As 2016 gets underway, many of us are starting a new Bible reading plan (and you can even start today though it’s January 7!). What is essential to making your Bible reading worthwhile this year? There’s a lot we could say, but let me boil it down to three things we must do: we must read successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.
First, read successively. By this I mean read whole books of the Bible at a time. The Bible is a collection of 66 books with unique genres, and specific themes, tones, and purposes in mind. Each book was written by unique people who had their own personalities and perspectives. If we are to honor this reality and mine the entire Bible for all its riches, reading books from start to finish is necessary. Otherwise, the Bible will become a grab-bag of fortune cookie sayings. You’ll end up abusing God’s word rather than honoring and obeying it.
This does not mean that you need to read the entire Bible from start to finish, though you may do that. But if you to start this year in Romans, for example, then begin at verse one and read to the end—rather than just your favorite parts. This forces you to deal with the everything in the text (even the controversial or difficult portions) and deal with everything in context. Reading in context reminds you that nothing is stand-alone. No one verse says it all. And no one book says it all. Each passage is a part of the whole book, and each book is a part of the whole Bible.
Second, read thoughtfully. By this I mean meditate as you read. Ponder what you are reading! This is not casual or flippant reading. On the other hand, it’s not deep study. I do not recommend that every time (or most of the time) you sit down to the Bible you do deep study. There are times for that—but the preponderance of your time in Scripture should simply be ingesting the Story. As Eugene Peterson writes, “There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully. We need to get a feel for the way these stories and songs, these prayers and conversations, these sermons and visions, invite us into this large, large world in which the invisible God is behind and involved in everything visible and illuminates what it means to live here.”
So jot down notes, make observations and connections, and consider why it matters. But keep the Greek and Hebrew dictionary on the shelf. Enter the world of Scripture and get lost there. And relish it.
Third, read prayerfully. If you divorce Bible reading from prayer, it will all be for naught. The Bible is not a book for you to read to acquire information. It’s a book of transformation because it reveals God and what he is up to. Therefore, you find out, pretty soon after reading it, that it is actually reading you. It exposes you. It brings you face-to-face with God. When this reality sinks in, your thoughts and words are suddenly caught up in conversation with the God who comes to you through ordinary words on a page (or a screen!). Take what you have thoughtfully read and turn it into prayer. Interact with the text. Interact with God. He is very real and he is very much there with you. Look at who God is and what he is doing and praise him for it. See your sin in light of his holiness and confess to him. Marvel at God’s work of redemption, culminating in his Son and thank him. Ask and trust him to fill you with his Spirit so that this text comes to life in you today.
Read the Bible successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. If we do this, I think we’ll see God move in and through us, because of his word, in ways we could never have imagined.