January 1: Resolved to read through the Bible in a year. To pick a program and simply stick with it. I know I’ve tried this before and failed (the lure of winning that Sunday School Certificate just wasn’t compelling enough) but this time I am really going to do it. Sheer will power will take me there. No excuses. It doesn’t matter that I work, have children, am sick, travel, celebrate holidays, or am just a lazy slob, this year I WILL do it.
I skip the plan that suggests you read straight through the Bible from beginning to end (too boring). And the one that has you read twenty verses from five different books every day (too annoying). I go for the historical one. It looks interesting. This one has you read the Bible chronologically and you get to see the flow of Biblical history. I like the idea. You start with Genesis and end with Revelations, but, for example, when you get to the life of Moses you get to throw in the Psalms he wrote and hear his poetry all through his troubles and triumphs. And when you get to the kings of Israel you get to read what the prophets were saying while their kingdoms crashed.
This desire is more than just wanting to congratulate myself on having done a good thing. Reading through the entire Bible would keep me from going the same old route which takes me to familiar places. Like Luke when I want to be jazzed by Jesus’ life. To the Psalms when I am depressed and doubting. I avoid Ecclesiastes; it is very dark. I am not fond of Leviticus either, too many sacrifices. And the minor prophets do rant so. However, I want to hear God’s voice in all its ways during all the times he spoke to and through men. I want to know Him. I want to know the hard parts where babies’ heads are dashed against stones. And I want to know why we must endure page after page of numbers and names of people we know nothing about.
I have read and I respect men like John Stott who say,
Christians who neglect the Bible simply do not mature. When Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy to the effect that human beings do not live by bread only but by God’s Word, he was asserting that the Word of God is just as necessary for spiritual health as food is for bodily health. I am not now thinking of remote Christian tribes people into whose language the Bible has not yet been translated, nor of illiterate people… I am thinking rather about ourselves. Our problem is not that the Bible is unavailable to us, but that we do not take advantage of its availability. We need to read and meditate on it daily, to study it in a fellowship group and to hear it expounded during Sunday Worship. Otherwise we shall not grow. Growth into maturity in Christ depends upon a close acquaintance with, and a believing response to, the Bible.
Source: God’s Book For God’s People by John Stott, IVP p. 76
So, even though I am tired from celebrating until midnight on the 31st of December, I prop myself up in bed. Denis brings me a cup of tea and I plunge in, reading Genesis 1-4. Creation accomplished! It feels so good to check off the square.
January 5 Got a phone call from Mom yesterday morning. I was in the midst of reading and forgot to finish. Today I have five chapters to read and they are long. Half-way through the chapters I move to my favorite chair in the living room and Denis comes in with the calendar and says we must plan our schedule for next fall and winter. It takes a long time. When we are finally done, I am in a bad mood. I don’t like planning dates and trying to imagine whether I will want to fly to Anchorage with him in January and do a workshop on “Why Young Girls Love Britney Spears” or “Cooking up Hospitality” for the women. (I am not an easy person to live with. All the more reason, of course, that I should read through the Bible.)
I am not done reading, but I decide it’s time to shower and get moving.
January 8 Am supposed to begin reading in Job. Turns out it is one of the oldest books in the Bible so for this reading program it comes in the middle of Genesis. But I woke up with a bad headache. I can barely focus enough to find my clothes. In fact, I don’t find them because everything I own needs to be washed. I pull something out of the dirty clothes hamper which makes my headache worse. I decide to skip the ritual for just one day. It seems important to start the laundry. I can make it up the next day.
January 9 I forgot to wake up early. Denis and I need to make a quick trip to Minneapolis and must leave right away. I take Prayers of the Puritans and Daily Light and we read and pray together in the car on the way. The Bible reading will keep.
January 10 Oops. Now I need to read 22 chapters in Job. When am I gonna find time for that? We have guests coming and I have to change the sheets, do this huge grocery shop—one of the hateful little duties of home-keeping—and clean the bathrooms, which strangely I do enjoy. Like crows and pack rats I value shiny things like chrome and porcelain. I don’t have energy for any of this and since I’ve read Job quite a few times in my life, I just read chapters 1 and 22. I check off all the dates.
January 11 Read Job 23-31. Nine chapters for one day? No kidding? I look at the book on my night stand: J.I. Packer’s Never Beyond Hope and wonder if I am. I decide to read as much of Job as I have time for since our Board of Director’s meeting begins today and since Denis and I are in vocational ministry shouldn’t I at least make an effort to grow in godliness? I have time for two chapters and then I need to get downstairs and put out breakfast for eight.
January 13 School has been canceled. Ten inches of snow fell last night and this morning it’s blowing so hard the wind chill index is sixty below. The kids are elated and rather than stay inside and quietly go back to bed like thoughtful children would do, they insist on going outside to begin construction of snow tunnels and forts. Which they do. For about the space of time it takes to brew a pot of coffee. Then they are back in, flinging boots and sopped mittens on the radiators where they smolder and smell like wet dogs. Then they beg for Swedish pancakes. The weather has ruined my routine.
