Now is the time of year when everybody starts thinking about bible reading plans. Some people will tell you they don’t even reckon you’re proper Christian unless you’re smashing your way through the whole thing in a year. If you’re into doing that, that’s terrific. Go nuts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this and clearly something to commend it.
For the most part, the least I can say is that reading the Bible through in a year won’t do you any harm at all. That is unless you are prone to thinking you’re better than people who haven’t done that, in which case, it’s probably doing you more harm than you realise. If reading your Bible through in a year is just puffing you up and making you think you’re better than people who don’t, I would remind you that on the last day, nobody is going to Heaven because of how quickly or regularly they read the Bible. It also bears remembering that the Bible doesn’t actually command anywhere that you read it, let alone read it through in a year. There can be some real legalism around this stuff.
There can be something of a whiff of the ‘keen Christian’ vibe going on around bible reading. Like there are Premier League Christians who read their Bible in a year, Division One to Four lads who do it over two, three or four and then non-league folks who don’t have a Bible reading plan at all. Of course, the implication goes, the Lord is happier with the Premier League lads. Well, maybe. But, as I say, I’m not convinced there is a straight line between how often or quickly you read your Bible and how much you love the Lord Jesus or whether you will be in line to sit anywhere near his right or left hand in glory. These things just aren’t written in the scriptures, which is ironic when it comes from those who insist they are reading them regularly and encouraging others to do the same as a matter of vital importance.
Of course, reading the Bible for the sake of knowing and loving Jesus more is a good thing. Christians do have a natural desire to encourage people to read because God has revealed himself in his Word to us. If we meet him in the pages of a book, we do well to read it to know and love him more. So, if we never read the Bible or, at least, never engage with it in some way (and that goes beyond reading) we will run into problems. The Bible does tell us the engage with it in various ways. One simple and obvious way is to read it and then dwell upon what we have read, and there are bunch of ways we can dwell on it without necessarily reading it (more of which here).
But there is clearly a case for reading the Bible if you are able. But often, as I argued here, reading plans can be difficult to maintain and, somewhat ironically, can actually stop us from properly engaging with the scriptures most helpfully. So, instead of offering you a Bible reading plan to get you through in a year or two years that you might get behind and then feel immense guilt for having failed after only a few days, I wanted to offer you a fool proof bible reading plan. It won’t take you through the Bible in a year (probably). It won’t even do it in two or three. But it will take you through it over time if you commit to it and it will do so in a way that is both manageable and does more than just reading it, but leads you to understand it too.
So, here is my suggested Bible reading plan for you. Read the passage your church is going to be looking at this coming Sunday. Within seven days, read what you will be studying in church. If you don’t read the passage ahead of time, fear not! On Sunday, the passage will be read out in church. You have two bites of the cherry to read the passage before you.
In our church, you will actually get the same passage three times a week if you follow this reading plan. You will have your own preliminary reading. We encourage people to note down observations and questions they have of the text during this read through. They will then get a second reading on Sunday at church prior to the sermon. The sermon will explain and apply the text and (hopefully) address some of the thoughts and questions people have noted down. We then have a third reading in our midweek groups, where any questions and observations people had that were not addressed can be answered more directly and applications pressed into further. This is three opportunities to get to grips with the same portion of scripture. If you happen to miss one of them, there are two other chances to hear it again. And, as we all know, repetition is the key to learning.
As we are committed to systematic, book-by-book, expository preaching in our church, eventually this Bible reading plan will take you through the whole Bible. It won’t do it in a year. It won’t even do it in two or three years. In fact, it might be over a pretty long and protracted time. But that’s okay. Jesus doesn’t say there are extra sanctification points for reading it any quicker. But there may be some benefit in reading certain parts much slower in order to understand them most clearly and, better yet, actually remembering them because we have read them multiple times and reiterated the main teaching points from them.
Interestingly, and far be it from me to praise the Anglicans, but some of this sort of thinking lay behind the lectionary readings. The idea was that several readings each week would take everyone through the Bible communally. For those who couldn’t read or didn’t have the wherewithal to read, this was their way of helping them engage with scripture. I don’t think that is at all a bad thing. I don’t think it has to be done across a year, or even a few years, to be valuable. But there is something to be said for this approach.
But if you are not into lectionary readings – and for all I just said, I think there are good reasons not to follow that sort of pattern – reading the Bible communally is how most people throughout history have engaged with it. They were not expected to do quiet times and morning devotionals. Most were in no position to do so. It was not considered that those who read the Bible the most were ‘keen Christians’ who loved Jesus more. It was simply the case that the primary place for engaging with the Word was in church as the church.
So, if you are into Bible reading plans, have at it. If you have found them helpful, useful and beneficial then get stuck in. Read your Bible through over whatever length of time you find best for you. But if that’s not you, or you find the routine of it difficult, or you find you are reading because you have been told to do so, or you find reading through is puffing you up, or you just find reading super hard, or you find personal reading more of an obligation than a joy and just don’t understand what you are reading, there is another plan you can follow. Read what your church will be reading. Follow the systematic preaching schedule of your church. Try and read the passage ahead of time, hear it read on Sunday and dwell on what you heard together throughout the week.
Whatever else we might say about this approach, it is the one that the majority of church-goers have employed throughout history (minus the at home read through). Minimally, just turning up to church will lead to you reading the passage and following the plan. It may take away an awful lot of guilt surrounding whatever plans you have tried (and perhaps failed) to follow in the past. It also frees you up to read the Bible apart from church whenever you want to do it, as an extra, that isn’t part of any plan at all. Now imagine that, reading the Bible not because it is the appointed time or place, part of your routine or reading plan, but just because you want to? Can’t hurt to give that a bash, can it?