This post is geared largely toward those who have never read the Bible cover-to-cover. But if you have read it all, yet feel that it’s been several years since you glanced at, say, the book of Haggai, you might consider re-reading it again this year. I’ll highlight the reasons why I think this is a necessary practice, share a bit about my own journey reading through the Bible, and provide resources at the bottom for going about doing so.
You need to know the whole story.
I am guilty of reaching for that textbook I need to write a review over that’s due in three days, cracking it open for the first time, skimming the content, and reviewing the book in time to turn in the assignment. It happens. If you have six reviews due in one week, a couple of those books won’t actually get read. It turns out that while I am pretty good at gathering the gist of an argument at a glance, sometimes I do miss the point, and let’s be honest, I probably won’t remember a thing about the book a year later. Fortunately, no one asks me on a regular basis to summarize Sartre’s epistemology. But when it comes to the Bible, the Christian’s worldview, her responses to what happens in the world, and her interactions at work, school, and home, ought to be influenced by the Word of God. Further, to quote the Bible in the proper context, to use it as witnessing tool, to defend the faith using its contents, one has to know it through and through. Don’t be caught believing God won’t give you more than you can handle and will give you everything you ask for if you pray hard enough, just because you listened to what human beings said about the Bible and not what God actually said in the Bible.
Besides that, the broad context of the Bible is the key to properly understanding the character of God and what he wants of his Church. When I truly stepped back and realized that the moral truths presented to me by Paul in his epistles, for example, were within the context of a historical situation, stemming from the newborn Church, following Christ’s advent, death, and resurrection as a fulfillment of God’s hand working throughout history to keep his promises to mankind, it changed everything. If you don’t see the New Testament in the light of the Old, you’re missing the essence of God’s plan and therefore an important part of his character.
It encourages the discipline of daily reading.
Our world, in the West, is full of noise and distraction. We’ve all heard this before. We know it’s keeping us from prayer, enjoying God’s presence, mindful worship, and focused study of the Bible. But we tend not to do much about it except force ourselves to concentrate on Sunday morning and maybe pause in the middle of the day to check our spiritual state, if we’re really disciplined. Setting a daily reading plan to read a specific amount each day forces us to do something, even a little something, to remember God’s words and promises to us. If all you’re able to accomplish in 2016 is a daily habit at night or in the morning of cracking Bible and seeking God’s Truth, then maybe in 2017 you can add a time of focused prayer, some journaling, note taking, highlighting, etc. (In fact, I encourage you to do so already, but let’s take baby steps here.)
If you’re already a pro at daily devotional and prayer time, adding daily Bible reading will supplement and enrich the Christian Living book or devotional you’re reading already. It is, after all, more authoritative than Beth Moore or Francis Chan.
It does not return void.
Are you under the impression that slogging through the book of Deuteronomy or Ezekiel is not going to teach you much and you might as well skip them? What about those descriptions of the temple and all the rules about mildew and skin infections? It seems better to skip them and read the words of Jesus or the Psalms, right? Well, I definitely have had moments where I thought so. But reading about everything God said and did through and to mankind teaches just a little bit more about who he is. If he gave the Israelites detailed instructions about isolating those with skin diseases and burning houses with aggressive mildew, then you can conclude that he was not only concerned about keeping them healthy in their camps in the wilderness, but he was also reminding them, using daily practices, that they were set apart from those around them, should not let the practices of other nations infect their worship of him, and expected to live holy lives before him. Furthermore, he was demonstrating to them how holy he was, how the law would be their standard, so that later, he could fulfill his promise for a Messiah who would take care of the law once and for all and remove the need to follow it perfectly, since no one can ever follow the law perfectly anyway. Is your mind blown? If not, you’re probably at least something of a Bible scholar. If so, here’s proof that even the most boring books of the Bible tell his story.
It will change your daily life.
