7 Reasons You Need to Read Your Bible

Academic biblical studies requires spending quite a lot of time in an array of primary and secondary sources.1

And among these sources, the Bible itself is the most primary. So, it’s important to maintain a regular habit of reading it for at least 7 reasons.

Of these, the first 4 apply whatever language you’re reading in. The last 3 are special benefits if you’re reading the Bible in its primary languages.

1. To remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.

A lot of academic biblical studies has to do with thinking critically about the biblical text.

It has to do with bringing preconceptions into question and making judgments like historians. It has to do with looking closely at the text again and again.

This work is good and important. Nothing can substitute for this kind of detailed, careful attention to a particular book, a given passage, or even a single verse.

But with this kind of close attention also comes the danger of paying so much attention to the individual trees that the forest fades from view.

There’s a risk of increasing knowledge of a small slice of the biblical literature at the cost of increasing unfamiliarity with other parts.

To counteract this tendency toward unfamiliarity, it’s helpful to cultivate a regular habit of Bible reading.

2. To remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.

True, not all biblical scholars would claim membership in a particular faith community—especially one they see as relevant to their scholarship.

But biblical scholarship is a coherent discipline only because of the faith communities within which biblical texts emerged.

In practice, “Bible” might mean quite a lot of different things. It might be

  • A “Hebrew Bible” without a New Testament,
  • A “New American Standard Bible” with a New Testament but not an apocrypha, or
  • A “New Jerusalem Bible” with both a New Testament and an apocrypha.2

But whatever its specific content, speaking of a “Bible” as such inevitably requires reckoning with the fact that this text has been deeply embedded in the faith and practice of the communities that have cherished it.

Ignoring this history is then precisely a historical oversight. And before critical biblical scholarship lies the task of avoiding historical oversights.

In addition, if you come to the biblical text from one of its communities, reading the text for its own sake can help remind you to cherish it—whatever else you also then do with it, either analytically or critically.

3. To see things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.

Specialists in any given book or corpus have a very real tendency toward functional ignorance of other books and corpora.

The focus involved in specialization is logical. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of not knowing other primary literature that might also be very relevant.

For instance, while Luke and Paul shouldn’t be confused, they are at least both very early witnesses to the memory, faith, and practice of the Jesus movement. So texts like these might, in principle, just have as much to say about each other as would Josephus or Philo.

Readings of Paul might then feasibly be enriched by readings of Luke, just as much as by readings of Josephus or Philo, and vice versa.

But literature you don’t know the contents of can’t help you. So it’s helpful to read widely across the biblical text as also in other primary literature beyond it.

4. To focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.

When thinking of Bible reading, the default mode is often to think of silent reading. But reading the text aloud can be beneficial too.

In a group, reading aloud helps everyone follow along at the same place. If you’re reading aloud to yourself, that’s not such an upside. You always know where you are.

But if you read the text aloud—even by yourself—you engage another sense in the reading experience. By doing so, you push yourself that much more into the experience of reading.

Have you ever gotten distracted when “reading” a page silently? You then suddenly realize you have no idea what you’ve supposedly just seen there while your mind was wandering.

By contrast, if you’re reading aloud, you’ll probably realize much quicker that your mind has started to wander when you run out of words coming out of your mouth.

By engaging that other sense, you also give yourself another chance to make connections in the text that you might read right over on paper but pick up when hearing yourself repeat the same phrase here or there.

That’s true when reading in English, but it also leads into how Bible reading can help sharpen your familiarity with Scripture’s own languages.

5. To sharpen your languages.

When you read the biblical text in its primary languages, you can practice and sharpen your ability to work with these languages.

You’ll get a better feel for the languages by experiencing them first hand rather than only reading about them in a grammar.

Grammars do, of course, make very profitable reading of their own. 🙂 But they can’t substitute for deep familiarity with the literature they try to describe.

If you’re reading in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, you can even take the opportunity to read the text aloud.

That way, you can practice your pronunciation and develop your “ear” for the language.

Don’t worry if it sounds bad or halting. And don’t worry too much about your choice of a pronunciation system.

