This is mainly for my CG friends (I love you guys!), but if anyone else finds it useful, all the better.
I’m sometimes asked about Bible reading as a discipline. I don’t have anything brilliant to share, but I can point you to some tools that have helped me.
I think it is extremely helpful to have some sort of plan to guide your Bible reading. Before I had one, I would either a) not know what to read, so read nothing or, b) read things out of context and miss the bigger picture, or c) read the parts of the Bible that I liked best (i.e. the epistles and Proverbs) while neglecting other parts.
Then I started following a plan. I didn’t have to decide what to read every day, so I read. Sometimes I veered off into other passages after the planned reading, but it gave me a starting point. I read all of the Bible, so I understood the whole thing better and got a more fuller understanding of truth. Life is better this way. I never want to go back.
I am partial to Discipleship Journal’s Book at Time plan. It doesn’t divide my attention in as many directions as M’Cheyne’s plan, and it also gives you only 25 days to read each month, leaving some flexibility for missed days or extra study. This used to be free, but now you have to pay for it. I think it’s still worth it.
Here are some other plans, some of which are for much less than a year.
This past year, I used Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan, which requires daily reading and takes me through the OT once and Psalms and the NT twice. It has readings in 4 different books every day, which is a perk for people who don’t like reading nothing but Numbers for a week or more. I still the DJ plan, but D.A. Carson wrote devotional books that align with M’Cheyne’s plan, and I’ve been using those. After a few years of the 25 days a month plan, I was surprised at how easy the transition to 365 readings a year was. It just becomes part of the day, like eating. Also, M’Cheyne divides his plan into private readings and readings for family worship, so if you’re overwhelmed by the 4-5 chapters a day, you can choose just one category and read half as much. That would still be a great accomplishment! Robert Murray M’Cheyne has no use for any royalties in eternity, so his plan is free. You can even make the daily reading your start-up page.
So, what if you fall behind? My advice would be to just keep doing a day’s worth a day, and then make an effort to catch up on the weekend. If you’re more than a week behind, skip what you missed and just jump in with that day’s reading. Remember, the Bible reading isn’t saving you; it’s nourishing you.
What if you get lost in the content and can understand what you’re reading? First, remember that you don’t have to understand everything before you can apply what you do understand. Also, there are many good resources out there, but one of my favorite is Mark Dever’s collection of overview sermons. There’s one sermon per book of the Bible, giving you major themes and messages to look for. My experience has been that they enrich my reading. A good commentary is a great tool, too. If you want personal help understanding what you’re reading, I can’t think of a leader or pastor who wouldn’t be thrilled to get coffee with you to talk about the Bible.
I hope these are helpful to you! May your soul flourish in 2009!