As the new year gets underway, we find ourselves squarely in resolution season. Of course in about three weeks we will be in the heart of resolution breaking season followed in late February by resolution forgetting season. And for Christians one of the most commonly made and then abandoned resolutions is to read through the Bible in the coming year, and this is usually done using a reading plan. If you are the type that likes and responds to regimen and can keep it from becoming a simple task to be completed and continue to approach the Word of God with a worshipful heart, more power to you. But for the rest of us, let me make a modest proposal. You don’t need a Bible reading plan; you need a philosophy.
If you are like me, you have made this resolution many times, and if you are like me you even employed various read through the Bible in 90 days or one year plans. And if you are like me you have had varying success sticking to these reading plans. For many people these plans are great, but for me, even though I love reading my Bible, and even though Leviticus, which is where most read the Bible in a year plans go to die, is one of my favorite books of the Bible, reading plans have not been very effective. [I want to add one caveat; if you have never read through the Bible in its entirety, and you are the person that yells out “bless you” when your pastor says “Nahum” in the pulpit, you need to commit yourself to reading through the Bible somehow, someway and do it immeadiatly.]
Then one day it dawned on me that I don’t need a reading plan, I needed a reading philosophy, and since I hit on this approach It is a pretty rare year when I don’t read every book in the Bible at least once or more. My reading philosophy is simple, I don’t want to read through the Bible every year, I want to know my Bible and what it reveals about my God better each year. If that sounds better to you than a reading plan, I want to share some practical ways to do that.
Bible reading needs to be intentional and regular.
I am aware that everyone’s life looks much different, and so the time and place when you read your Bible might not be the same as mine (which can be in first thing in the morning, but I more often read devotionally in the late morning or the early afternoon because I am too easily distracted by the wanting to take care of the days urgent business) but it should be regular, occurring on a regular if not every day basis, and intentional, viewed as a priority and not relegated to being a simple task completed in the left over time of the day. Find the time and place that works for you and stick to it.
Read what is being preached.
A hefty portion of my devotional reading is in the book that is being preached in church, and I read through that book once a week (or if it is a long book the section of the book currently being preached, and by section I don’t mean chapter I mean the macro literary unit, say Jesus’ Galilean ministry if your pastor is in that section in one of the Gospels). I believe you would greatly benefit from this practice. I know that may seem simple because these days I am the one doing the preaching, but this has been my practice for several years. It helps you not to lose the big picture and to be able to apply the greater understanding you are getting through the exposition of the Word in your life. Remember the New Testament Epistles were written to be read in one sitting, Deuteronomy records just three discourse of Moses, the Gospels tell one meta-narrative etc. This leverages all of the hard work your pastor is doing (or should be doing) in his study to help you better understand your Bible.
At least one day a week, read in one of the Gospels.
As a sinner saved by grace, you need to constantly look to your savior, and the best way to know Him is through reading and studying the Gospels. If you want to truly understand the divinity, humanity, mission and message of Christ, you must read, reread and then read again, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Spend time reading the books you don’t know well.
If your goal is to truly know your Bible and your God better you need to spend some time reading books you either don’t think about very often, or that you purposely avoid. All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). That includes Ezra, 2 Chronicles, Leviticus, Ezekiel, Nahum, Revelation and all of the other books that are commonly skipped over because they are too hard or seem not to be applicable in the believer’s life. To ignore them is to ignore part of God’s revelation to man that He inspired for your good.
Have a commentary or a Study Bible handy.
While I personally don’t do my devotional reading in a study Bible because I tend to read every note, which can be distracting to me, I do think it is invaluable to have one or a simple one volume commentary nearby at all times. After all what good is it if you read a verse or a chapter and have no idea what it was talking about. I heartily recommend the MacArthur Study Bible as well as his one volume Bible commentary as aids to devotional reading, as well as Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.
At least once, everyone should read through the Old Testament in the order of the Hebrew Bible.
Although not inspired, the Hebrew order presents the OT as a coherent unit in a way our English translation book order does not. For example in the Hebrew Bible Ruth is counted among the writings, rather than as an historical book and is preceded by Proverbs and followed by the Song of Songs. So when you (from a male point of view) read Proverbs 31 and you are left wondering if such a woman ever existed and just what does a “Proverbs 31 woman look like anyway” that question is answered by Ruth. After reading Ruth you are wondering what to do if you do spot such a woman you turn the page to the Song of Songs and you learn that you need to marry, love, and cherish her. Trust me, if you read through the OT in this order you will gain new scriptural insights and see connections you may have missed before. (This is a helpful chart from a non-christian source.)
Read what you need.
If you are suffering spend time in the Petrine Epistles or Job, if you are struggling with loving your spouse as you know you should spend time in the Song of Songs, if you need to cultivate a more worshipful attitude read the Psalms, if you are experiencing the consequences of bad decisions read proverbs and James. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your “plan” to concentrate on areas of the Bible that will help you be more Christ-like in areas you are currently struggling with.
Approach scripture reading as an act of worship.
Reading your Bible is not a box to check, it is an act of love and devotion to God. Read His Word because you love Him and want to know Him better. Read prayerfully and with a sense of awe that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in such an intimate and understandable way.
While these principles don’t guarantee that you will get through every verse of the Bible in one year, if honestly applied with a humble and teachable heart, they will guarantee growth in knowledge of our great God, His holiness and how you must respond to it.