On January 1st each year many of us tell ourselves – or – we might even be so foolish as to say it aloud so someone might overhear – “This year I’m going to read through the Bible in a year.” I grew up thinking this is something sincere Christians should do.
Invariably I’d adopt one of the many Bible reading programs out there. One reason I turned to a plan is because in my own Bible reading I tended to wear out a path to my favorite books in the Bible. To remedy this I thought perhaps my view of God’s purpose in history and his dealings with his people needed help. I was becoming myopic. I wanted my understanding to be fuller, richer. I wanted to learn more about how God related to his people. To me.
What better solution can there be than resolving to read all 1,189 chapters of the entire Bible which translates into 3.258 chapters every day for a year?
I finally admitted it was never going to happen. Each year I my good intentions slowly drained away day after day as I fell further and further behind. I started well, reading the necessary chapters every day. For a week. Proudly I checked off the boxes. Genesis 1-3. Done. Matthew 1-3. Check.
One morning after the first week I got up later than normal and the household was already buzzing with needs. Tomorrow, I told myself, I’ll get up early and catch up. The next day guests were coming for breakfast and I wasn’t prepared. I’ll just read the chapters tonight before bed. I went about my day. At bedtime I fell asleep in the middle of Isaiah chapters 1-3.
The next day what I had missed would take an entire day of reading to catch up. I checked the boxes anyway. Done. Who would ever know? I’d start fresh on Monday.
By the end of February I was so far behind I needed to move into a monastery to catch up. Since that wasn’t possible, I checked off a bunch more little boxes and tucked my conscience under the bed. By month three I had to admit the reading plan wasn’t working so I tucked that into the back of my desk and said, next year. Maybe.
I’m not sure who began this tradition, but I can understand why. Sort of. It seems like a godly thing to to read the entire Bible in a year. It could give me discipline and a much needed review and overview of scripture. It could remind me of God’s great plan to redeem his people and establish his kingdom. It could even help me understand my own place in this great story. And wouldn’t God love me because I did?
Some might actually stick to the program and complete it. I admire them. However, my attempts to keep this schedule only brought me guilt and failure. So, I had to rethink the entire enterprise.
First of all, who said reading the Bible in a year is the key to maturity? If you don’t do it? What then? You’re a loser? In whose eyes? Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to do this. There is nothing magical or sacred about reading through the Bible in a year.
Second, I thought of all the centuries when God’s people could not read or did not have access to a printed Bible even if they were literate. If they were truly God’s children did this affect their standing with Christ or the Church? I didn’t think so. I look forward to one day meeting all the people who faithfully loved and followed the Lord in spite of not being able to read the entire Bible in a year.
Any rule we make thinking it will gain us favor with God puts us right back under the law. Jesus died to deliver us from this very thing. We want to keep away from any legalistic claims about what makes us acceptable in God’s eyes.
There had to be another way.
Sure enough. I came across a program developed by a friend and immediately saw it had potential for a person like me. I changed it some and named it The Read Through the Bible Program for Shirkers and Slackers.
Each day of the week has me reading a different section of the Bible.
Sunday: Old Testament Poetry
Tuesday: Old Testament History
Wednesday: Old Testament History
Thursday: Old Testament Prophets
Friday: New Testament History
Saturday: New Testament Epistles
I like this program for several reasons. I made a list of the daily readings with a little box you can check after reading it. (I like checking boxes.) The daily readings are not assigned to any special date so this allows flexibility. I read as I can and who cares how long it takes? If I finish up all of Monday’s readings, fine. I just switch to another section where I’m behind and read there instead. In this way I eventually get through the entire Bible without becoming discouraged because I’ve fallen so far behind.
Just recently I again finished Read Through the Bible for Shirkers and Slackers, but it has taken one year and four months to complete. For me that’s pretty good. Some read-throughs have taken me more than three years.
My hope is that this will be an encouragement to you, that you will find yourself less burdened and actually able to comprehend and process more of God’s word without the pressure to read so much you gradually fall behind and give up.
You can download the Read Through the Bible Program for Shirkers and Slackers here.