As a child, that roughness was part of your learning process for your first language. It will be here too.

But gradually and by degrees, you’ll find yourself making progress. You might even see things in the text that you’ve previously missed because you heard yourself saying the text aloud.

6. To find things you won’t in translation.

To communicate some things in whatever language, translators inevitably have to obscure others.

This fact is wonderfully encapsulated in the Italian proverb “traduttore traditore​”—”a translator is a traitor.”3

From an English translation, you might well learn about a time when a ruler of Egypt dreamed about cows.

But English simply isn’t able to communicate the humorous irony involved in having פרעה (paroh) dream about פרות (paroth; Gen 41:1–2).

Many translations do a great job with rendering the core of what a passage communicates.

But for getting at the fine details both within and across passages, there’s no substitute for reading the original text.

Here also, your lack of familiarity with a biblical text’s primary language can sometimes be an asset.

In English translation, you might well read it overly quickly and so gloss over its implications.

But by reading the text in a primary language, you might pause long enough to consider it more deeply than you otherwise might in English.

7. To learn vocabulary.

When you learn biblical languages, you learn a certain amount of vocabulary that occurs frequently. But even with this under your belt, there is still a huge amount of vocabulary you don’t know.

Continuing to drill larger sets of vocabulary cards might have a place. On the other hand, you may well remember the language better by seeing and learning new words in context.

You’ll also learn new usages, meanings, and functions for the vocabulary you thought you knew.

You may have learned a small handful of glosses for a word. But you’ll start seeing how that term might have a much wider range of possible meanings than what those glosses might have lead you to suspect.

Don’t Settle for the Cliché

Unfortunately, biblical scholars who doesn’t have a regular discipline of Bible reading are common enough to be somewhat cliché.

Whether you find yourself in this boat or whether you’d just like to join biblical scholars who are actively in the text, I’d like to invite you to join my students and me this term as we read the biblical text.

Every term, my students and I do a daily Bible reading exercise together. Each day’s readings are quite short—normally only a few verses.

The reading plan will work whether you’re using a translation or working from the biblical languages themselves.

But the readings are designed to be short enough to complete in the primary languages without taking too much time out of your day.

It would be wonderful to have you join us. To get started, just drop your name and email in the form below.

You’ll get an email delivering this term’s readings directly to you. And you’ll be ready to pick up in the biblical text right where my students and I are.

Feel free also to revisit this post to comment on interesting things you come across in your reading. It would be great to hear what you see as you read through the text.

Looking forward to reading with you!


  1. Header image provided by Kelly Sikkema

  2. For further discussion, see my “Rewriting Prophets in the Corinthian Correspondence: A Window on Paul’s Hermeneutic,” BBR 22.2 (2012): 226–27. 

  3. For making me aware of this proverb, I’m grateful to Moisés Silva. 

What Do You Really Want to Accomplish in 2021?

What do you really want to accomplish this year?1

Without clear intentions, you’re liable to get to the end of it having done plenty of things except give enough attention to what you’d otherwise select as most important.

To avoid that, it’s important to take some time to identify what you want to work toward achieving.

How you do that will likely look a bit different from how someone else does it. But if you’re looking for a place to start, I’d like to suggest 5 steps to get you going:2

  1. Reflect on your experience.
  2. Brainstorm what you’d most like to accomplish this year.
  3. Turn your brainstorm results into goal statements.
  4. Assign each goal to a particular part of the year.
  5. Each week, ask what you can do to move toward one or more of your goals.

1. Reflect on your experience.

Before you start making plans for the year, it might be helpful for you to reflect on what you’ve learned from the last year.

At least for me, when I do this, I inevitably pull out some things that help me plan better for the future.

You’ll have your own lessons that you’ve learned, but let me share an example of my own to help get your wheels turning.

I’ve sometimes found myself with one or more goals that’s too large to accomplish in any one time period. (I structure my year into quarters. Semesters work great too, but more on that below.)

