**Note: This blog post is comprised of edited excerpts from two previous blog posts. To read more in context, check out my blog posts for the 2016/17 new year, and the 2018/19 new year.**
I love the God-given rhythm of new years... Giving thanks for what has been, and looking forward to what might lie ahead. And I love resolutions – or better, habits and goals – and thinking about how we might best steward the time and other gifts God has given. Today, one area (amongst so many others!) I'm keen to think and write about is how we might read and soak in God’s Word in 2019.
Why Have a Daily Practice of Devotionally Reading the Bible?
Why read the Bible? Why have a daily habit of sitting with and meditating upon the Word of God?
I don’t know about you, but I remind myself of Israel: I forget so quickly. (Eg, 1 Sam. 12:8-9; Jer. 2:32; Ps. 106:12-22). Unless I’m regularly feeding upon God’s Word, I'm prone to forget his promises, to forget who I am in Christ, and to forget how the gospel gives me real power for the present, and hope for the future. I start to believe the whispers of the world, the devil, and my own fickle flesh. Having God’s Word, and having his ear in prayer, are a daily lifeline. (Caveat: my actual, real lifeline is the person and work of Jesus Christ, especially in his death and resurrection... his saving grace, drenching and overwhelming like a summer storm.) Reading the Bible and praying is not what saves me and gives me life… but it is a precious gift from God in my humanness to help me remember the One who has saved me – his completed work and his promises. As I hear God’s voice in his Word and speak to him in prayer, I daily walk with and remain connected to the one who is my lifeline. The one who has promised that if we abide in him, and he in us, and his Word in us, we will have life and bear much fruit. (John 15:4-7)
We read the Bible because Jesus himself quoted the Scripture in saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4; quoting Deut. 8:3). We read the Bible because it discerns our hearts, and lays us bare to ourselves, as well as before God (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 7:7-13), because it is the inspired Word of God which was given for our teaching, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and because, as Jesus modelled in the desert in Matthew 4, it is our defence and weapon against the accusations and lies of Satan (Eph. 6:13-17). We read the Bible because, as God's Word dwells richly within us, it transforms and renews our character so that we increasingly reflect our Lord Jesus - for the glory of God and our joy.
We make a habit of reading the Bible because our habits form us – and because we want to be formed in the image of Christ, and for our character and loves to be formed by God’s grand story, centred on Christ. And having the Word of God before our eyes and in our hearts, as the Spirit of Christ works in us, is a key part of how our good Father has designed this transformation in us to happen.
There’s plenty of ways you might read the Bible. Last year I read a few books slowly. In 2017, I read the whole Bible in one year. This year I’m planning to do the same. Here are some of my reflections…
1. Reading the Bible in a year?
I still remember the first time I read the Bible all the way through in a year. My impressions after that first time of reading the whole Bible in a year?
- I still didn't understand lots of it.
- I couldn't even really remember some bits I'd read.
- I had less than fond memories of Numbers and Chronicles, particularly their opening genealogies (something which has most definitely changed for me now!)
- I discovered some incredible, rich parts of the Bible that I didn't even know existed
- It helped me to start to see the "big picture" of the Bible. The story of salvation history, and how it all fits together.
- I started to see how all Scripture looks to, moves towards and is interpreted in light of Jesus Christ and his cross (Luke 24:25-27). (And as the years have passed, I've come to see, understand and be deeply moved by this more and more and more.)
- I started to see how rich the Old Testament is, and how it accentuates and deepens the significance of the New Testament, and the grace shown in our precious Lord Jesus.
- I was humbled by this story of salvation history. as I saw how much bigger God's plans are than just my little life, yet at the same time, blown away that I was invited to become not only part of this incredible story, but a valued and significant member of God's family.
- It prompted heaps of questions, and I longed to know and understand more... and perhaps most of all:
- It drew me closer to my God, and his precious Son, Jesus Christ, and made me long to know him better through his Word and his Spirit.
2. Reading the Bible slowly?
2018 was a year of “intimacy” in Bible reading for me. I read slowly, and in small chunks. The year didn’t really turn out as I planned, but in it, God gave much grace, as he always does.
In this habit of daily, slowly, and meditatively sitting with small chunks of the Bible, God’s Word became increasingly precious to me. It was so worth it, and I would do it again. I found that this kind of slow and close-up reading was incredibly valuable. Often, my heart started to see and believe and feel in a new way as I just kept on sitting with the same passages.
Other times, I wondered if what I was doing was helpful. Sometimes I looked at the same passage, and yet couldn't come up with any insights or applications that felt new or profound.
I think a lot of that is pretty normal. We don’t read the Bible to gain profound insights every time we open it, or to feel a certain way every time, or to find life-changing, concrete applications every time – even though these are good things, and to be received with joy. We make habits of reading the Bible because in it, God speaks to us, and we sit at his feet, in his presence, and receive from him: grace upon grace in Christ. Bible reading often reminds me of my humanity. I have days of enthusiasm and joy, and days of weariness and weakness. Days of clarity, and days of foggy barrenness. But the perpetual lesson is God’s faithfulness, not mine. It’s his Word, after all. Christ has promised to be with us until the end of the age, and he is. That’s why we pursue him and hide his Word in our hearts, by the power of his Spirit.
Here's some reflections on my year reading the Bible slowly, in case they are of any help or encouragement to anyone:
- Spending time in a book of the Bible for an extended time really is worthwhile. I recommend it, and am glad I slowed down this year. I'm enjoying this rhythm.
- I think, in general, it’s a good habit to read the Bible before reading what others have said about it (eg in sermons, blog posts, commentaries, books). I did this, and recommend it as a habit - but on balance, I wish I’d spent a little more time listening to or reading what others had written about these parts of the Bible.
- Memorisation of (and subsequent meditation upon) Scripture is inestimably valuable. Having God’s Word hidden in your heart is worth every minute and every ounce of discipline you pour into it.
- I’m itching to read the whole Bible again. I’m missing the bits I haven’t read in a while.
- I wish, during my Bible-in-a-year reading in 2017, that I was more deliberate about jotting down the many questions that arose as I read through the text. I did this a bit, but not nearly consistently enough, and not all in the one place. (Rookie error.) I’d love to have taken some of those questions and used them to potentially shape my Bible reading in a “slower” year like 2018, as I explore some of the questions, topics, and musings I’m not able to pour time into when I’m reading bigger chunks. I’m going to be more deliberate about that this year, and see if it bears fruit.