We stand on the doorstep of a new year — and with a new year, new resolves, and with new resolves, a new determination to read the entire Bible for ourselves. And knowing this is on the minds of many listeners this time of year, we enter 2019 with a series of episodes to address your questions about daily Bible reading. Here’s the first one, from a listener named Dave.
“Hello, Pastor John. My question is about Bible-reading plans. Some plans are familiar, plans to read the entire Bible canonically, or just the Old Testament or just the New Testament, and then chronological reading plans, and then two- or three-year reading plans. My question is: What Bible-reading plan do you recommend a first timer use who has never read the Bible entirely before? And can you offer some tricks to keep in mind on the first read through?”
Before I actually make a concrete, specific recommendation about a Bible-reading plan — which I will do — let me make six or so observations that might fit into the category that Dave asks when he says, “Any tricks to keep in mind?” He did not ask for just a program, but also for any tricks to keep in mind. Here’s what I think he might be getting at and what I would offer in that category.
What I would recommend for reading through the Bible depends on at least five things that I don’t know about Dave. In other words, I’m qualifying my recommendation because I don’t know him.
“Few things are more helpful in grasping the totality of Scripture than a steady, week-in and week-out feeding on the preached word of God.”
How disciplined is he? How much time does he have available? What skill does he have in reading — what speed and comprehension? How familiar is he with all the parts of the Bible, even those maybe he hasn’t read at all? What level of curiosity does he have that might drive him to slow down and figure things out that are puzzling to him?
Taking all those into account, I will recommend a Bible reading program. But I want him and others to know that people are really different, and our capacities for reading and comprehending, our speed, and our life situations are different. What I recommend may not fit everybody, but I’ll make a recommendation anyway. So that’s my first thing I wanted to say. When you’re thinking about tricks, know yourself well.
Hear the Word Preached
Be sure to belong to a good Bible-reading, Bible-preaching church if you possibly can. Few things are more helpful in grasping the totality of Scripture than a steady, week-in and week-out, month-in and month-out, year-in and year-out, decade-in and decade-out feeding on the preached word of God.
Oh, this is so important. If your pastor doesn’t preach Bible texts and explain to you what they mean, please try to find another church. Because the decades of your life will be gloriously transformed if you sit under the preaching of the word like that for a long, long time.
Accountability, Prayer, and a Plan
Get into a group, a small group of people, where you expect each other to be reading your Bible and talking to each other about what you’ve seen there.
“Pray earnestly over your Bible reading before you read, while you’re reading, and after you read.”
Pray earnestly over your Bible reading before you read, while you’re reading, and after you read. Pray that God would show you what’s really there and make it real for you.
Set aside a place and a time where you’re going to read your Bible every day. If you don’t have a set place and a set time, Satan will almost certainly — along with your own flesh — push your Bible reading right out of your schedule and out of your space.
Reserves of Truth
Reading through the Bible in a year involves about four or five chapters a day. If you think you have to remember all you read while you’re reading those four or five chapters, this will feel absolutely overwhelming and pointless.
I want to encourage you when you think you have forgotten 95 percent of what you just read. That’s true in the short run. God’s word, nevertheless, is lodging itself in your mind and in your heart in ways you cannot comprehend.
The so-called forgotten language, the forgotten paragraphs, the forgotten words, the forgotten stories, the forgotten points are becoming a repository from which the Holy Spirit can draw out things you do not even know are there. When you walk away from your Bible reading in the morning, don’t fret that you can’t recite an outline of every paragraph you read. You won’t be able to unless you’re a genius with a photographic memory.
Instead, take one crisp, clear sentence with you — something encouraging, something motivating, something strengthening, something guiding. Write it down on a little piece of paper, stick it in your pocket, stick it in your purse, whatever. Say it to yourself over and over again during the day. Those sentences accumulated — 365 of them — is an amazing power and stockpile of truth over time.
Picking a Plan
Now here’s my recommendation for the Bible-reading program that he asked for. I’m going to recommend the one I use, because that’s why I use it. I love it. I think it’s valuable.
“If we leave out big parts of the Bible, we probably won’t know God the way we should.”
It’s called the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan. Google it. Or Google “best Bible-reading programs through the year” — it’ll be one of them. It has two unique features that make me love it.
One is that every day you’re reading in four different places in the Bible, which means that if one of them leaves you scratching your head, another one might be perfectly, exactly what you need for the day.
The other unique feature is that you are required to read only 25 days out of the month, not 30 or 31. The main reason is because all of us know people tend to fall behind in their reading. If you fall behind and there are no catch-up days, then in February you’re ten chapters behind, and you give up. But if you have five days at the end of every month for catch up, you tend to take heart and keep going.
If you’re quite a disciplined reader and you never fall behind, you have this glorious five-day moment when you can memorize. This is what I do with them anyway. I pick a psalm; I’m working through Psalm 25 and Psalm 103. I re-memorize Romans 8, I re-memorize Philippians. This is what I do with my five days at the end of the month.
This morning, I was reading in the Gospel of John, the book of Revelation, Job, and Amos. No, that was yesterday — this morning I was in Jonah. Even though I can’t remember the details of what I read in all four passages, what I saw in John 17 and what I saw in Jonah at the end — “Shouldn’t I pity this city, 120,000 people who don’t know their right hand from their left?” (see Jonah 4:11) — I remember that. I remember that, but I don’t remember what I saw in Job. What was that in Job? What was Elihu saying? I can’t remember what Elihu was saying, but that’s okay. I forgot Job, but I remembered a sentence that I need about being merciful to people who don’t know their right hand from their left. You get the idea.
I love the Scriptures. I love to encourage people to read the whole Bible. If we leave out big parts of the Bible, we probably won’t know God the way we should.