I recently finished reading through the Bible for the sixteenth time.
While this is a personal milestone I’m thankful for, I certainly am not boasting about it. In fact, when I consider that George Mueller, who was converted at the age of 20 and died at the age of 92, read the Bible through 100 times while simultaneously caring for over 10,000 orphans—I am a bit embarrassed and reminded I have a long way to go! As I pause and reflect on how regular Bible intake has truly been a blessing to me, there are a few thoughts I’d like to share and some specific benefits I’d like to mention.
First, my goal is to encourage you to read through your Bible, whether you have ever done so before or not.
One of the primary reasons I did not read the Bible through for the first time until I was in my mid 20’s—although I grew up in a Christian home, attended church three times a week, and graduated from a Christian school—is that I got bogged down in several reading plans and just gave up over and over again. If I missed two or three days for any reason (e.g. finals week in college!), then I felt like I was so far behind I could never catch up.
If you have tried before and failed, don’t let that become your excuse for not trying again. Perhaps you could go at a more relaxed pace, or do it with others so you can mutually encourage each other. Regardless of how you choose to do so, it is never too late in life—or in the year—to begin reading through your Bible.
The key is simply to be daily in God’s Word. However, “daily” indicates a life habit not a perfect record. Things happen, schedules get thrown off, and even the best patterns can be disrupted. But “daily” reading means it is your goal to read the Bible each day, with only a few exceptions.
Second, it is helpful to keep a few basic statistics in mind.
In general, it takes roughly three chapters in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament to get through the Bible in a year. Obviously, you can half that in order to read through the Bible in two years. Having this in mind should at least help you set some realistic reading goals that give you an idea of what to expect.
For instance, if I am reading through the Bible at about four chapters a day, each day I miss should not make me feel guilty or overwhelmed. Instead, I should realistically expect to extend my timeline for getting through by that number of days. On the other hand, it should be encouraging that even if I miss 30 days of reading over the course of the year, that only puts me one month later on my schedule!
Third, Bible intake—not merely reading words on a page or electronic device—is the goal.
One of the best ways to make it through huge amounts of Bible material, and make your day more productive and enjoyable, is to listen to God’s Word while you are in your car. Suddenly, traffic jams can be exciting, because it means you’re plowing through huge portions of Scripture the longer you sit still or eek along!
Don’t feel guilty or as though you are “cheating” by listening instead of reading real letters on a page: this is the way most Christians throughout most of history have taken in God’s Word, because of the rarity of personal copies until recent centuries.
So harness your daily commute, or distance runs, into a time of spiritual exercise and growth with Bible CDs, apps, or MP3s that allow you to listen to God’s Word on the go.
I also do, of course, enjoy mixing it up with personal reading time, quiet time that allows me to sit and reflect, take notes, and read something over and over again if I want to.
Finally, reading through the Bible in a (somewhat) short amount of time (one or two years) yields deep and lasting rewards that no amount of pick-and-choose reading, daily devotionals, or even formal Bible study can replicate.
This gives you a big-picture, bird’s eye view of the Bible timeline and redemption history. You begin to see how individual stories or verses that you may have known for years fit into the overall Bible narrative, and how they, therefore, relate (or don’t relate) to each other as well.
I am embarrassed to admit that before I read the Bible through for the first time, I had at times even memorized whole books of the Bible, and could not have told you whether Abraham lived before David, or how Moses’ story connects with and flows out of Joseph’s. If this is still true of you, it is never too late to pick up your Bible and begin working your way joyfully through it!
Reading through the Bible allows you to understand individual stories and lessons in their context and therefore more accurately and powerfully. Like exegetical preaching, it forces you to face texts, and whole books, that you might otherwise avoid because they do not fit your framework of understanding or they do not seem as interesting or exciting.
The Bible is the most potent tool we have in life, and therefore it is the most dangerous to misuse. We can either grow from it, or we can use it to excuse or justify anything by taking it out of context.
As you read through the Bible, passages that you might have disliked or misunderstood in the past can suddenly become alive and meaningful. In fact, the more times you read through the Bible, the more you will see this happening. For example, last year one of my least favorite books Ezekiel became one of my favorites, and this year Job broke in and ransacked several strongholds in my heart!
Regardless of how you feel or how difficult it may be on particular days, you can know for certain that being in God’s Word regularly and systematically is exposing you to the “whole counsel of God” and growing you in grace and the knowledge of your Savior Jesus Christ.
Regardless of your particular schedule, or specific reading plan, I pray this will encourage you to daily wrestle with the fullness of God’s will, and daily plunge into the greatness of God’s wisdom, by daily making your way through the whole Word He has so graciously given us.