For more than 25 years, I followed the course of conventional Christian wisdom and endeavored each January to read the Bible through in a year. And perhaps some extra chapters twice. With devotion and thought, of course.
Then as early as February, I would end up behind and speed-read through several chapters—at least the begats and begots anyway—in an attempt to get back on track.
I knew that wasn’t the best way to read the Bible, as it certainly didn’t emphasize the “devoted” part of morning “devotions.” But what else was I supposed to do but try again each January and hope this year’s effort proved more disciplined than the last? Even though my efforts were far from perfect, I pressed on in the hope that God was working in me far more than I could see.
The Day Everything Changed
Then came a day I could no longer focus on much of anything. My husband of 27 years went home to be with the Lord after complications from surgery. In just 10 excruciating days, I felt robbed of half my soul. In my most painful moments, the Devil whispered in my ear, “He has abandoned you.”
I had never heard the voice of the Enemy so clearly. It unnerved me and undermined every feeble effort I made to connect with my Savior.
Suffering and death can bring a sense of isolation. The first Sunday I walked into church alone, I felt the stares and helplessness of brothers and sisters in Christ. What could they say to offer me comfort? The disconnectedness I felt from God filtered down to the body of Christ as well.
I tried joining a woman’s Bible study. The Word and community would carry me out of devotional darkness. But my inability to focus clouded those efforts, too. Within three weeks, I was so far behind in my homework I dropped out altogether. No doubt about it, I needed a new plan, but what?
Comfort in Unlikely Places
During this painful time, worship became my greatest source of comfort. Sure, it was a fight to sit alone in the pew, but once there, I found solace. The deep tones of the organ and the voices of fellow parishioners seemed to drown out the voice of the Enemy.
In the church bulletin, I noticed the prelude: “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling.” I smiled and whipped out my ink pen and underlined it. The softest call from Jesus can silence the Enemy’s greatest roar. I determined to hang on to the bulletin as a reminder.
Monday morning came with its usually painful silence and attacks on my time with God. I pulled out my bulletin and reminded myself, The softest call from Jesus can silence the Enemy’s greatest roar. I glanced over the order of worship. I’d never really noticed how much thought was put into each service. The hymns, the Scripture readings, even the sermon were all designed under a cohesive theme.
As I skimmed the page again, I noticed Scripture readings peppered the page. Why not slow down and read them again? The confession of faith—could I not in the stillness of my pain say it again, aloud, just to annoy the Troubler of my soul? Forty minutes flew by as if they were ten.
I’m going to be late for work! I managed to head out the door on time, and somewhere between my garage and my job, it hit me: I had a new plan.
Using the Bulletin During My Season of Grief
For almost a year now, the church bulletin has been my devotional. Every page and paragraph. The use of a Sunday bulletin would differ from church to church, but here is a sample of what mine looks like:
- Our church bulletin has a welcome note to visitors, complete with directions to nurseries. I use it as a reminder to pray for the new people who walked into our church and for our children and those caring for them.
- Our church often had music at the beginning of the service called the meditation. I found many of those selections on iTunes and downloaded them to my phone. Now reminders of the service were as close as my purse.
- Scripture references throughout the bulletin were my daily Bible reading and rereading. For the first time in many years instead of hurrying to catch up, now I slowed down to savor.
- Our church service has a time for both a personal and corporate confession of sin. Rereading the confession brought to mind many things that I needed to confess and helped me stay focused in my prayers.
- A glance at the word offertory reminded me to give thanks for God’s provision and ask for his guidance in my finances. I never realized before how little time I spent praying about money. The word offertory also brought to mind the needs of others. I asked the Lord to use the gifts of God’s people to provide for those in need. Later I thought of other things I ought to be tithing: Lord, what would you have me do with my time and talents?
- Many churches offer their sermons online. I downloaded sermons I’d heard the week before to listen to them again on the way to work.
The past several months, my church bulletin has grown as dog-eared and tear-stained as my favorite Bible passages. I'm more fully prepared to meet the Lord each Sunday, and his Word now lingers in my mind throughout the week.
Don’t misunderstand. I am by no means down on the notion of reading the Bible through in a year. I foresee returning to the practice one January when I am able to give myself fully to its rigor. But for now, in my woundedness, I take comfort knowing “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench . . .” (Isaiah 42:3). The Puritan theologian Richard Sibbes wrote, “If believers decay in their first love . . . another grace may grow and increase . . . they sometimes seem not to grow in the branches when they may grow at the root. Upon a check grace breaks out more; as we say, after a hard winter there usually follows a glorious spring.”
I look forward to a future glorious spring, but for now, during my hard winter, this is the path that draws me nearer.