January 14 I am sick. I look at the reading plan and check off the last three days without cracking the Bible. Instead I read Packer’s book subtitled How God Touches and Uses Imperfect People.
January 15 I begin with confession of sin. Pride—I thought I was better than this, but daily life proves I am not. And lying—it’s still a sin. Even if I’m the only one who looks at my Bible plan. I erase the checkmarks where I cheated, and decide just to begin with the current date, be honest and maybe if I have time, go back and catch up. Some Saturday I’ll spend the whole day reading. Meanwhile I will live with the gaps. As I begin reading in Job again, I hear a light tap on the door. It is one of my kids. Nine year old Sember says softly, ‘I know you told us not to bother you unless we can show you blood, but Jerem is sick. He’s throwing up in his room. Does this count?’ I leap off the bed and run down the hall. It is worse than I imagined. He must’ve drank a quart of grape juice just prior because a viscous purple liquid with white things floating in it is everywhere. The force of it has splashed up the bedroom door and onto the baseboard—which were once white but are now permanently stained a pale lilac. It’s hard not to think he did this on purpose since the bathroom is only about five steps away from his room. In that moment I know I am really evil. I forgot all about Job that day.
February 4 Not doing so well with the Bible reading. It’s hard to keep it going when we are out of town. There are more gaps in the past two weeks.
February 13 The book of Numbers is mostly that. And names, names, names. Maybe I could find one like Jabez and write a best seller. I skip ahead to I Kings and read two days worth.
February 18 Deuteronomy 12 – 18. I think I might begin to read the book of Luke. I like the idea of reading it with an eye for the questions Jesus asks people. Why does he do that? What do they mean?
March 3 I look at my checkered plan sheet with smudges and erasures. It isn’t working. I am doomed. A failing immature rat of a Christian. Barely two months and I am ruined. I quit. I decide to read what I can when I can and quietly slip into First Peter where Jesus says to me through the dear Apostle: But you are a chosen people… Mysteriously, despite all, I am among his chosen. It is sheer grace.
The Read-Through-the-Bible-Program for Shirkers and Slackers
Sadly, this has been my experience for much of my life. Until about six years ago, I NEVER made it through the Bible on one of those programs. In summary: I got sick. Traveled. Married. Raised children. The weather was bad. Or beautiful. My aunt had brain surgery. My in-laws dropped by for a day. The taxes were due at midnight, we were eating Chinese take-out, and still trying to figure out Turbo-tax. The engine fell out of the car while I was driving. (That was hard to explain to my husband who sort of believes some of our car repairs are due to my wild driving. Thankfully the Ford Company came to my aid when it recalled that year’s Taurus for bad motor mounts.)
So when Denis discovered a read-through-the-Bible-plan which he called ‘Reading for Biblical Literacy,’ I was cautious about it. After all, I was a veteran who’d tried everything.
It first came to his attention through Douglas Kelly’s book Why Pray? The basic plan dates from the time of the Puritans. It was given to him by Venus Brooks, a pastor from the Lumbee Indian tribe. Dr. Kelly writes, ‘Its special value is that it gives you a varied diet by exposing you to different parts of Scripture each day while providing continuity by causing you to return to the same section on the same day of the week all through the year.’
So throughout the year you read the following. On every:
Sunday: The books of poetry.
Monday: The Pentateuch
Tuesday: O.T. history.
Wednesday: O.T. history (there is a lot of it).
Thursday: O.T. prophets.
Friday: N.T. history.
Saturday: N.T. epistles.
So while having a fit of resolutions on a January 1st some years ago, I pulled it out, cut down the margins, folded it in half so it would fit in my Bible, and began.
The big difference between this plan and any other I had tried was that it was not tied to any particular date. On any day of the week, say it was Friday, I read the assigned portion and happily checked it off. Fridays were good days and it is true I finished all of them before I finished the Saturdays, but then I simply read wherever I was behind. I was not tempted to cheat, because there were no unsightly gaps. I knew it was going to take me longer than a year. And, after all, what is so inspired about doing it in a year? Nothing. I also liked not having to look up five different references in one day, you could just settle in and read an entire assignment which came from one book. It also had the advantage of giving more context because you read a whole chunk at a time rather than a few verses here and there.
Clearly another advantage in the arrangement was that it helped me see the remarkable unity and interconnections that run through the entire Scripture. On Monday I would be reading about the covenant God made with Abraham and on Saturday Paul would be talking about the very same thing in Romans.
And I figured out at least one thing about Numbers. If God cared enough about all those tribes and clans to count the people and to name them so we could look at them in the year 2002, then it is a certain kind of evidence that God is mindful of every one of his people no matter how anonymous or insignificant we think we are. But the best thing by far was simply checking off a day’s portion not a DATE.
I got through the whole Bible. It only took me a year and six months.