Why Read the Whole Bible Next Year?
I am embarrassed to admit it, but the first time I read the Bible cover to cover was only six years ago (2017). I had tried plenty of times. I remember crashing in Leviticus a few times in high school, getting discouraged that I fell behind, and realizing mid-summer that I had hardly read it in months. As an adult, I read it often, popping in and out of different books. Nevertheless, a decade into full-time pastoral work, and I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I had read every verse of the Bible at least once. That shouldn’t have been possible. When they onboarded me to my first full time pastoral position they ought to have sent me to an office with a desk, a chair and a Bible and told me to do nothing else until I had read the entire Bible. If you are curious, that would have taken about 75 hours, less than two work weeks, and it would have been well worth it.
It’s now my conviction that every Christian would do well to read the Bible at least three times from cover to cover before investing much time into reading or listening to anything else. There is a ton of value in podcasts, YouTube videos, blog posts and books. I partake in these often, even daily. But until you’ve read the whole Bible, my advice would be this: hear the Word preached by your pastor with your church, and then spend any extra study time on one singular endeavor: reading the Bible completely. Once you’ve done that, re-engage in all those other resources, but never stop reading the Bible.
If it’s that important, why don’t we do it? Why hadn’t I? In 2018, Crossway completed a survey of Christian’s Bible reading habits. They found that people describe four primary barriers to Bible reading. I’d like to address these four barriers in an attempt to encourage and challenge you to participate with the church in reading through the Bible in 2023.
“I don’t feel like I have enough time.”
According to another Crossway research study it takes 12 minutes per day to read through the Bible in a year. Let’s say you are a slow reader, 25% slower than the average person, that means with 15 minutes each day you can read the Bible in a year. 15 minutes. If you miss today for some reason, just 30 minutes tomorrow will catch you up.
Someone once told me that we make time for what’s important to us. There have been days where I’ve been so busy that I’ve missed lunch… but those days are rare. Why? I like eating. I like having a full belly. I have consistent times and places when I typically consume food. When I break those consistent times, it’s usually because I’m consuming food with someone else. When tempted by Satan, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 which says, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” This is no barrier. It is a lie. It’s a lie Satan uses to keep us all from the Bread we need. It’s the lie we tell ourselves to avoid the guilt we should feel for not reading a Bible, of which we have such ready access, when men like William Tyndale died translating it into English so people could read it for the first time.
The first step in overcoming this barrier is to realize that it’s not foremost an issue of your daily schedule, but your sinful heart. Jesus is the Word (Jn 1:1). If you do not treasure Scripture then you will not treasure Jesus. But, by God’s grace, Jesus came into the world to sanctify our sinful hearts. Get on your knees and confess that you have desired other things before Christ. Confess that every morning God has rained manna from heaven, but you’ve refused to pick it up, and then you’ve complained to Him that you are hungry. Confess that by disregarding His Word, you’ve mocked the fact that He would lovingly condescend himself to human language that we might know Him more fully. Until we repent, this sin will always be the true barrier. But when we repent, we can rest assured that for us there is now no condemnation but freedom in Christ to do in Him what we could never do in the flesh (Ro. 8:1ff).
“I lack motivation and discipline.”
One of the surprising consequences of reading the Bible in a year came somewhere in the book of Revelation. As I neared the completion of my goal and reflected on its impact, I came to three realizations. First, although I had relatively few “a-ha” days in which a specific passage “spoke to me”, the steady diet of God’s Word had clearly done transformative work. Second, my love for the Word had grown. As I began to get a better picture for how the whole forest of God’s work fit together, it caused days where I was in the weeds of confusing laws or prophecies, to gain greater meaning. Third, getting up in January to read felt like such work but by December it was a habit I enjoyed.
Notice the order. We won’t realize all the benefits experientially without sustained experience. We can not find desire or discipline apart from the work. Rather, we must trust the Lord when He says that all Scripture is God-breathed, profitable and able to make us wise to salvation (2 Tim. 3:14-17). And do note that Paul is specifically referring to the Old Testament here! We must apply discipline to that trust, and then we reap the benefits of a deeper understanding of God and His work. But weren’t meant to do this alone. Hebrews 10:12-13 says,
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
We need other Christians to exhort us, that is, to implore and urge us, as a check on our unbelieving hearts. To remind us why we must be in God’s Word. To encourage us with their commitment and testimony of God’s Word working in their lives. Here are some steps you can take to develop discipline and sustain motivation:
- Set aside a specific time and be consistent. Consistency is critical.
- If you miss a day, have grace on yourself and catch up quickly.
- Talk about it with others. Not only does it provide motivation and accountability for you, but it encourages others.
“I feel intimidated”
A person may feel intimidated by confusing passages or intimidated by the fear that they will not be able to finish the reading plan. That would be embarrassing, and they might feel ashamed or like a failure. I understand these fears, but let me be clear. This is fear of man over fear of God. Is it worse to feel foolish in the eyes of man or actually BE foolish in the eyes of God (Prov. 1:7)? We ought to be too intimidated NOT to read it!
Moses was sort of a big deal. When he died, God called Joshua to take the Israelites into the Promised Land. Joshua found himself sandwiched between a giant of the faith and physical giants. It was intimidating. Here’s what God told him:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
Satan wants you to be afraid to commit to reading the Bible in a year because he knows God’s truth is what drives out these fears. Why should we be embarrassed about not understanding something when the reason we are reading the Bible is to know God better? Why should we be afraid of failing when we are already failing to read it? Will the Spirit somehow be unable to reveal God’s Word to us (Prov. 1:23)? Will He not use God’s Word if we miss a day and have to double up the next, or if we end up finishing a week into 2024? Can God only speak to us three verses at a time through some modern devotional as if he would be better served by a Twitter account? Will He not use God’s people to help us understand when we have the humility to admit our lack of understanding? “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD” (Prov. 3:7).
“I struggle to apply the Bible everyday.”
I’m unsure if the reason for this barrier is feeling hypocritical for reading the Bible but not obeying it (as if not reading the Bible is less hypocritical of a Christian or less disobedient), if they feel as if their time is wasted because they were unable to apply it, or if they don’t find the Bible applicable to them. Either way, the same verse answers all these objections,
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)
Hypocritical? The Word will discern it and tell you how to repent of it. Continuing in sin? The Word will work on your life and transform you. Looking for direction? The word of God not only has answers to our questions, but it asks the questions we didn’t even realize we needed answered. Perhaps God doesn’t think your question is as critical as His.
I think the real barrier here is actually self-righteousness. If you read the Bible you will be reminded of your sin. You will be reminded that the only person who perfectly applied God’s word was Christ. Everyday you will be reminded of your need for a Savior. The self-righteous person doesn’t like this. They would rather ignore it. It is in the gospel, which God has recorded in the Scriptures and providentially given us, that we learn of Christ’s obedience which is applied to us through faith, that His mercies are new every morning, and that we can be transformed by the work of the Spirit through the Word. The Word is the means God has given us by which His Spirit will transform this struggle!
Don’t waste another year. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
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