2015 would have been the 13th time I’ve read the Bible through in one year. I fell off the wagon around August, during finals week of my last semester of grad school, fell too far behind, and ended up finishing the year browsing around in the epistles instead of finishing the whole Bible. I began to be able to tell. The same thing happened when I didn’t read it all the way through in 2013 or 2014. In 2014 I managed to read almost daily, by picking reading plans that spent a few months in the Gospels, a few months in the wisdom books, a few months in the epistles, etc. Those kinds of reading plans are perfectly fine to change things up with, but for those of us, like myself, who need a set and unchanging routine to accomplish a major task, it may be much easier to let yourself slide day by day as you tell yourself you’ll read three days worth in one sitting next week, and it will be fine. But when you read the whole Bible, getting a few days behind is a much bigger problem. The point is, when I let it slide, and don’t read daily, it’s not so much that I’m drowning in a checklist, but that I’m missing that daily time spent understanding God better. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time at all, you probably know that listening to Christian music makes your mood more positive, as well as throwing some Christian living books in with your paperback mysteries, avoiding TV with excessive and desensitizing violence and innuendo. The choices we make in our reading and watching and listening change us more than we know. The same thing happens when we read the Bible daily; we are changed. Not only because of what the reading teaches us, but also because God honors our pursuit of him by being found (Jeremiah 29:13 applies to all of us here).
Even if your mind wanders while you read, or your reading that day was about tying foxes together by their tails and lighting them on fire in a field, I promise you that you’ll remember that reading later that day, or later that week as it merges with your other readings and makes more sense. You will get something out of it, distracted or not. That’s just the nature of God’s Word.
So how do we do this thing?
For a dozen years, from 2000 to 2012, I used BibleGateway.com‘s “One Year Bible” reading plan that I printed off and tucked into my Bible. This is still a good idea if you want a method that keeps you off of your phone or tablet to decrease the chance of getting distracted by notifications. There are also actual Bibles which are formatted to be read in a year (like the aforementioned One Year Bible). If you do trust yourself to read daily on your phone or tablet, there are some great apps. The ESV Bible app has several daily reading plans, and 13 of them are year long, daily reading (though not all of them are of the whole Bible), and has note taking and highlighting options, and will read aloud to you. For women, there’s the She Reads Truth app. There’s only one year-long plan, but it comes with an online community who read together with the hastag #SRTOpenYourBible. Another simple app is called “Reading Plan” which has a wider selection. The only downside is that it opens the Bible in your browser when you click on the reading, which means you need wifi or you’ll use data. It also doesn’t read aloud. All of those apps mentioned are free.
Now, I am encouraging you to read the whole Bible, but if you’re looking for something different this year or aren’t sure you can commit to the whole thing, there are plenty of reading plans on the above apps that do go month by month so you can choose what books you’d like to focus on. Also, I recommend the Bible study for women (which you can do alone or with a group) called “Seamless” by Angie Smith. It’s brand new this year, and I had the pleasure of teaching it this fall. I think Angie does a wonderful job of demonstrating the Seamless story of God’s work throughout history, and is good for both seasoned and new Bible scholars.
My only other advice to you is to read at the same time every day. Reading every day for a year is HARD. It helps if you have a set time to read, as it helps form a habit. As with any new habit, it takes a few weeks to get in the rhythm, so don’t give up. Start off by rewarding yourself if you like. Have a cup of tea with your reading. Let yourself watch an episode of your show after you’re done. Have someone keep you accountable. Instagram and Tweet your reading with unashamed glee (you might inspire others to read too). If you do fall behind, realize that it’s easier to add one day of reading onto your daily read, for a longer period of time, than to try and read seven days’ worth at once.
If you made it to the end of this post, that means you’re serious about this Bible-in-a-year thing. Don’t let your momentum die. Go select a reading plan right this minute. Tell a few people what you plan to do so you have accountability to get started. And expect to have your life changed as a result.
What did I miss? Do you know of any good apps or tools for reading? What reading plan will you use this year?