I’ve always admired those people who can read through the Bible each year. I once met an elderly saint, who shared with me — shortly before his death — that he had read through the Bible something like 50 times over his lifetime. Wow! He has been a spiritual mentor to me, teaching me more about intimacy with God than anyone else. In many ways, I want to be just like him.
But unlike my mentor, when I’m on my deathbed, I will not be able to report having read through the Bible 50 times–or anything close to that number. Sure, I’ve tried it on occasion over the years, but most of the time unsuccessfully; it was one of those New Year’s Resolutions that I couldn’t sustain. Most of the time I would fall behind, then quit, and then feel guilty.
I admire those who can read through it in a year, and encourage people to do it, but here are five reasons why I am unlikely to make reading through the Bible in a year my annual goal.
- My comprehension level is insufficient to skim-read effectively. Compared to most people, I’m the kind who needs to read slowly in order to grasp what is being said. Reading the entire Bible at my speed would take an unreasonable amount of time each day.
- I am committed to the belief that every word (and jot and tittle) of the Bible is God-breathed and purposefully written and so I seek to fully understand all that God is communicating. If I did try to skim-read the Bible I would feel like I’m just getting the headlines — an overview — and not the details of God’s message. (This is also why in my Bible study I prefer a more literal translation rather than a more contemporary paraphrase; I’m more interested in the details of what God actually said than man’s interpretations about what God might have been saying.)
- Someone once said, “What matters is not me getting through the Bible, but whether or not the Bible is getting through me. ” Unless I slow down and meditate on what I’m reading I know that God’s Word will not get through me–I will miss the vast majority of personal applications. Someone else said, “We should read God’s Word for inspiration, not information.” I want to read it with the mindset that it’s about God’s heart reaching my heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. For me, that takes time and a lot of focus.
- I don’t ever again want my Bible reading to be associated with guilt; instead, I want it always to be a joy and delight. To me, having to stick to a prescribed daily reading schedule for 365 days in a row makes reading God’s Word often feel like a chore on a checklist.
- My lifestyle is too sporadic and inconsistent to do anything for 365 days in a row! I know that there will be days when it is just not reasonable for me to spend a chunk of time reading the Bible. Driving straight through to New Jersey, being sick with the flu, experiencing days of extreme exhaustion, or dealing with an unexpected crisis — these things are realities in my life where grace is needed. If I were tethered to a strict Bible reading schedule, any missed readings would begin to pile up, necessitating more skimming, frustration, and guilt. Or just quitting altogether–as I have done many times!
Many years ago, I changed the way I read the Bible.
Now, I prayerfully determine a specific number of minutes that I want to spend in God’s Word each day, knowing that some days it will not be reasonable to do so. When the appointed time comes, I go to a quiet place with my Bible and a highlighter and I set a timer for my predetermined amount of time. Then I dive in, absorbing myself into God’s Word, reading as slowly as I can, comparing relevant passages, and underlining the things that are particularly meaningful or insightful. I get so absorbed that I often lose track of time completely. When my timer goes off, I simply draw a line in the margin at that point and pick it up there the following day. No quota to meet, no rush, and no pressure: just the enjoyment of meditating on what God is saying. Sometimes I get through two chapters, sometimes no more than a single paragraph. It doesn’t matter in the least! Sometimes, God gives me opportunities to share what He showed me that day.
Whatever your plan and pace, I hope that 2020 finds you growing in your reading of God’s Word!
[Update: in 2021, I tried something new. Using the Youversion app, I read through the Bible Chronologically, reading through the text and also listening at the same time. I didn’t stick to the daily calendar schedule, my life is too sporadic for that level of consistency. But I was able to set aside irregular blocks of time, completing the whole Bible in 7 months, something I’ve never come close to doing before. There was value in chronologically “speed-reading” the entire Bible this way, but it’s not something I will do very often for all the reasons in this blog post.]