That meant those larger—but possibly more important—items could get lost in the shuffle. So, in response, I’ve tried to be more mindful about chunking down larger projects into smaller units that can fit into single quarters.

This naturally means a larger project will have more discrete goals that lead up to its completion. But that’s part of the point. Larger projects are larger and will take more to complete.

So, having any given quarterly goal will be pretty achievable within that quarter has been helpful.

It gives me a better sense of just how committed the year and its quarters already are. It also helps me see better throughout the year how I’m progressing on larger-scale projects.

This is true whether that larger project is professional or personal. For instance, if I have a goal to take a certain number of days out of the office with my family by the end of the year, it does some good just to plop that goal down into the fourth quarter.

But if that goal is going to require meaningful chunks of time in other quarters too, what’s still more helpful is again to segment that larger goal down into those major per-quarter chunks.

2. Brainstorm what you’d most like to accomplish this year.

You’ll certainly accomplish many more things this year than you can count. But what are the most important things for you to accomplish?

2.1. Make a list.

Make a list of what you think of. Be sure to think both personally and professionally.

It can be easy to think about professional goals and ignore personal ones. But biblical scholarship isn’t about being an academic automaton.

So, it’s important to have a mix of both personal and professional goals that you’re working toward.

Do you want to write an article? Spend more time focused on your family? Take a class? (As a hint, if you’re a student taking a class, completing that class successfully should be one of your goals. 🙂 )

It might take a few minutes for you to get going. But once you do, your list is liable to grow pretty quickly.

Keep brainstorming until you have at least 10 items on your list.

2.2. Subdivide your list.

Once you get to this point, carefully review your list. As you do so, you’re asking one question: What item(s) on your list needs to be subdivided?

Don’t worry about making any of these subdivisions too detailed. All you’re trying to get a handle on are the major component pieces of any larger goals you’re considering putting on your plate.

As an example, you might have on your list “Write my dissertation.” That’s not something you’re going to finish all at one go. Nor is it something you’re going to be able to do all in one quarter or semester.

You’ll want to subdivide this project, and as you do, you’ll start to see your list better reflect the complexity of what writing your dissertation requires.

You might subdivide this project into

  • completing your prospectus,
  • completing each of the individual chapters, and finally
  • editing, proofreading, and submitting your project.

So, for instance, if you have five chapters, “Write my dissertation” immediately becomes seven discrete activities (one for each of the chapters, one for the prospectus, and one for final editing).

2.3. Focus your list.

Now, out of your subdivided list, you only get to pick 12 items at most to really work on. If you only have 10–12 items, that’s great.

What do you do if you find yourself with more than 12 items in your brainstormed list (like I have)?

It’s tempting to think you can do it all or fit everything in that you want in the scope of a year. But that’s rarely realistic, and if it is, that probably means your goals weren’t really stretching you to begin with.

The beauty of limiting yourself to no more than 12 major objectives over the coming 12 months is that it helps you feel at this planning stage the strain that these goals will put on your time, attention, and resources as the year moves along.

Anything that goes on this list ultimately means something else can’t be on it. So, to come down to your most important objectives for the coming year, you might need to reflect, write down, scratch out, reorder, and otherwise hash and rehash your list over a few days until you’re satisfied with it.

That’s okay. And whatever doesn’t make the cut for this year you can definitely save as ideas for another time.

The important thing is make space to think and intentionally commit to what will be most important to you this year.

3. Turn your brainstorm results into goal statements.

Once you have your main yearly objectives, take a few minutes to turn them into SMARTER goals that are

Doing so will help you crystalize for yourself exactly what you’re committing to accomplishing by when.

Specific

“Write an article” or “spend more time with my family” are too general. Aiming at them is much like trying to hit anywhere in a target rather than in the bullseye.

“Write an article about the land promise to Abraham” or “Be home by 5:30, and give my full attention to my family the rest of each weekday” are much more specific targets to try to hit.

Measurable

“Make progress on my dissertation” doesn’t cut it because “progress” is very vague.

What counts? In principle, one additional character in your dissertation file could count as “progress,” but at that rate, your project will likely outlive you and still not be finished.

