will not. As with most life-altering advice, it is simple, easy to implement, and even easier to ignore. Statistically speaking, the odds are great that you’ll ignore this advice. But a handful of you will try it so for the one or two people who will find this useful, the four steps that will transform your worldview are:

1. Choose a book of the Bible.

2. Read it in its entirety.

3. Repeat step #2 twenty times.

4. Repeat this process for all books of the Bible.

Christians often talk about having a Biblical worldview yet most have only a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible. They attempt to build a framework without first gathering the lumber and cement needed to create a solid foundation. The benefits of following this process should therefore be obvious. By fully immersing yourself into the text you’ll come to truly know the text. You’ll deepen your understanding of each book and knowledge of the Bible as a whole.

Since this method is adapted from a book by James M. Gray (1851-1935), How to Master the English Bible I’ll let him explain in his own words:

The first practical help I ever received in the mastery of the English Bible was from a layman. We were fellow-attendants at a certain Christian conference or convention and thrown together a good deal for several days, and I saw something in his Christian life to which I was a comparative stranger—peace, a rest, a joy, a kind of spiritual poise I knew little about. One day I ventured to ask him how he had become possessed of the experience, when he replied, “By reading the epistle to the Ephesians.” I was surprised, for I had read it without such results, and therefore asked him to explain the manner of his reading, when he related the following: He had gone into the country to spend the Sabbath with his family on one occasion, taking with him a pocket copy of Ephesians, and in the afternoon, going out into the woods and lying down under a tree, he began to read it; he read it through at a single reading, and finding his interest aroused, read it through again in the same way, and, his interest increasing, again and again. I think he added that he read it some twelve or fifteen times, “and when I arose to go into the house,” said he, “I was in possession of Ephesians, or better yet, it was in possession of me, and I had been ‘lifted up to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus‚’ in an experimental sense in which that had not been true in me before, and will never cease to be true in me again.”

I confess that as I listened to this simple recital my heart was going up in thanksgiving to God for answered prayer, the prayer really of months, if not years, that I might come to know how to master His Word. And yet, side by side with the thanksgiving was humiliation that I had not discovered so simple a principle before, which a boy of ten or twelve might have known. And to think that an “ordained” minister must sit at the feet of a layman to learn the most important secret of his trade!

Rather than wasting time attempting to defend the wisdom of applying this method, I’ll close with a few helpful suggestions for putting it into practice:

1. Choose shorter books and work up to longer ones. Since you’ll be reading an entire book of the Bible and not just a chapter or two, you’ll want to work your way up to more extensive readings. When beginning this program you may want to start with a short book that has only a few chapters that can be read several times in one sitting. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and help develop the reading habit. For example, a short book like John or Jude can be read four or five times in one sitting allowing you to finish the entire twenty readings in less than a week. [NT books, shortest to longest: 3 John, 2 John, Phlm, Jude, Titus, 2Thess, Rev, 2 Peter, 2 Tim, 1Thess, Col, 1 Tim, Phil, 1 Peter, James, 1 John, Gal, Eph, 2 Cor, Heb, 1 Cor, Rom, Mark, John, Matt, Acts, Luke; OT books, shortest to longest: See this chart.]

2. Read at your normal pace. Treating the material reverently does not require reading at a slower than normal speed. Read for comprehension, ignoring the division of chapters and verses and treating each book as one coherent unit.

3. Skip the commentaries (for now). Don’t get bogged down by referring to commentaries or other outside sources. Commentaries are for your Bible study, rather than for this synthetic reading. Read each book in its entirety and then attempt to summarize in your own words its theme and major points.

4. Stick with the process. After the eighth or ninth reading you’ll hit a wall that is similar to what runners face in marathons. The text will become dry and lose its flavor. You’ll want to move on to the next book or abandon the program altogether. Stick with it. Persevere and you’ll discover the treasures that repeated readings can provide. Keep in mind that not every book will be equally rewarding. It doesn’t mean that you’re a heretic if during one of your readings you find 2 John a bit redundant or Jude just plain boring. Keep in mind the words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Stick with it and you’ll fully understand the truth of that verse.

5. Choose an appropriate version. A modern language paraphrase is not an appropriate version for synthetic reading. Likewise, the familiar rhythms and cadences of the KJV can, upon repeated readings, get in the way of comprehension. I personally recommend the ESV, though the NIV can be a suitable alternative.

6. Pray. Ask God to open your heart to his Word. Trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text and provide guidance and understanding.

