I have tried year upon year for the last maybe six years to read the Bible in its entirety over the course of a year. I have bought books, researched online for the most convenient and user-friendly plan, but each time, usually after a week, or if I’m lucky two, the plan goes out the window, taking my motivation to continue with it. This is not to say that my faith, devotion to God, or eagerness to read the Bible goes with it. I think the problem lies with the plans themselves, not with the people attempting to follow them.
Look in the back of most any new Bible and there will be a set of reading plans for the Bible. You can read the Bible in 60 and 90 days, and also in a year. Ok, so at face value, this seems like a great thing, right? And at face value, it really is! It encourages people to get in touch with scripture and read it steadily for a set period of time. But on the other hand, at times, these plans seem to be more concerned with the length of time assigned to the reading plan, not the text being read in that length of time. Hypothetically, these schedules emphasize reading the text in a designated period of time. But as many of my friends (and also myself) can testify, it is easier to read the Bible according to our own plan at times than it is to read it in a year, or in a month or three.
What I have always wondered was, are these plans designed to help people “read the Bible” or gain a further and deeper understanding of their faith? I can understand why Bibles contain these plans, especially ones designed to delve into specific biblical themes (ex: prayer, the miracles of Jesus, God’s promises, etc.), but I am extremely skeptical about the ones that try to uncover the “big picture” of the Bible in such a short period of time. I have to confess, I have not read the entire Bible from cover to cover, but it can be said that I have tried on numerous occasions. But the thing that I seem to miss every time I make such an attempt is what I am supposed to be gaining from reading such a HUGE text in “one sitting” so to speak. I am quick to lose enthusiasm – not because I don’t love Jesus, or am not understanding the smaller teachings the Bible has to offer me – simply because the text is so HUGE. I don’t believe that the Bible was meant to be read in one sitting, or in a large volume period. And with this said, just because one has read through the Bible once, doesn’t mean that they have gleaned everything that the text has to offer. To assume as much would be ignorant and without any evidence. Instead, I think God intended for the text to give small gifts to the reader over the course of their lifetime, rather than just for specific moments. I can testify to this fact. Over the last year, I have read and re-read my favorite Psalm (Psalm 91) and my favorite Gospel (The Gospel of John) countless times, and each time, the two texts give me something new and exciting that I wasn’t ready to uncover yet. But what does this mean in the grand scheme of biblical scholarship for us average Christians? What does this have to do with those short- and long-term reading plans? Do those plans intend for their readers to simply complete the plan and then go about their lives unchanged? Or perhaps, are they designed to spark an interest in the reader, inviting them to make the plan into an every day practice?
So, I suppose I’ll use myself as the test case. For the next 30 days, I am going to follow a Bible Study plan and record my progress. I have failed this sort of thing numerous times before, just a month ago even. But both in preparation for my entry into seminary, and also for my own personal edification, I am going to embark upon this plan and evaluate its effectiveness, so to speak. Ok, I’ll give it to you, it sounds extremely sleazy and superficial. But in order to understand completely whether or not these short-term (and also long-term, but I don’t have the ability to just begin a year-long reading plan and have results in the blink of an eye, so I’ll go with the 30-day option instead) plans are effective in gaining a deeper understanding of scripture, and also whether or not they help a person to feel closer to God in such a short period of time.
As I “confessed” earlier, I have never read the Bible cover to cover in “one sitting.” In other words, I haven’t sat down with a plan to read the Bible cover to cover. Instead, I’ve always elected to read the Bible in whichever way I feel led to. I’ll read scripture based upon my needs for the day, whether I need comfort, encouragement, etc. That way, I am able to connect with the text on my own level, on my own terms. I have often shied away from reading plans because I feel that they insist on specific passages every day, not necessarily leaving room for emotional connection to the text. But I think that by embarking upon a specific reading plan over the next 30 days, I will be able to test my theory, and hopefully liven up my reading of scripture and inspire my daily devotions.
More info to follow…