Have you ever wondered how long it would take to read the Bible? Does it have to take a whole year? Depending on your reading rate, 65-75 hours. If you read the Bible for 15 minutes a day, there is your “Bible in a year” time. This year, beloved, do not ask “how much per day to read it in one year” but rather ask how much time did Paul and the other apostles think should be devoted to the Word? What tempts us ask “how little can I fit in to my busy life?”
As you think through your reading goals for 2024, spend some time meditating on 1 Thessalonians 2:13, and then go back and read 1 Thessalonians 1 in light of the knowledge that God’s Word is actively at work in us who believe.
If you are new to Scripture meditation, start here, then see here! When you grasp the truth and beauty of His Word at work, you will be drawn to abide in His Word, and will easily ward off the temptation to let your time in the Word to be sifted out by seemly urgent or otherwise contrary ways of stewarding your time.
Devoted to the Word
There is no verse stating a time requirement–to this many will sigh with relief…some because they think “Sunday sermons are all I need.” Or perhaps “this season is too busy, I’ll read more in years to come”…or “my brain is different, I c a n n o t focus on anything for 15 minutes.” Others sigh because we delight in our freedom to commune with God, we love the spirit of the law. What was your reaction? What does that reaction reveal about your affections, desires, delights?
How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
Who seek Him with all their heart. Psalm 119:2
With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
Blessed are You, O Lord;
Teach me Your statutes. Psalm 119:10-12
Open my eyes, that I may behold
Wonderful things from Your law. Psalm 119:18
Have a plan, this helps whether you a naturally disciplined person, or scatterbrained and random like me. But also be willing to let go of said plan in order to be occasionally spontaneous, or to attend to emergencies, without guilt. All God’s people are disciples, listening and learning and growing in grace and knowledge. But not by accident. We willingly sit at His feet, we learn to set our minds, we seek the renewal and transformation that He promises. And His words are balm, and nourishment, and delight.
With effort, and intentionality, we interact with the Scriptures through study, memorizing, meditating. There should be times of reading quickly for the overall picture of His redemptive plan and to grasp the greatness of God’s nature; and reading slowly to truly set our minds on things of the Spirit, and grow in our communion with God.
As you re-read and meditate and memorize and recall, you can return to familiar passages for the comfort and encouragement and perseverance we find in them. (see Romans 15:4-6, 13-14).
Is Chronological Better?
We Westerns (Western culture that is) prefer our history neatly and chronologically organized. Ancient history was never written this way. So the Bible need not be read this way, though you certainly are free to do so! Some people love their yearly trek through a Chronological Bible. If this is the only way you’ve ever read the Bible, this may be the year to branch out and read it differently.
You could simply read it in the order it has been passed down to us, quickly, for familiarity with the contents. Robert Murray M‘Cheyne has put together a helpful calendar to keep you reading in both testaments, in an order that is neither chronological nor book-by-book. Let us not think a particular plan is “better;” what matters is that we abide in His Word!
However you read, here are a few simple helps. Perhaps you’d like to listen as well as read. If you read or listen for an hour a day, and two hours on Sunday (the Lord’s Day, when our delight is to be in resting in Him, see here for more encouragement in practicing the Sabbath) you’ll have finished a quick read through in January and February. When you read this quickly, you’ll see repeated themes and phrases that would otherwise slip your mind; you’ll see how much of the OT is repeated in the NT, you’ll see how Revelation quotes and reuses OT word pictures; you’ll see more clearly how God has never changed, and there is no “God of the OT different from the God of the NT.” This affords you the rest of the year to re-read portions, remain in the Gospels, and study.
Remind yourself that there will never be a day in which you can come to the Word glibly, as though this were just a book and you are smart enough and know enough, and you just need to read it and move on. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we must guard against the fear that knowledge puffs up, which leads so many into sloth. It is easy to mistakenly grow comfortable in the little we have, and continue in the mindset of “that sort of thing is for pastors and elders.”
Long for the Word
When you don’t want to read, you may be tempted to believe it would be hypocrisy to sit and read. Beloved, sit at His feet anyway; look to Him, rehearse what you know of His love, of His goodness, of His providence in your life. Have some favorite passages to pray through in times like these (Psalm 27? Hebrews 4:14-16? John 14-17? Ephesians? The letters in Revelation? Other Psalms?). The actual hypocrisy is being His and not listening to Him, or delighting in what He has revealed.
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:1-5
Let us come to the Word walking humbly with our God; finding our life in Him and knowing our understanding comes from Him too. See John 5 . This is not an admonition to stop searching the Scriptures, rather it is a call to look at how and with what heart’s attitude you come to the Scriptures. The hungry and thirsty will be satisfied.
My 2023 reading “plan”
I did a little experiment this past year. Knowing I was capable of reading more than one time through each book, I wondered if I could plan simply by keeping record. I enjoyed this past year immensely! I kept a list of the 66 books as a bookmark in my Bible. Each time I finished a book, I put a tally mark. I read in whatever order I felt inclined.
Some books had many tallies, some only one. Some chapters I re-read many times over, without re-reading the “whole book” so these readings did not receive a tally mark. Would this bother you? It shouldn’t; we are not bound by any reading plan–rather we are bound by Jesus’ instructions to abide in His words. We are told that we are blessed by being often in them and feasting on them. We are commanded (yes, commanded) to study the Scriptures.
Spread yourself a feast in 2024.
Pick at least two books to study; and do it slowly. Read and study and discuss with fellow believers. Grow in your ability to spend more than 15 minutes reading. Read prayerfully, let His Word shape your prayers. Spend more time in the Word than in “devotionals.” If you haven’t read Deep Simplicity: Meditations on Abiding in Christ yet, perhaps this is the year! It has helped many to savour the Word, to delight in their reading, to grow in grace and knowledge. I’ve also put together a short book to get you started on some of the spiritual disciplines like reading, journaling, meditating, and studying the Word, titled “How Do You Read Your Bible?”