“Draft my first dissertation chapter” is much better.

Actionable

To “be less distracted while reading” is a great idea, but what do you need to do in order to be this way?

Do you need to “Use Freedom to block online distractions during scheduled reading time”? That you can do as you cultivate the habit of deep work.

By clarifying exactly what action you need to take to achieve a given outcome, you’re that much more likely to make good forward progress in that area.

Realistically Risky

A good goal should be doable but stretch you. For instance, you might have been comfortably writing academic papers at 200 words per hour.

But how would things be different if you tried to stretch that to 300 words per hour? What kind of time would that free up? What steps would you need to take to get that much more focused during your writing time?

Time-keyed

By when do you want to have this goal complete? Or how often do you want to do it?

For example, do you want to “Spend two hours a day, five days a week writing my dissertation”? Or do you want to “Finish drafting my last dissertation chapter by 30 June”?

If you’re using a “due by” time key, you’ll naturally match that time key to the part of the year to which you assign that goal.

Exciting

Whether a goal is exciting can be related to how much it stretches you, or it might be something you just simply enjoy doing. So, this criterion has more to do with the topic of the goal than with how you frame it.

If you look over your goals list and you find something that makes you yawn, ask yourself why. As you do, consider removing it to concentrate on something more important. Or if it’s something you need to keep, try reframing it in a way that piques your interest.

Relevant

If you’re working full time in a non-faculty post outside Europe, have an active family life, and have ongoing commitments in your community, it still might be a lot of fun to “Spend the semester at INTF.”

But it might not be realistic to pull up stakes and start actively moving on this goal in your current circumstances. At the very least, you’d back off this goal to something more preparatory like “Plan a semester abroad at INTF.”

4. Assign each goal to a particular part of the year.

Academic life typically revolves around quarters or semesters. And that natural structure is something to consider when you think about how to segment your year—whether into 3 or 4 major parts.

Either should work. I’ve found the slightly shorter and more regular quarters to be more helpful.

But they do sometimes overlap in odd ways with academic semesters. So, choose whatever approach seems most natural and least likely to create friction for you.

In either case, the point is to avoid letting goals slide in either planning or execution. The more of your important objectives get lumped into the very end of the year, the more likely they’ll be still incomplete at the start of next year.

Instead, from your list of no more than 12 SMARTER goals for the year, assign

  • No more than 4 to each semester (fall, spring, summer) or
  • No more than 3 to each quarter.3

Just like limiting yourself to 12 annual goals, limiting yourself to 3 per quarter or 4 per semester helps you feel the constraints of that time in your planning process.

Reckoning with those constraints ahead of time can be key to helping you avoid larger-scale scheduling crises.

5. Each week, ask what you can do to move toward one or more of your goals.

If you only have 12–16 weeks to complete 3–4 major goals, you need to be intentional about what you do each week.

So, however works for you, schedule time each week to review your goals for that quarter or semester.

Then, ask yourself: “What do I need to do this week toward completing the goals I’ve set?”

You might not be able to work on everything for that quarter or semester in a given week. That’s fine.

The point is to make regular progress, even if its on a small handful of meaningful tasks. Overtime, those small handfuls add up to much larger results.

If you want some ideas about how to structure your time, and your goals in it, see my free guide, How to Budget Your Time: A Guide for Regular, Irregular, and Mixed Schedules.

Conclusion

By the time December rolls around, the year will be too far spent to change much of what it involves. So, don’t wait.

Instead, “begin with the end in mind” of what you’d like to have done this year once it is at an end.4

Then, you’ll be ready to start taking deliberate, well-defined steps toward that end.


  1. Header image provided by Annie Spratt

  2. In this post, I’m much indebted to the advice in Michael S. Hyatt, Your Best Year Ever: A Five-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018). I’ve found this guidance hugely helpful for myself. And I’ve tried to supplement and apply it here in a way that addresses some of the specifics of life in biblical studies. 

