Why is it that we often feel so unhealthy and malnourished when we get to the end of every year? Many of us think it’s the Christmas cookies and the stocking stuffers getting to us. While that may be the case to some degree, the truth is many of us are craving the spiritual milk and are experiencing stunted growth (1 Pt. 2:2). We feel drained by the inconsistency of our time in the Word (Heb. 5:14). By the time we reach the days and weeks leading up to the new year, our diet is oftentimes all out of whack and in need of a good refresh.
We join the masses in making January 1 our “Reset” button. While we’re motivated to start a new Bible reading plan and convince ourselves that this is, indeed, our year to finish, we also often look back with discouragement on the year prior. We are funneled into shame and disappointment that we abandoned our sole source of nutrition. Some of us having been starving ourselves for months by now, desperate for change.
The Church is sadly growing far too lean in terms of its spiritual diet. We’re all so longing to fix our physical bodies coming into the beginning of January, but are sadly not as perplexed about our souls. We need this Word, and we need it every day of every month of every year. We remind ourselves of this and we get excited about starting a new plan in the new year, but most of us simply do not follow through. We can’t give up. What do we do?
If we’re ever going to be truly nourished by the “pure spiritual milk” the apostle Peter refers to, we have to remember a few things along the way. These are the things that will help us stay motivated on January 2, April 26, and November 12 alike. These are hard lessons I have had to learn, and I have by no means arrived. So, I write these not only as reminders for myself in 2016, but for you as well.
The Best Way is Your Way.
There are so many Bible reading plans out there. But amazingly enough, we often treat them all as unquestionable, unalterable resources. Many of us will be walking into a brand new plan on January 1, doing something we have never attempted. This often looks like forcing ourselves into a round hole when we are just a bit too square for the plan we picked. The reaction is to give up, but we must not!
The beauty in following a Bible reading plan is that it is totally customizable. Take the Robert M. M’Cheyne plan for example, which my wife and I completed one year. M’Cheyne designed this plan in a very specific way, but we just weren’t feeling it in some respects, so we worked with it at times. There is freedom here. If we are going to grow into chewing on the solid food of the Word, we have to think of what is best feeding us. We must have our nourishment at the forefront of our minds. If that means switching some things up four months in, so be it. The best way is your way.
Your Reading Plan Doesn’t Have To Be Legalistic.
I was recently reading a blogger’s advice on how to stay disciplined in a daily Bible study. He suggested keeping a journal, starring the days he read his required chapters, and putting a cross where he didn’t read. He mentioned that he often found himself motivated by the symbols. Seeing a week full of crosses was what fueled him to get his act together, and seeing the stars made him feel really good. Maybe it works for him, but I find this practice not advisable for everyone.
The worst part of following a Bible reading plan are the dangerously close parallels it can run with a mechanical, unfeeling, legalistic approach to Scripture. If we do not stay on guard throughout the year, we turn the plan into a “checkbox” mentality. It would be one thing reading a fiction book, but we’re talking about coming before the Lord with His Word here. We cannot afford to drudge through our daily readings for the sake of checking a box, nor should we feel guilty for missing a day. Plans shouldn’t force our worship, but rather guide it.
The main motivating factor for our reading should be that we seek to worship God. So, follow a plan, because discipline matters, and we should want to regularly worship God. But remember, missing a day isn’t something you should feel dismayed about. There’s grace even for your failure to pick the Good Book up. Your plan doesn’t have to be legalistic, because it’s not rooted in law and commandment, but in Christ.
Difficult Passages Are Worth Your Time.
Someone once said that many Bible reading plans have died in the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. This humorous expression perfectly sums up many of our experiences with Bible reading plans, particularly when we attempt to read the whole Bible over the year. Most people give up in books like Leviticus, 1 Kings, and Ezekiel because of their literary difficulty. Lots of ancient narrative and seemingly pointless numbers and genealogies wear away at us. The tendency in approaching these passages for us is oftentimes speeding through “unimportant” details or skipping altogether.
It is okay to admit Scripture is difficult to read. It’s a huge book by many human authors in multiple languages written over many centuries. God never intended we have a small tract to reveal to us the whole story. However, we cannot forsake our plans in the face of exerting topics. If we hold to the truth of the sufficiency, inspiration, infallability, and clarity of Scripture (best described as Sola Scriptura) then we are also recognizing such portions of the Word as valuable, even necessary for our souls.
Think of it in this way: God in His infinite wisdom felt that we could not have a complete Bible without the inspired writings of Obadiah. He places it on the same level of importance as the Psalms and Galatians. Christ, in fact, quoted Leviticus more than any other OT book, which most pastors today could not affirm for themselves. We must persevere through the difficult passages and books. If they were worth it to God in passing down to us, we must bid them worth our time.
Family Bible Time Is Unique and Irreplacable.
I benefit often from studying on my own in the Word (and this is essential) but there is something extremely valuable about studying the Bible with your family, whether or not you have children. The benefits of walking through a plan or study with loved ones are great in number, a few of which I’ll mention here.
First, there is a level of accountability that is special. For my individual studies, my only accountability partner is iCal. But with my wife holding me to my commitments, I am far less likely to put off reading. Not only is there accountability, but the dialogue created by reading together is so encouraging. Taking the time to talk a few minutes about the verses we’ve read together ushers in opportunities for theological discussion, exhortation, and watching your spouse/children growing and maturing in the Lord. Is there anything more valuable than these things?
Finally, a word to husbands and fathers. Reading Scripture with your family is a fast way to becoming the spiritual leader in the home. We have been commissioned by God to lead our families well, and what better way to do that than making time in the Word a primary priority in our homes? I encourage you, find a plan, even if you do your own separate individual plan, that your family can walk through together. Maybe it’s a few verses a night before bed. Nonetheless, it is highly valuable.
You Cannot Mess Up In Reading God’s Word.
John Newton has a helpful reminder for us in one of his letters to a friend. “When our love to the Lord is in lively exercise, and the rule of his Word is in our eye — we seldom make great mistakes.” Newton understood that being immersed in and by the Scriptures is like setting up hedges around ourselves, being a boundary for us as we go into the world. What God desires of us in our Bible reading plans is not perfect attendance, or perfect understanding, but honest desire.
God often works through imperfect people doing imperfect things to reveal His perfections. Moses was a bad sinner, and felt unable to lead Israel out of captivity due to a stutter, but God wasn’t having his excuses, and neither will He have ours. Our distracted, tired eyes coming to the Bible in confusion and frustration are bound to be blindsided by the depths and riches of the Word. All we have to do is pick it up and read it. Thankfully for us, it is a fool-proof task.
Dear brother and sister, approach January 1 with excitement to dig into your new plan. But do not be so caught up in the checkboxes and the difficulties and the demands that you miss the whole point. We read our Bibles to hear from the Lord and His excellencies (Rev. 1:3). We read our Bibles to see how He will protect us and provide for us, how He will test us and how He will glorify Himself (Jam. 5:11). We read our Bibles to smell the sweetness of the Lord and His beauty (Songs 5:13). We read our Bibles to feel our salvation all over again (Heb. 6:9). We read our Bibles to taste and that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8).
This is no fad diet. This is the nourishment we need for the year ahead.