We live in a world that is blessed beyond measure by the amount of information that is readily available to us. Today, in 2016, there are over 40,000 searches on Google every second (http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/) which equates roughly 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year. We no longer need to wait for a daily newspaper, or even the regularly-scheduled news broadcasts in order to hear the latest news stories. Searches in a library’s catalog are done digitally rather than through a card catalog. We can map out our road trips online, complete with step-by-step instructions, alternate routes, estimated travel time, and indications of construction, tolls, and other things we’ll encounter along the way. There are more books in print than a person could read in a lifetime, and a wealth of audio and video content that can be accessed for free.
For Christians, we have dozens of English translations of the Bible available. We can read and listen to the complete Bible for free online. We can look up a verse or passage, change between translations, and read a complete commentary to go with it without ever opening the page of a book, much less needing to own a Bible or commentary. There are sermons by the thousands available to listen to, or watch, for free online. There are podcasts that dive into deep apologetics matters. Yet this only scratches the surface of the tools and resources that are present for a Christian in our modern, technology-driven world.
It can become easier to read what someone else has to say about a topic, to indulge ourselves in their interpretations of a Biblical book, passage, or topic. The Christian bestsellers thrive on this demand for convenience. In a world where more and more things demand our time and attention, it can be easy to rely upon audiobooks and podcasts during our commutes. None of these resources are, in and of themselves, a negative thing. We should feel blessed that we have so much information that is so readily available.
But it cannot become our only source for our daily Christian walks.
Devotionals are a great tool to inspire us to spend a little time reading in the morning or evening, yet most of them contain only a verse or two from the Bible, and almost never with the context around those verses. Hearing or reading what preachers and pastors have to say can be enlightening and inspiring, but if you do not read the Bible itself you can never be sure if they are leading you astray. There are many Christian authors being published who have no formal credentials, and many deliver powerful messages through personal experiences and interpretations, but without your own knowledge of the Bible they can also lead you down false paths and provide you with misguided impressions of what God’s Word says or means. Without reading the Bible daily, how can you ever be sure that the information you are being given is truly what God said or meant?
I know that it can be a challenge to read the Bible every day. I have faced that challenge myself and there are still days when I fail to dive into the Word of God. I have had seasons in my own Christian walk where I do not get into the Bible, convincing myself that a podcast or a book is an adequate substitute. After all, it is still touching upon God’s Word or topics from the Bible. It does not take much persuasion to get there, yet I know that this trade is like eating dry bread when one could have Manna. Like drinking well water when one could have the life-giving water that Jesus gives.
And I am not the only one who struggles with reading the Bible. According to the 2016 State of the Bible Report by the Barna Group, only ⅓ of Americans read their Bible at least once a week. One out of three will read the Word of God this week. Even worse is the small number who do so daily, which tends to fall in right around the 10-15% mark from year to year. Yet the reassuring statistic from the study is that 62% of Americans want to read the Bible more often. (http://www.americanbible.org/features/state-of-the-bible).
And there are ways to help make that happen. The first impulse might be to look up a One-Year Bible Reading Plan. After all, they tell you what to read each and every day throughout the calendar year. Yet there are two things that I dislike about these reading plans. First, they tend to begin on January 1 and, unless you begin that date, you may find it difficult to jump in somewhere in the middle of the year. Second, they jump around . . . a lot. I understand the thought behind doing a little from the Old Testament, a little from the New Testament, and a Psalm and some Proverbs. I really do. But how many people do you know that like to read multiple novels at the same time? You’ll be reading two different narratives each and every day possess entirely different timeframes. There has to be a better way of approaching reading the Bible, and how many people actually could stick to a rigorous plan long enough to succeed at reading the Bible in a year?
I believe there is a more systematic approach that a person can take to get through the Bible. It is not a race to see who can get through it fastest, nor to see if you can do it for 365 straight days (although daily reading should be the goal, we’re flawed humans and we’ll inevitably miss days along the way). Instead we should approach things in a certain order, beginning with the end. Read the New Testament first in its completion. You’ll understand about who Jesus was, his life and miracles on the Earth (Matthew-John), the beginning of the early Church (Acts), the letters passed down that are dense with Gospel messages and personal daily application (Romans-3 John), and then a glimpse at the end of this world which will lead into the coming of a New Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation).
This lays the framework to go back and read through the Old Testament. You’ll have an idea of the latter events, so that when prophecies get mentioned or events happen that mirror things that will happen in Jesus’ lifetime, they will jump out and make more sense. The first five books of the Bible lay the groundwork for the fall of man (Genesis) and lead into the laws (Exodus-Deuteronomy) given to man. From there you can either follow the history of Israel from its conquest into new lands through to their exile (Joshua-Esther), jump into the Wisdom Literature (Job-Proverbs), dive into the Major Prophets (Isaiah-Daniel), or dabble in the shorter books of the Minor Prophets (Hosea-Malachi). While there is something to be said for reading them in the order they appear, because the timelines on many of the prophetic books overlap with those of the history books so knowing the chronology of the kings and other events can be helpful, it is certainly not necessary to get the main thrust of the prophecies. And while reading at least the story of David (1 & 2 Samuel) will help you to have a better grasp on Psalms, they can be read and enjoyed apart from the historical basis. So this is where the flexibility comes in, although I would recommend reading them in the full groupings rather than a book from this and then a book from that (unless you are lucky enough to possess a Chronological Bible).
And then, after the trip through the Old Testament, a second journey through the New Testament would complete the tour. This will allow you to be able to put the things in those books into the context and reference of the Old Testament, which is a helpful thing to do. Don’t set a deadline on the journey, and don’t even try to set a goal for how much you’ll read each time. The goal is to make some progress each day. Some days it may be 5 chapters, others it might be just 5 verses. But taking time to jump into the Word of God is important, and this will help you to set that foundation that future readings and studies can build upon.