  3. A possible exception is if you’re running a habit goal throughout the year like “Bike for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.” In that case, you might need to have that habit goal in each quarter or semester. And you can decide whether the time commitment for that goal is small enough for it not to occupy one of these 3 quarterly or 4 semesterly slots. 

  4. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 102–53. 

Happy New Year 2021!

I hope you enjoyed some enriching time around the Christmas holiday.1

Maybe you focused simply in being with those who matter most to you. Maybe you spent extra time on a hobby you don’t normally get to do or any number of other recreative activities.

At the end of the year, it’s somewhat more common for the generally frenetic pace of life to slow, however modestly. And that slight ebb can provide valuable space to pause and reflect.

Looking Back

This past year has held some unique challenges, to say the least. And as it winds to a close, there’s an opportune time look back over the year.

Freedom for your focus and imagination to wander can be an important aid in fostering creativity and insight.2

So, while you’re unplugged from your regular routine, you may well be able to reflect more profitably and with more perspective on that routine.

You can take stock of what worked, what didn’t, what went well, and what you’d like to do better moving forward.

You can think about the unexpected that really could have been anticipated. And you can consider the buffers you had (or didn’t have) to cushion the impact of the unexpected that couldn’t be anticipated.3

As you do so, be sure to reflect on your life both personally and professionally. You are, after all, a whole person. And it’s no good letting the wheels fall off either side of the cart. You want them both working together in the days, months, and year ahead.

I’ve recently done this kind of yearly review myself, and it’s always a helpful experience.

Looking Ahead

As your mind moves forward to next year, as it naturally will, start thinking about what you want to accomplish in the year ahead.

As you do, I’d encourage you not to do too much with these thoughts just yet. This is especially true for the time you’ve planned (and maybe committed to others) in which to step back from your regular professional activities.

Instead, take full advantage of any space the end of the year provides to be, do, and think in other ways than you’re able to in the week-to-week routine in the rest of the year.

Definitely do capture these thoughts someplace where you can come back to them. That way, they won’t get lost or forgotten (which they’re pretty liable to do otherwise). You’ll also free mental space that will otherwise be taken up, even if subconsciously.4

Conclusion

As you’re thinking along these lines, you might think of something you’d like to see me post here in this coming year. If so, certainly let me know.

I’ll be going through that feedback early in January and repeatedly throughout the year to ensure I’m giving you the best help I can in honing your craft as a biblical scholar.

Meanwhile, I wish you all the best for a wonderful New Year’s.


  1. Header image provided by Annie Spratt

  2. Chris Bailey, Hyperfocus: How to Manage Your Attention in a World of Distraction (New York: Viking, 2018), 133–58. 

  3. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 175–84. 

  4. David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (New York: Penguin, 2003), 23–26. 

Best Wishes to You for a Merry Christmas 2020

How have you decided to spend this holiday season?1

Are you recreating? Spending time with loved ones? Taking up other hobbies or interests you don’t usually get to pursue? Or maybe you’re planning to do some combination of all of these.

Too Many Things, Too Few Days

Or maybe the end of the year has crept up on you largely unnoticed. Maybe the hustle and bustle of the regular demands on you have left you with more to do than you have year left. And that’s besides the additional demands of a vaguely upcoming soon holiday season that’s now at the doorstep.

Even if the holiday has sneaked up on you, though, I’d encourage you not to let it pass without pausing to look up.

There’s more to life than your current slate of academic obligations, other work demands, or your next upcoming project. So, carve out some time to say “yes” to what’s most important. You won’t regret it.

Preparing for Time Away

You can start with the simple steps I mentioned a few weeks ago.

  1. Prepare early. Sure, next time you’re planning to be away, you can plan farther ahead. But it’s never too late to start from where you are.
  2. Address others’ needs ahead of time. You might not be able to address a whole lot, but it’s pretty well the 11th hour anyhow. So, depending on what you hear back, you can negotiate whether it really needs to be done in the next couple days or whether it can wait into the new year.
  3. Plan for your time away. Especially if you’re running full speed ahead directly into time away, you might want to plan at the beginning of that time to decompress, as well as think and talk through how you want to invest the balance of the time you’ve carved out to be unplugged.
  4. Before you unplug fully, set up an auto-responder to let others know when you’ll start responding to them again after your time away.
  5. While you’re away, actually unplug. Enjoy the time with your loved ones or whatever extra-academic activities you’ve decided to pursue. Regular demands will soon pick back up again. So, take full advantage of the opportunity to savor the moments while you’re away.

