With the new year approaching, prepare yourself for the onslaught of Bible reading advice. “Slow down.” “Savor the Scripture.” “Whatever your plan, stick to it for the whole year.”
Such advice sounds good for those who prefer Peter Jackson to J. R. R. Tolkien or who would choose a locally anaesthetized lobotomy over any sort of reading assignment. Non-readers show courageous faith when they commit to regular patterns of Bible reading at predictable intervals, and I laud their desire to draw closer to the Lord.
But what about those of us who enjoy reading? Why limit ourselves to a few chapters (or a few verses) 10 minutes a day?
Perhaps you were one of the geniuses who devoured Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows within two weeks of its publication. Maybe a Kindle deal puts a spring in your step. You always have one or more books going, and you have to set boundaries so blogs don't take over your life.
You, like the non-readers mentioned above, love the Bible as God's Word. And you think following Jesus is more than a passing fad. You love to read, and the Bible is a book.
Here's my advice: Read the Bible.
Go for It
Just go for it. Read all of it. Read the Bible like you would watch the Olympics. Delightfully. Astoundingly. In large doses over a few weeks. As though your hope of world peace depends on it. With an eye to the spectacular drama.
I dare you to read the entire Bible this year, and to read it as fast as you can.
I've done it for three years now, and I plan to keep doing it. My practice has been to drop all recreational reading (fiction, non-fiction, magazines) on January 1, at which point I read nothing but the Bible until I've finished it. My goal is to finish more quickly than I finished the previous year, or by all means to beat the first day of spring. (After that point, I don't set the Bible aside but reinstitute a more measured pace and reintroduce other books into my literary diet.)
For each year's sprint, I've read a different translation. I've used a different reading sequence (chronological, historical, canonical). I use a mobile-compatible app—I like YouVersion—so I can read anywhere at any time and be able to pick up where I left off.
To be clear, the kind of reading I suggest is not mindless but voluminous, and for a season. The Bible expects us to read meditatively (Pss. 1:2, 119:97, etc.), and while meditation may involve a small chunk of text read at a slow pace, it doesn't have to. Just as we can meditate on nibbles, so we can meditate on gobbles.
For example, upon reading Deuteronomy in one or two sittings I'm floored by the absolute necessity but innate impossibility of worshiping Yahweh as the only true God. This theme saturates the entire book, and for months after reading it I'm driven to meditate on both my need for a new heart and also my hope of glory, Christ in me (Col. 1:27).
Happier with Him
I don't perform this annual romp through Scripture to make God any happier with me; I do it because it makes me happier with him. It does this in a number of ways.
1. It helps me grasp the overall story of the Bible. Though the Bible contains 66 books written by numerous human authors, it's also one book with one divine author. The story begins well, declines quickly, and builds tension through the Old Testament. It climaxes in Jesus and resolves with much hope. Consuming the whole Bible in a short period of time keeps the big picture prominent.
2. It reminds me the Bible is a work of literature. All year long, I get plenty of time to analyze short passages of Scripture in detail. But for this short season, I loosen my literary inhibitions and succumb to the glory of the most influential book on the market. I saturate myself in the biblical text, frolicking through it like a well-fed dolphin in open water. I learn to see the Bible more as a collection of books than a collection of chapters, and the rhetorical intent of each human author comes alive.
3. It gets me through the difficult parts more easily. Ridiculing books like Leviticus and Chronicles is pretty hip these days. But with a speedy reading plan, they go by quickly and make more sense in light of the whole. Chronicles tells humanity's epic tale from creation to Israel's restoration from exile, and it empowers a new generation to rebuild the nation and re-engage with the Lord. Leviticus shows the wilderness generation how to draw near to God and live in community. A rapid reading plan helps us not to belabor the minutiae, so the “boring” parts of the Bible aren't all that boring. 4. It heightens my anticipation for Christ. When I consume the Old Testament in large gulps, my spirits rise and fall with the fortunes of God's people. And there's more falling than rising, especially in the prophetic books, where oracle upon oracle yields darker condemnation and more violent opposition to the people's social injustice, rebellion, and idolatry. But the promise of a dawning light pushes me on. When I finally hit the transition from “lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Mal. 4:6) to “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1)—I'm not exaggerating to say my heart sings. The four Gospels blaze pure light like a God-man on a mountaintop, and I delight anew in the hottest piece of work on the planet. There's a reason it's called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
If you like to read, you won't find a better book than the Holy Bible, the unbreakable Scriptures, the sword of the Spirit, the living and abiding Word of God. Take it for a test drive this year, and see if you don't have the time of your life.