Maybe it’s because I am weak. Maybe it’s because I’ve never successfully done it. For whatever reason, anytime people start talking up or talking about reading the Bible in a year, I get queasy, like when there is a strange odor in a room. My mind also immediately wanders to the Aesop fable of the tortoise and the hare.
Yes, I know reading the Bible in a year is ambitious. I know it is a huge accomplishment. I know that it’s a way to flex some sort of spiritual muscle and maybe even etch a new notch in your spiritual belt. Maybe it’s also supposed to be a bucket list item or something; it does seem awfully like running a marathon. Still, what is with our obsession to read the Bible in a year? I’ve just never understood it.
Just Keep Reading the Bible
Here’s the deal. This is what I think would work best for anyone. JUST KEEP READING THE BIBLE. Don’t ever stop.
A beloved professor of mine in seminary shared an anecdote with us. Apparently another professor had been asked to hand in his resignation, the reason was related to a moral failing. My beloved professor, after hearing about what would be, ran into his associate in the copier room. This professor, fairly direct as always asked, “What happened?” The response. “I stopped being in the Word. Never stop being in the Word.” And that was the interchange.
Friends, if you never stop being in the Word, then you will rarely begin your year of Bible reading with Genesis 1:1 on January 1, unless you’re one of those machines that reads Revelation 22:21 on December 31. At least I’ve never done it. I came close once. I think I finished the Chronological Study Bible before the next Valentines Day. I still think fourteen months is pretty good. More so than meeting reading benchmarks with ten bookmarks, focus in on savoring each morsel of the Word. You might stand just as well and it might be just as equally devotional to read one verse from Psalm 119 each day twice for the year.
Read the Bible Meditatively
I’ll be brutally honest with you about my pace. It’s slow. Super slow. Snail slow. This run through of reading the Bible began in October 2013. It’s now January 2015 and I’m in Ezra. I’m a slow plodder, but my aim is to absorb all I can and really chew on it. I want to see it affect me. I’m not so concerned about sprinting my way to the eschaton by December; I’m concerned with having unbroken fellowship with my Lord.
One of the most helpful tidbits I’ve learned about Bible reading is the importance of allowing the reading to draw you into worship. This time through, and really I think this is the reason why it is taking so long, is because I’m taking advice from Donald Whitney. In Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health he says, “Read the Bible daily and do not close it until you know at least one thing God would have you do in response to your reading” (38). In another place, just before, he says, “Read less, if necessary, in order to meditate more. There are astonishing promises attached to the meditation of Scripture” (38).
So that’s precisely what I’ve been doing. I’ve been reading meditatively, looking for the points that affect my heart, draw me into worship, and unleash me for action. Then I spend time rehearsing these truths and nursing upon them as well. I suckle upon them.
The Motive of this Madness
Sure, it’s an overreaction to say, “We should never try to read the Bible in a year.” There is a whole lot of joy that comes from getting the grand picture of the Bible narrative in a single year. There might even be an advantage to reading the whole book twice in a year or reading the Old Testament once and reading the New Testament twice. But don’t cloud your Bible reading with selfish ambition and vainglory. Don’t confuse your Bible reading motive and give into madness. If your driving motive to read the Bible is to get it done in a year, rather than to meet with the living God and become entranced by his glory, then you will burn out, right around now in fact: January 15th.
Most people have about two good weeks within them before they’re schedule becomes a train wreck and everything goes upside down caramel macchiato on them. Then when they get off their race pace, they just give up at the next water station they see and call it quits. The best way to be in the Word is to not see it as a race with a December 31st destination but as an everlasting journey with the Creator.
Let me put it to you this way. Which is a better claim?
I read the Bible in a Year.
I’ve never stopped reading the Bible.
I’m going to go with claim two, wouldn’t you?
Now, with either approach, there is this terrifying risk of slipping into moralism and triumphalism. Whether you’re reading the Bible in a year or reading the Bible all your life, you run the risk of missing the gospel. Don’t miss the brunt of the message! Whether we read in a year, read slowly, or read for a lifetime: we need to read to meet Jesus. The point is not so much for us to be in contact with the Word (the book the Bible) but for the Word (the incarnate, resurrected, and reigning Son of God) to be in contact with us. Christ’s transformational work in us comes through the sacramental power of the Book. Thus, we need to be in the Book and let the Book work its way into us.
I just want to tell you today that you don’t have to get it done in a year. It’s okay. You’re not a super Christian if you read the Bible in a year, nor are you an epic fail if you don’t. It’s okay to go slow. Slow and low that is the tempo. And even vary that tempo if you wish. JUST KEEP READING THE BIBLE for the rest of your life. That’s really what matters.