I know many Christians who would like to read more Scripture, and who would like to cultivate their devotional life such that they are routinely taking in more of God's Word. Yet, there are so many things distracting us these days. One obvious one is the media that tends to consume us, even as it as the potential to bless us. As I write from a hospital room, I have profited from Facebook as a powerful tool to inform people to pray for my son and our family. Most of us appreciate the benefits of technology and are mindful of its potential dangers. But, perhaps we have not reflected fully on how the technologies that we enjoy impact our minds and souls, and how this impact relates to Bible reading. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Yelp are good for making us aware of small bits of information. However, ingesting a very large number of small bits of information without an overarching coherent narrative can lead to a fragmented mind. I have heard anecdotes (which I understand are supported by formal research) from a number of people who say that too much consumption of social media increases their anxiety, decreases their contentment and hurts their ability to concentrate on more substantive projects. This is not because social media is inherently bad. Social media is like coffee. You have to learn to limit your consumption. If you cannot limit your consumption then you need to quite cold turkey. But, like so many things in life, the problem is in the heart of the user not in the thing being used. Augustine said long ago that we must order our loves. Social media needs to be at the bottom of your list of loves, and that should be reflected in reality as it is compared to other areas of your life: worship, family, work and fellowship should all have a demonstrable superior priority in your life.
Enter now my discussion of reading the Bible. The Bible is the opposite of social media in many respects. In contrast to the fleeting nature of social media (which has a way of making us feel unsettled and ungrounded), the Bible is permanent and lasting, a story that has changed individuals and civilizations for millennia and will continue to do until the Lord returns. Rather than being a source of anxiety and discontentment, the Bible is anxiety-reducing and peace-giving. Rather than hurting your ability to concentrate, the Bible sharpens your mind and increases your capacity for every other kind of activity.
The Bible possesses this life giving and transformative quality for two reasons. First, it is the divine word of God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Bible is a Word that continues to be blessed by the Holy Spirit. It is a living and active book that has inherent power. But, the Bible is also transformative because it is human—in fact it is supreme in its ability to meet the spirit of man as man, with all the unique features of human life. The Bible’s coherent narrative, literary features, implicit beauty and mysterious blend of simplicity and complexity satisfies your spirit as a human being—the Bible presents the world that you live in honestly, emphasizing especially the beauty, tragedy and redemption of the human experience.
Consider the following: Adam and Eve have everything, and still manage to blow it. Noah was a righteous man, and still has a sinful event in his family that rivals any modern family’s shameful past. Abraham was the father of the chosen people who showed great faith, but also showed cowardice and poor judgment. David was a man after God’s own heart and a principle author of Scripture, and yet who would choose to walk in his shoes for a lifetime and experience what he went through? There is of course Jesus. So much to say about God incarnate, but one thing that always strikes me is the mysterious blend of holiness and love that enables Jesus to perfectly love his Father while drawing near in the most sincere and non-smug way to love sinners. And it all seems so natural in Jesus, because it was natural for Jesus. Paul, the leading persecutor of the church becomes the greatest missionary. Unmarried, he is the the leading teacher of marriage. Peter, an epic failure as a disciple, becomes the rock upon whom the church is built. (Peter was indeed the leader of the early church, and in this sense temporally was the “rock,” which is not to say that he was the first Roman Catholic Pope in any way. Far from being single and infallible, Peter was married and had to be confronted by Paul for veering from the gospel.) And these names are just a few of the headliners in the Bible. The lesser known names, stories and accounts are equally inspiring and transformative. They all point to the glory of the gospel of God in the Lord Jesus Christ in some way. There is a unified coherent narrative that spans the sum of human history. It is a redemptive narrative.
In these challenging times, the Bible will help you make sense of your life. If you give yourself to the Bible, you will feel less alone. You will feel less odd. You will feel more hopeful. You will feel more satisfied. Your mind will become more coherent. So where do you begin?