As you go through this cycle, note what you want to improve the next time you’re preparing to be away. Making those changes over time will help make taking time away easier and more enjoyable.

If you’re facing this or other particular challenges, do please take just a couple minutes to let me know so that I can shape next year’s content accordingly.

Wishes for the Season

However you’re planning to spend the next few days, I particularly hope you’ll take the opportunity to join with “the few among the Niatirbians” in reflecting on and being grateful for the elements of truly lasting value in the season.

It can be a challenge to look up from the daily grind or “the rush” long enough to catch a solid glimpse of these elements. But it’s an effort well worth the undertaking.2


  1. Header provided image by Walter Chávez

  2. For the source of the video rendition below, see C. S. Lewis’s excellent essay “Xmas and Christmas,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 334–37. 

How Can I Help You in 2021?

Unquestionably, this year has been one for the history books.1

Demands on you changed multiple times. Consequently, you had to do more than the usual amount of pivoting to keep the wheels turning.

Along the way, it’s been wonderful to hear from several of you how you’ve found the content here helpful. I’m grateful that’s been the case.

As we anticipate turning the corner to next year, I’d like to make sure I’m continuing to release content that’s useful to you.

In that context, would you mind taking few moments to complete the survey below? It’s very brief—only four questions.

None of the questions is required. So feel free to skip any questions you don’t want to respond to.

But the more information you provide, the more information I’ll have to help inform the content I release next year. And that will help ensure it’s as helpful as possible to you with the challenges you’re facing and the goals you’re moving toward.

Submissions are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself in one of the free-form fields. I’m just interested to learn more about how I can shape content to be even more helpful to you moving forward.

Thanks in advance so much for participating, and keep honing your craft.


  1. Header image provided by Glenn Carstens-Peters

How Will You End the Year?

As the year comes to a close, you pretty certainly have any number of loose ends.1 Some of them you’ll need or want to tie up before the end of the year. Others you might decide to put off for a bit.

But there’s more to life than your current work demands, your next upcoming project, or that last assignment that needs attention before the semester fully ends.

By the same token, honing your craft as a biblical scholar doesn’t just mean being more effective in domains like these. It also means being more effective in integrating other life domains that are just as or more important.

You’re a whole person with a multifaceted life—and those multiple facets are part of what make life rich. So, although it’s almost always overlooked, a core skill you need to hone for the long haul is how you live as an academic in order to integrate the domains of your life that stretch beyond the academy.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer 5 thoughts about how you can set yourself up for some enriching time away from the academy to spend with loved ones, invest in other interests, pursue other projects, or any variety of other possibilities.

1. Prepare early.

If you’re looking ahead to holidays at the end of the year, start assessing where things stand. Think too about where you’d like them to be while you’re away.

If you go through the next couple weeks on your present course, are you already implicitly going to short change time away?

Hopefully not, and if not, that’s great. But if you’re unsure, you likely are.

The Planning Fallacy

According to the “planning fallacy,” we’re all much more likely to underestimate how much time it takes to complete a given activity.

That’s especially true when we’re faced with more pressure for that activity to be completed on time.

For example, if we’re in conversation with others or if we’re mentally contemplating such conversations we’re more liable to give overly optimistic assessments of how much we can do in a given amount of time.2

Adjusting for the Planning Fallacy

That doesn’t need to be bad news, though. It just means you’re now aware that you might need to adjust your expectations for the coming days.

Start by asking yourself questions like:

  • What will have to be true over the coming days for you to unplug from your regular demands?
  • What will need to happen for you to be fully present on your other interests or with your friends, loved ones, or whomever you’ll be spending time with?3

With this vision in place, you can then plan your time between now and the start of your holiday activities. You can prioritize the critical few items that help will make your holiday as enriching as possible.

