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For this Lent, let's open the Bible and pray

Upchurch: ‘God can use moments and those moments can turn into a lifetime’

Published: February 12, 2016   
Malea Hargett

So you have decided you want to read the Bible every day during Lent, but there are so many things to consider. 

Where do I start? How long should I read? What Bible translations should I read? Paperback or an app?

Two daily Bible readers offer their suggestions on what works for them and what might help others.

The personal and spiritual benefits of daily Bible reading are so great that Cackie Upchurch, director of Little Rock Scripture Study, and Deacon Danny Hartnedy, junior high religion teacher at Christ the King School in Little Rock and deacon at St. Edward Church in Little Rock, said they wouldn’t miss these minutes with the Messiah.

“It’s about encountering Christ,” Upchurch said. “We believe this is a direct way to encounter Christ. ... We become the biblical people, letting it change our lives.”

“It is a daily commitment,” Hartnedy said. “It is not just an intellectual exercise. The intention is to encounter the living God and listen and speak and allow the Scripture to be a springboard into conversational prayer and to allow time for the Lord to speak to the ears of my heart.”

Where do I start?

Starting with Genesis on page 1 and reading the Bible in order from Old Testament to New Testament is not recommended, Upchurch said.

“One of the mistakes is they treat it like any other book,” she said. “For most books, you start at the beginning. … It ignores the fact that the Bible is not arranged chronologically or a clear and simple sequence … Particularly in the Old Testament, it is easy to get bogged down. … The one who wrote the most is first, Isaiah. The one with the smallest books is last. It is organized by length. The Gospels are not in chronological order. Paul’s letters are arranged by length, not by when he wrote them. …

“Think of it as a library of books. That library of books is going to have all different types of sacred writing in it. … I would go first to the area where I am most comfortable … Start with what is most familiar to you.”

Upchurch said beginning Bible readers are recommended to start with the Gospels of Mathew, Mark or Luke. Because the Gospel readings during Mass this liturgical year are from Luke, she said it would be an appropriate place to start in 2016.

“You are going to hear from Luke’s Gospel on Sundays,” she said. “I would start at the beginning of the book and make good use of the footnotes. Just read the stories and ask how God is making himself present there.”

After reading the Gospels, beginners could venture on to the Acts of the Apostles and Exodus, Upchurch advised. 

Hartnedy said he would suggest someone read the daily Mass readings. He rises at 5 a.m. every day and reads the Gospel and Psalms from his free iBreviary app. The Mass readings can also be found at

Upchurch said she chooses to read at different times of the day. She said before beginning to read, pray “that God opens your heart and mind.”

“Holy Spirit, guide me in what I am reading, it is as simple as that,” Upchurch said.

What do I do next?

After reading a passage, chapter or Mass reading, it is best to have time to reflect on the reading. There are two general ways to pray with the Scriptures.

  • Lectio divina, or divine reading, is a monastic tradition. After reading several verses aloud, pause on one word or phrase that touched your heart. Repeat the word or phrase and dialogue with God about it. Sit quietly and listen.
  • Gospel contemplation: Read a passage and sit with it a few minutes and “let the Scripture speak to you,” Upchurch said. Ask, “What is God saying to me in this story?” In Ignatian spirituality, Catholics would imagine themselves in the passage, using their imagination and senses. What does Jesus look like? What is he saying? What do you look like? How do you feel? What does Jesus say to you? “This is an encounter with God,” Upchurch said. “That is the point is reading the Scriptures. It is not just to learn new information. It is an encounter with God, in particular in Jesus Christ.”

What Bible should I read?

Upchurch said a family Bible from generations ago is a nice heirloom, but is probably not the best Bible to use for study and prayer. As Bible scholars come up with new translations, it is good to use a newer Bible. Upchurch recommends these four translations that you can read in print, online or on an app:

  • New American Bible, Revised Edition: This is the closest to what Catholics hear at Mass. The Little Rock Catholic Study Bible uses this version.
  • New Jerusalem Bible
  • New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition
  • Revised English Bible, Catholic Edition

Hartnedy admits that his paperback Bible might be collecting dust because he prefers to use the iBreviary app on his smartphone. If he is stuck in a long line at the bank or at a doctor’s appointment, he can pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

How long should I read and pray?

At least five minutes a day is a good place to start.  However a beginner decides to proceed, Upchurch said the main thing is to create a daily habit of reading and praying with Scripture.

“People won’t leave the house every morning without reading the newspaper and having their coffee,” Upchurch said. “That does something for you every day. It’s that pattern. You have to do the same thing with your spiritual life. We need to create habits or patterns to remind us who we are and who we belong to. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, but I do think it needs to be deliberate.”

“God can use moments and those moments can turn into a lifetime,” she said.

“Make a commitment,” Hartnedy said. “There are exciting times and boring times just like any relationship. It’s all about a relationship with the Lord.”

The Bible in chronological order

“For most books, you start at the beginning. … It ignores the fact that the Bible is not arranged chronologically or a clear and simple sequence,” said Cackie Upchurch, director of Little Rock Scripture Study. Print this list she supplied to explore Scripture passages in order as they happened.

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