7. Begin today. Don’t put it off another day. Don’t say you’ll start tomorrow, or next week, or next New Year’s. You won’t. Start with the only time that you are guaranteed — today. Use some of the time you’d normally spend  reading blogs to begin this program. Start now and then tomorrow, next week, or next New Year’s Day — after your mind has become saturated with God’s Holy Word — you can tell me my claim was an understatement.

  • Jennifer Guo

    I’ve read both Ephesians and Philippians every day for a month. Not exactly like this plan, but somewhat similar. I can attest to the transformative work of repeated reading of the entirety of a biblical book. I’ve always been intimidated at the thought of reading a longer book repetitiously in one sitting; perhaps this is the year to try!

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    Double-check the length order of the NT books? Revelation, at least is in the wrong spot.

    I’m thinking about how I might incorporate this idea into my Bible consumption without only focusing in a narrow way: It seems to me that repeated readings of one book concurrent with reading through all of Scripture would be the best course of action, as it would not only get the individual book deeply ingrained in your brain, but would more broadly reveal its connectedness with the rest of Scripture.

    • Lori

      Valerie, Personally – I’ve never found reading through the Bible to be a useful exercise. I get stuck on the fact that I need to get through it whether I’m interested in it or not. It just becomes a project that must be completed. Like homework. But meditating on a book — now that’s a whole different thing! When you spend time in one book questions come up; and if you read with questions in your mind, the Spirit of the Living God will supply answers. Lights come on! You begin to see connections you hadn’t noticed before. Allow questions to simmer in your mind while you read (and when your mind is quiet during the day. After meditating on many books of the Bible this way, you will begin to see those connections you’re talking about. I never internalized the connectedness of Scripture until I started taking time to think deeply about individual books — it’s amazing what I see now! Some days you might want to read one chapter two or three times while you try to sort out its meaning; the next day you might want to read the whole book to see how the chapter fits into the whole. Who says you have to have a set system? You might also enjoy hearing a recording of the book. It’s surprising how your attention will be drawn to something that you didn’t notice while you were reading. I love Joe’s suggestion – and it’s definitely an understatement!
      Enjoy the Lord! Lori

    • KitB

      Hey Valerie –

      Good catch on Revelation being in the wrong place! For anyone scanning the comments for a revisited length summary, here are the shortest NT books by verse count …

      Under 50 verses: 2 John (13), 3 John (15), Philemon (25), Jude (25), Titus (46), 2 Thess (47)

      50-99 verses: 2 Peter (61), 2 Timothy (83), 1 Thess (89), Colossians (95)

      100-199 verses: Philippians (104), 1 Peter (105), 1 John (105), James (108), 1 Timothy (113), Galatians (149), Ephesians (155)

      200-499 verses: 2 Corinthians (256), Hebrews (303), Revelation (405), Romans (432), 1 Corinthians (437)

      500-999 verses: Mark (673), John (878)

      1000-1149 verses: Acts (1003), Matthew (1068), Luke (1149)

      As for the OT: Obadiah, Haggai, Nahum, and Jonah are under 50 verses, and Zephaniah, Malachi, Habakkuk, Joel, and Ruth are under 100. That should be plenty to get some good reading started!

      • Kevin Young

        I really appreciate this post and have already done a sitting reading through 3 John 20 times, and found it extremely powerful.

        I’d be curious to know if Joe intends for 20 readings to be done in one sitting or spread out over time, and if so, what sort of schedule.

        In regards to Bible statistics:

        I found a blog post ( which has books of the Bible and the number of chapters, verses, and words (based on the 2007 ESV). I think a word count is more helpful when calculating “shortest” or “longest” book, but I’m a little OCD that way.

        I made this excel if anyone would like to use it:

  • Jason

    Using this method, how long will it take to get through whole bible? By my calculations, at 10 chapters per day, it will take over 6.5 years to cover it all.

    • Joe Carter

      That’s a good question. I’ve been doing it for years (with an unfortunate gap) and still have a lot of books to go.

      Personally, I wouldn’t recommend a strict chapter regime every day. You could whip through a book like Obadiah in 2 days that way, but you probably wouldn’t remember it as well if you took it slower. As a rule I recommend covering shorter books in 3-4 days and longer ones in as long as necessary. Sometimes you’ll want to read more chapters, sometimes fewer.

      Because of this pattern, I’d also recommend adding this technique in addition to any other devotional or regular Bible study (e.g., read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans) rather than as a substitute.

  • William Peck

    I’m in !

    • Andy Merriman

      Me too!

