It occurred to me this morning why being a Biblical procrastinator isn’t wise for me. As I read the Bible, my goal each year is not necessarily to read every book, chapter, and word. Some years I want to read very slowly, maybe read the same chapter three separate times in a day, to try and see what I’ve been missing in certain books and sections of Scripture. Some years I do my best to consume large chunks, to try and grasp the “big picture”, over-arching themes that can get lost in the minutia. There’s no magic formula for which I am going to do year to year, but usually around November i’ll start trying to decide how I’m going to approach the Scriptures for the next twelve months.
This year, as it happens, I am looking to read the entire book. As a rule over the last few years, I haven’t been as concerned with tracking my progress via chapters read as much as by seeing the Bible in terms of books. I set a goal to read a certain book by a certain time. How I go about doing that is different depending on the layout and length of the book. I find it silly to think that I should stop reading Philippians with one chapter remaining (in the classic three chapter per day format); some books should be read in one or two sittings regardless of length.
I offer all of that backdrop simply to say this: when I read through the Bible non-chronoligically, I tend to succumb to the temptation to leave three books till the end every time. Those three books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. They are long, cumbersome, and in many places almost unintelligible to me. So much context has to be understood to even capture the simple essence of some sections that I easily get lost and bogged down. Granted there are oasis’ of beauty and promise and hope throughout all of them, but I find those passages to be like streetlights that illuminate a small circle of the road as I am trying to walk through a strange neighborhood.
After reading the last couple of days about the numerous oracles concerning God’s judgments on foreign lands, I found myself this morning without much tangible encouragement to show for my toil. I couldn’t land a finger on a verse or a sentence that really blazed out of the darkness to create a topic to meditate on or write about. And then I realized that this realization, perhaps, was the point.
The thought is nor original with me, but as I look back across the landscape of my life there are very few meals that I can remember eating. Very few main courses stick out in my mind. Very few dessert choices emerge as I try and return to the thousands of meals that I have consumed over the span of my days. But what I know for a fact, as is evidenced by the reality that I am still here, is that I did eat something for the majority of my days over the last thirty-five years. I don’t have to remember what it was, and really, I didn’t have to like it at the time of consumption, in order for it to have sustained my life. In a bizarre irony, I am alive today because of a thousand things that I consciously participated in but have no recollection of.
I can’t help but think of some of these seasons of reading in the same way. I don’t always have incredibly memorable thoughts or insights into the things I read. I don’t always have earth-shaking, life-altering moments with the text for the day. But what I do believe, fully and wholly, is that over the course of my Christian life, as I have followed Christ, I have been nourished and sustained and kept alive by things that are largely forgettable. The truth is, for me anyway, I am still Christian because of a thousand things that were not very exciting. True, I remember most of the meals I ate in Italy thirteen years ago on vacation, but those dozen lunches and dinners were obviously not enough to keep me alive until now. They had their place on those days. Similarly, I remember some chapters I’ve read and sermons I’ve heard (and less that I’ve preached), that I will never forget. But those memorable times were sustenance for their season and could not keep me alive and vibrant and healthy in my spirit for any longer than those moments.
So friends, I encourage you, if you are reading things that don’t make sense in passages that aren’t discernable, in books that seem distant, just keep reading. The chicken sandwich you ate when you were twelve didn’t make that much of an impact either but it was a link in the chain that got you this far.
Hey Kris! I applaud your commitment to reading the Holy Scripture. Let me offer this suggestion: Read the N.T. four times each year (once a quarter) and the O.T. at least once each year.
Vital: Just like a preacher/teacher should not confuse sermon/lesson preparation with personal devotions; don’t confuse “bible reading” with “bible study” (both are needed).
Here is a way to do it: Read three chapters out of the N.T. each day and read three chapters out of the O.T. each day. And to keep it interesting I suggest:
Start in Genesis (one chapter out of the history books)
Start in Job (one chapter out of the poetry books)
Start in Lamentations (one chapter out of the prophets)
Start in Matthew (one chapter out of the Gospels)
Start in Acts (one chapter out of the history/ Pauline epistles)
Start in Hebrews (one chapter out of the nonPauline epistles)
With the ability to sync your phone/”tablets”/laptops, etc. you can do this anywhere.
Do this for twenty years and get back with me,
Twenty years feels like three lifetimes when i read it typed out like that 🙂
But, the suggested reading guide is much appreciated. It would be of great interest to me how you differentiate between studying the Bible and reading the Bible (you personally). I’ve tended to always separate teaching/preaching preparation and personal devotions, but I haven’t traditionally drawn a line between reading and studying within my devotions.
I appreciate you taking the time to comment. It scathes a tad, but in a good and challenging way.
Hey Kris! To follow up…
First, I am thankful that my remarks came across as “good and challenging” but please believe me, in no way did I want them to appear scathing. I am thankful for your obvious passion for the Word and I assure you my only desire is to stir up the special gift that has been given to you.
Now to address you questions: “Drawing a line between reading and studying within my devotions.”
RE: Reading the bible – think of general reading of the bible as “breathing and eating”. Day by day, year by year you just read through the bible over and over allowing it to nurture you. Also, think “portable” here. Have the bible and a good book with you always. (However, don’t read the good book until you’ve finished your daily allotment of reading the Good book.)
RE: Reading the bible to study – think of studying your bible as “exercise”. Breathing and eating is second nature, done almost without thinking. Exercise is intentional, done with an end in mind. My bible study, since you asked, consist of four venues:
• I take a book of the bible and spend a year with it – consulting excellent commentaries and other resources. (Currently I am studying the Gospel of John and am enjoying it so much that I will probably continue into 2013).
• I take a systematic theology and study it (Currently I am studying “A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith”, Robert L. Reymond, published by Nelson). This guy is solidly in the Reformed Theology camp and very “non-Pentecostal” and has thus challenged me repeatedly. He’s made me mad but also has stretched me and helped me to reexamine my faith and understanding of the bible. I’m honored to have spent a year with him.
• I read a serious apologetics to strengthen my faith (Currently I am reading Hugh Ross’ “Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job” published by Baker) As a side note, I highly recommend Ross’ apologetic’s ministry: Reasons to Believe (www.reasons.org)
• I read a little from a written sermon (usually one of the classics). I am currently reading through the series: “Classic Sermons on…” compiled by Warren W. Wiersbe, published by Hendrickson. This series gives me the combined benefit of reading classic sermons by multiple preachers on one particular subject at a time.
This is my “workout” regiment for studying the Holy Scripture. It takes about an hour (like a good workout) and has greatly helped me over the years. Combined I will probably only read 15-20 pages from all four books each day. The goal is not to read a book through quickly but to study it in order to help me understand the bible. I fill the margins with personal notes. I argue, fuss, fight and submit to these great men and woman…and ultimately to the Holy Spirit.
One more side note – highlight every word you do not “for certain” know the meaning of and then look up the definition of one word per day. Increasing and improving your vocabulary is vital for a student of any discipline.
Hope this helps, I know it has helped me.
Keep writing your blog everyday – this keeps the creative juices flowing and fights the dead sea syndrome. I greatly enjoy your writings.