There are many strategies to reading through the Bible. Many have benefited from the annual plan of Robert Murray Mcheyne. A helpful online guide is found here at a private blog site. I’ve read nothing else of this blog so I don’t commend anything else other than this link: http://hippocampusextensions.com/mcheyneplan). This webpage explains the Mcheyne plan and hyperlinks all the readings to www.biblegateway.com. The ESV has produced a pdf of the plan here: http://www.esv.org/assets/pdfs/rp.one.year.tract.pdf. YouVersion (https://www.youversion.com) is a handy site that allows you to create a free account and pick from a wide variety of Bible reading plans, the Mcheyne Plan as well as other one year of ninety day plans are there. YouVersion has free mobile apps too. There are several Bibles marketed for one year reading and 90 day reading. Some of them use different versions. I’d suggest finding a format that you find most helpful and then make sure that the format has a trusted version: ESV, NIV, NKJV, NASB, KJV would all be fine for comprehensive Bible reading.
I’ll close this piece with an encouragement to consider doing a 90 day Bible reading plan this summer. If you struggle to read the Bible then attempting a 90 day reading plan may be just the thing to get you going. One of our members reminded me recently of the value of such an intense approach. She had been working with a 90 Day Bible published by Zondervan and available on Amazon.com. To complete the Bible in 90 days using this particular edition requires reading eleven pages a day. Reading that much Scripture in one sitting requires more time, but it also addresses head on some of the major problems facing people who attempt to read the whole Bible:
- I’ll never finish this project--Some people are not of a patient constitution. They don’t like long term projects. The prospect of completing a goal in 90 days is far more encouraging than the prospect of completing a goal in a year. Plus, these types of temperaments often thrive on focus. Time is not as much as an issue for them as is the need for a clear focused goal.
- I get bogged down in some books—For example, many one year reading soldiers lost their mettle in Leviticus or Numbers. Reading 11 pages a day makes quick work of these books. More than that, reading 11 pages per day gives you an overall sense of the importance of a book like Leviticus. Taking in Leviticus in one sitting overwhelms a reader with a sense of God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness (down to details that make this ancient text seem all the more prescient today), the need for atonement, and the glory of the priesthood. This overwhelming impression ought to lead us to overwhelming gratitude for the ministry of Jesus as our High Priest. Other readers may get stuck in a lengthy prophet, like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel. Again, the sweep of the whole is helpful when tackling larger books.
- I don’t understand what I am reading—It is o.k. not to understand everything. Like a long movie, the Bible is a comprehensive narrative. Things become clearer the more you take in. Read and do not worry. Read and do not stop. Read it to finish it. You can revere the Bible as the Word of God and still pass over things that require further study. You can consult a Bible dictionary, but I’d suggest making reading the text the primary goal first. If you miss a day, then don’t go back. Pick up where you left off to keep your momentum. Reading in 90 days will have you finishing the whole Bible faster, making it more likely that, in the end, you will understand far more than you thought you did. In fact, you will find yourself developing something very important for Christians: Biblical informed theological instincts that guide the deep structures of your thinking, feeling, and acting.
Many reading plans have special suggestions for how to achieve your goal of reading the whole Bible. Let me close with some advice that my high school Young Life leader gave me when I was in the 9th grade. She was encouraging us to spend time with God before school each day, even if it was only several minutes in Bible reading and prayer. “Rather than thinking that God wouldn't desire to spend only five minutes with you, as if he would be offended by such a short amount of time, consider that God delights to spend any time in communion with you as his child.” I took her words to heart and joyfully pursued spending time in communion with God through Bible reading and prayer each day. My heart was drawn toward God in these times, and before long five minutes became 10, then 20, then sometimes 30 or 40. Her point was that our attitude toward God impacts our propensity to draw near to God. Ultimately, it is a gospel question isn't it? Am I drawing near to God because he already loves me, is pleased with me and eager to bless me? If you know Jesus then the answer to that question can be yes. God the Father stands ready to you bless you in Jesus the Son. The feast is set. The Holy Spirit is ready. Enter into the feast.