  • Gregg Love

    Yes, this is great advice. At Hachiman Christian Church in Tokushima Japan where I serve, we read the Bible out loud in worship time, one person reading 1 to 5 verses around the group, one book for a whole month. I cannot guarantee the people read their Bibles at home, so we read it together. I prepare to point out the gospel in what we have just read, then we search for the questions and the applications that apply to us as individuals. This has worked better than years of stand-up preaching, because the people have no background in Biblical culture, history, or context. Our group is usually ten people, sometimes it swells to 18, but ten is our number. After nine years here, I feel the group is beginning to understand the Gospel and the Kingdom life in Christ Jesus.

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  • Ryan

    Amen :) I can attest to the value of meditation and repeated readings is an excellent way of facilitating it. As you say perseverance is required to yield results. An analogy I’ve found helpful in that regard is digging for gold. More often than not prolonged meditation isn’t constant instant reward. It’s more like sweat-drenched shovel full after sweat-drenched shovel full of plain old soil. Then finally, after maybe the fifteenth or even fiftieth time through a verse or book you see something beautiful you couldn’t see before. You’ve found gold!

  • Doug Nichols

    Great article. I will circulate it widely. I find the NASB much better for study and use in preaching ESPECIALLY since it capitalizes deity. Why o why did not the ESV translators do so? It would have greatly increased it use worldwide. Doug Nichols, missionary

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  • jcs721

    I wish you could buy the books of the Bible bound individually. I’d like to carry a nicely printed copy of, let’s say Romans around for a few weeks.

    • Jennifer Guo


      There are ways you could do this yourself. I suppose you could printout the text of a book, bind it and carry it around, but a few years ago I decided to start hand-writing books of the Bible that I’m memorizing/studying. I use a moleskine notebook and leave every-other page blank, so it’s like a handwritten version of Edwards’ “blank Bible” but with a book of the Bible at a time.

      I’ve found the hand-writing process to facilitate meditation and memorization. And if you want individually bound books to carry around, this might be worth a try!

      • jcs721

        Good idea. I might give it a try, thx!

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  • Susan

    It’s a good idea, similar to my preferred reading style. Not too practical with children at home, though–I’m too distracted to get any real focused reading done during hours when I’m fully awake. I’m glad I was able to do this sort of thing before my (relatively late) marriage.

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  • Joe Louthan

    I have been a Christian seven years and it is this year, I will have finally read through the Bible once through.

    Now you have given me a new Reading Plan not just for 2014 but for my life.

    Thank you.

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  • Jason

    I started doing this after I originally posted with the book of Titus. Just 3 chapters. I have been through it 10 times. I decided to take a sheet of 8×11 paper and write down everything I know about the book of Titus so far. I easily filled a whole sheet and I don’t write that big.

    It may be an interesting exercise to encourage people to write down what they know midway through because not only will it show the benefit of the plan, but also cue them in on future readings.

  • Ashley

    Joe, I’m currently on my 14th reading of Colossians and this truly is a wealth of knowledge to be massively shared! Around the seventh reading, I found myself getting bored and remembered your running wall metaphor (as I am, well used to be, a runner) and pushed through. I still have six to go. I am using this comment as a break. I just though I’d share some things I’ve learned throughout this process; some tips, I should say.

    1. DEFINITELY start with a small book. This is rather tedious.

    2. After every completed reading, close your eyes for a few seconds/a minute just to give your eyes a rest (if you are doing all twenty consecutively in one sitting as I am doing currently).

    3. After the first five or six foundational readings, I found it fun to give myself little scavenger hunts to do as I’m reading. For instance, on the seventh reading, I decided to underline everytime I saw the phrase “in Christ” or “with Christ” and noted the phrase appears a whopping 15 times. The concept of wisdom and knowledge appears 20 times. This really helped me spot the major themes and ideas Paul wanted to get across.

    4. Along with identifying phrases, I used other readings to spot imperatives and commands (I counted thirty in all) and thought of ways they apply to my own life. For example: “Remember my chains” is the last imperative but how can that apply to me when Paul is in glory? I though “oh, well it can mean to remember and actively pray for those around the world suffering and contending for the gospel.

    Again, this is wonderful and I hope the little practices I found during the process can further spur a skeptic to give it a try. Whatever you do, keep reading!

  • Mark

    If you want to transform your worldview into the worldview of the Bible, start with Deuteronomy. It is obviously not the shortest book but it is arguably the most foundational. After 40 days of testing in the wilderness, Jesus was left bleeding Deuteronomy from his veins. The worldview of Deuteronomy is the presupposed background to the rest of the Bible, so why not start there?

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  • Peter Krol

    I took a seminary class where the prof made us read 1 John 5 times in a week. I thought it onerous – until I did it. I could not believe how much jumped off the page when I just read and re-read.

    Now, I require such reading whenever I lead a Bible study with other believers. Thanks for the great post, Joe!

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