We need the complex protein of Romans as well as the natural sugars and vitamins found in the easier to digest Gospels.
As is often the case, the Google search results were inconclusive. Who said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”?
Benjamin Franklin seems the most likely author, but I can’t say it with certainty. I can say with certainty that I did not.
In any case, I’m going to risk coining my own version: Those who fail to plan reading through the Bible once a year plan not to.
So what? Is completing such a goal important? Clearly, for centuries, thanks to church leaders like Martin Luther and William Tyndale, the Bible was central to our faith, central to our churches and central to our preaching and teaching.
Must it still be so? I say yes, and so should we all. But does it still play that central role today? I’m not convinced.
In the Bible alone we read the story that leads us to the God who saves us through Christ. Our churches claim this same Bible is their “sole authority in matters of faith and practice.” This Bible boasts of being alive and sharper than any two-edged sword.
Is a once-a-year read through this sacred text too much to ask of ourselves and of one another?
I grew up on a steady diet of the Bible. Readings at the dinner table, memorization of key verses and passages at Sunday School and singing strange songs to help me learn the order of the books of the Bible. After all, if we did not know the order of the 66 books within The Book how could we ever find our way around it?
More importantly, how could we ever win a sword drill and the prize that went along with it? (A sword drill is a contest where a leader calls out a Bible reference and the first person to stand up and read the verse from his or her own Bible is the winner.)
Balancing our spiritual diet
Reading through the entire Bible at least once a year balances our spiritual diet. We need the complex protein of Romans as well as the natural sugars and vitamins found in the easier to digest Gospels.
And who can get by without the comfort food found in the Psalms or the medicinal benefits of the wisdom of Proverbs?
But if we leave out the fibre and avoid the tougher cuts found in books like Leviticus and Ezekiel, we tend to end up with a simple God and a tiny, tidy story – a story we can master.
Daily exposure to the Grand Story of Redemption and daily exposure to the Great Inexplicable Mysteries found in that story will help us to realize that the story of the Bible cannot be mastered. The Bible is meant to master us.
Not reading through the Bible at least once a year is like eating only your favourite three or four foods. That may be fine for a child just starting on solids, but it will never do for the believer in Christ intent on growing and maturing in his or her faith.
The challenge may seem daunting until you apply the math. For example, my Bible has 1,094 pages. If I divide that by 365, I get 2.997. Call it three. Three pages a day and I feed on my entire Bible in a year. That is a very reasonable goal. So reasonable, that I’m tempted to read more.
Should you start at Genesis 1 and press through non-stop to Revelation 22? If you’re a good reader, that should be fine. Or, you can find a plan which balances the Gospels, Psalms, Old Testament and New Testament in something a little easier to manage. Whatever your plan, stick to it. The plan is less important than perseverance and commitment.
Perhaps your reading skills are weak. Technology holds out a free gift for the taking; have your computer or smartphone read the text to you as you follow along. This may be the best way forward anyway – the spoken word possesses a special power.
For some wise warnings, let me turn to Robert Murray McCheyne, a Scottish minister from the 1800s. Yes, even Bible reading comes with warnings.
First, do not let it become a formality, a task, one more thing to check off your to-do list.
Second, don’t become self-righteous about your discipline. Bible reading in no way adds to the grace by which we are saved.
Third, don’t read carelessly: slow down; keep a notebook; use a highlighter. (Well, McCheyne lived before the invention of the neon plastic highlighter, but you get the idea.) “Hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” as the Book of Common Prayer so aptly puts it.
And lastly, don’t let your commitment to this valuable task become a burden too heavy to bear.
How do we avoid falling into these traps, or succumbing to these dangers? We guard against being trapped and entangled by praying. Begin your reading each day with prayer; pray as you read; pray when you’re done reading.
I encourage you to either do your math and organize yourself to move forward or simply choose a published plan. Whichever route you take, get started today. You will not regret this discipline, this daily habit which feeds your soul, gives you wisdom, helps you grow and contributes to your spiritual health.
As you grow, you will be better able to minister to others. We receive the gift of God’s Word in order that we might act it out, that we might share it in prayer, worship and obedience. We do not receive it in order to fill our heads with knowledge. Knowledge alone, even knowledge of God, like fresh cream, has a short shelf life, or as the Apostle Paul has said, it only “puffs up.”
Finally, once started, don’t get discouraged. Reading the Bible in a year is a noble goal and an excellent habit or practice. But if you fall behind, if you don’t remain true to your plan, press on anyway. Keep reading, plan or no plan. Keep reading whether you reach your target or not. Keep reading your Bible every day.