My Yearly Bible Reading Journey
Three years ago, I began an epic journey. I started reading through the Bible every year.
During my senior year in college, reading through the Bible once per year had become a requirement for Bible majors. I was a church music major, so that requirement didn’t apply to me, but it did catch my attention. However, during my four years of seminary and first year in ministry, I hadn’t yet made that a habit in my life.
My primary reason for starting in the spring of 2015 was that I was concerned I was reading so slowly in my daily devotions that I was not retaining an accurate picture of “the whole counsel of God.” Each book of the Bible is like a puzzle piece; when we put them all together, we get an accurate picture of God’s revelation. While there is value in taking out a microscope and examining each piece, it’s also important that no pieces go missing. When was the last time I read Habakkuk or Judges? Those books have important things to teach me about God, myself, and others!
Did you know that Ezekiel is longer than Mark and John put together? Did you know that Jeremiah contains more words than all of the Pauline epistles combined? It’s amazing how many chapters in the prophets are dedicated to the theme of God’s judgment on Israel and the nations. But if I rarely read those books, that important puzzle piece in my understanding of God begins to slip. When that starts to happen, I could easily become imbalanced.
So in 2015, I began using YouVersion’s Bible app for my daily devotions. I chose YouVersion because it offers a number of reading plans and audio Bibles in various translations. I wanted to listen to an audio Bible because I am an aural learner, so I retain more that way. And eventually, I wanted to read through the Bible in several translations so that I’d be better equipped to comment on each one and because when I read the Bible in a new translation, different things stand out to me. I started with Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s one-year reading plan and the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
At first, I substituted my regular devotional reading for the Bible plan. I would follow along with the text as I listened to the audio and write down various questions that came to mind. I didn’t have time to go back and answer all of my questions, but I figured that the discipline of writing them down would at least encourage me to engage with the text.
In that first year, I got behind. The M’Cheyne reading plan includes the Old Testament once and the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs twice per year. In order to pack all of that in, it requires more chapters per day than your typical one-year reading plan. Although I would usually read something every day, there were many days on which I didn’t finish the day’s prescribed reading. However, the fact that I was getting behind didn’t bother me. I knew I was still reading a lot more Scripture per day than I had been before.
On August 3, 2016, I completed the M’Cheyne one-year reading plan and immediately started another one. I felt that the additional daily reading was paying off in my walk with God, and I wanted to continue the habit. For my second year, I did the ESV Study Bible program in the ESV.
However, about a month into my second year, a change happened. I began listening to my daily readings while driving, doing chores, or running; and I went back to more focused Bible study in my devotions. At that point, instead of just substituting the one-year plan for more focused study, I had added it as another layer of reading. I soon grew to love this method much more than the first one I had tried. It allowed me to enjoy the best of both worlds–I got to use both my macro lens and my wide angle every day. I also found that it didn’t require any additional time to do both styles of reading every day, since my “zoomed out” reading fit into my schedule during times of the day when I would normally just have been daydreaming. Of course, having the audio Bible on my phone made all of this possible.
One possible drawback to my new approach was that when you’re driving or doing chores or running with the dog, you can’t really give the audio Bible your undivided attention. At first, I would feel very guilty about the many times I got distracted or allowed my mind to wander. I still do feel guilty about that, to some extent. Usually, when I allow my mind to wander, it is because what I think is more important to me than what God has said, and that is a chilling indictment. However, at the same time, I have come to realize that if I miss a couple of verses because one of my daughters asks me a question while I’m spraying weeds or because Summer (my dog) takes off after a rabbit while I’m running, it’s okay. After all, my purpose is not necessarily to notice every detail; it’s to get the big picture. Also, I’ll hear that verse again next year.
Since I began this journey back in 2015, podcasts and audio books have also become an enjoyable part of my daily routine. I’m sometimes tempted to listen to my current favorite podcast or audio book before I’ve listened to my daily one-year audio Bible. This temptation can be strong, since there are only so many minutes per day that I can dedicate to listening of any kind. However, I always try to do my daily Bible reading first. After all, I figure if my purpose is to learn and to grow (which it is), there is no book or podcast that could help me more than the Bible itself. No book or podcast comes with promises for reading it like the one found in Joshua 1:8.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe 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.”
This morning, I finished listening to the Bible for a third year–this time, in the NIV. I also began my fourth annual reading program, this time by The Bible Project, and I am reading in the NASB. The Bible Project’s plan includes a short video each day, as well. We’ll see how that goes, but the primary thing I am interested in is still the text.
I am so glad that Dr. Royce Short of the Bible faculty at Bob Jones University began trumpeting a yearly Bible reading program there and that the message got through to me, even if I didn’t put the discipline into practice until five years later. I am also thankful for the many individuals who worked tirelessly to put the Bible into many good English translations and for technology that allows for me to access audio versions of those translations for free any time I want. Twenty-first century American Christians have such a glut of resources available to them when it comes to Bible reading and study–we have no excuse for neglecting the Bible!
Most importantly, I am thankful that God gave us a book, and for how His Spirt uses that book to shape my thinking and purify my life.
“How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9)
Do read through the Bible every year? What are some blessings you’ve received from this discipline or some challenges you’ve faced along the way?