You can counter the effects of the planning fallacy by adding 50% to how much time you think it will take to complete a project.4 Or to be still safer, you can try doubling your estimate.

With some updated estimates of how long it will take to complete what’s on your plate, you can also start to triage what might need to wait for the new year. (With this triaging may come renegotiation with others who might be affected by your possibly completing something a bit later.)

2. Address others’ needs ahead of time.

Identify who may have “surprise” needs from you either shortly before or while you’re supposed to be away.

In reality, such surprises probably aren’t as surprising as we sometimes allow them to be. From past experience, you probably know who’s likely to ask for something from you at the 11th hour or later.

Reaching out to that person(s) directly might seem counterintuitive. After all, I just suggested you might need to triage your schedule by moving some things into the new year.

But if you reach out to others asking for requests from them, you might be more likely to get things added to your plate.

It’s true that you might. But the alternative is simply not knowing. And in that event, you’re setting yourself up for a series of 11th-hour decisions about what requests to fulfill—and comparatively tenser discussions around scheduling for those that you’d prefer to handle in the new year.

Instead of leaving yourself open for such maybes to arrive in your inbox unannounced, be proactive.5 Contact as soon as you can those who might need something from you to let them know that you’ll be happy to field requests from them before or after your time away but that you’ll be unavailable during the holiday window you’ve set aside.

Doing so is also courteous to those individuals who may have their own holiday plans. Your reaching out gives you all the opportunity to negotiate a mutually satisfactory plan for when you’ll get what to whom.

3. Plan for your time away.

Don’t walk into your time away cold. You might not want to plan it in as much detail. That’s perfectly fine.

But your time away is valuable, as are the people you’ll spend it with. So, that time away deserves to have thought put into it.

Even something as simple as a couple short conversations beforehand can help to surface how you’ll spend that time in order to make the most of it.6 It can also help you avoid the temptation to dilute your time away with academic or other work that could wait.

4. Use an auto-responder.

When it comes time for your vacation to start, set an out-of-office reply or other automated bounce back. (You might actually want to do this a little in advance of when you need to start disengaging. That way, you won’t have requests come in that you don’t have time to respond to.)

In the automated reply, you don’t need to give a lot of detail. But do let whomever know when you’ll be able to get back with them.

5. While you’re away, actually unplug.

Be fully present with the people and activities for whom you’ve set aside this time to disengage. You might want to use a tool like Freedom to help protect what you’ve decided to prioritize during your time away.

If you find you didn’t start preparing early or fully enough, don’t try to squeeze school or work activity back in around the margins. And if something comes up claiming it can’t wait, don’t be too ready to agree with that assessment.

Other than that, remember that “inside ‘yes’ is ‘no.’” If you pull school or work back into times you’ve set aside to be more fully present with family, friends, or others, you can make that choice. But that “yes” is an automatic “no” to those you’d otherwise be giving your time, attention, and presence to during that time. And you shouldn’t underestimate the relational cost of that “no,” especially if it’s a cost that repeats.

That said, if you really think something can’t wait, start by talking through how best to handle that with those who will be affected by your not unplugging. Negotiate how best to move forward from where you are (even if that isn’t where you ideally wanted to be).

Then, take away from the experience the lesson(s) that will help you prepare better for the next time you’ll be away.

Conclusion

Just like other parts of the craft of biblical scholarship, your ability to unplug from academics and focus on other life domains is also something you can hone over time.

Do it a few times with intention, and you’ll notice yourself gradually getting better at being not just whatever your school or work demands require, but also someone who lives a full life as a whole person.


  1. Header image provided by Jude Beck

  2. Cf. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 181–83. 

  3. For suggesting this general kind of question, I’m grateful to Michael Hyatt. 

  4. McKeown, Essentialism, 181–83. 

  5. Cf. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 73–101. 

  6. For this suggestion, I’m particularly grateful to Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller, “How to Rejuvenate with a Staycation,” Lead to Win, 25 August 2020.