Read Your Bible
The new year is here! And, I have a new year’s resolution for you: Read your Bible! Maybe you’re among that group of people that have started a new year and said “I’m going to read my Bible this year!” Maybe it’s the new testament. Maybe it’s the entire Bible. That’s a great goal. However you might be like me until 2017, I was in that group of people that would start and then after a few months I would fall off and not finish. But in 2017 I finally broke through to where every year with one exception I’ve read through the Bible. I want that for you as well.
Psalm 19:7-14 encompasses the value and desire that all of us should have toward the word of God. It has so much value in our lives, reviving our souls, making us wise, rejoicing our heart, enlightening our eyes. They are more valuable than gold and honey and there is great reward in following them. They need to be a daily part of our lives.
Now, for many of us, we might hear this and think about personal Bible reading — and for good reason. But I want us to do more than that, let’s see what scripture says about practice of reading God’s Word and then discuss how we can do that better in 2024.
The Importance of Reading Scripture
How scripture was used in the Old Testament
The first record we have of scripture being written down was in (Ex. 17:14) after the defeat of the Amalekites. This was where Israel was successful as long as Moses had his hands up. This was to be written down by Moses as a memorial, and he was to recite it in Joshua’s ears.
Later, we have Exodus 19-24 where Israel is taken to Mount Sinai. They have been liberated as slaves, and God invites them to be his covenant partners as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Ex. 19:5-6). (Ex 24:4) says that Moses wrote down all the words. This public gathering retold the story of who God was, what he did, who they were, and what they were to do and be - that’s identity formation. That’s the power of a gathered reading from God’s word.
Later in Deuteronomy, Moses reflects on the purpose of these words - Deuteronomy 4:6-10. The people were to be gathered to hear God’s words. This would cause them to not to forget, not to depart, and pass it to the next generation… and life would come. In Deuteronomy 17:18-20, the king was to handwrite his own personal copy of the law in the presence of the priests, to keep it with him, and to read from it every day. This would help ensure his and Israel’s faithfulness. The people were also to be kept faithful through a public gathering when the priests and elders were to read the scripture every seven years at the Feast of Booths. This was a symbolic reliving of their time coming out of the Exodus (Deuteronomy 31:9-13).
Joshua then takes up the task in his generation. In (Joshua 1:7-8) he was to follow the instructions - how? By having the book and reading it day and night. This would allow him success and prosperity. Further, in (Joshua 8:34-35) he read the entire words of the law to the entire congregation. Is it any surprise that generation was faithful? They had the right kind of leader and the right practice to keep loyal to the Lord.
But tragically, a generation in (Judges 2:10) rises up that did not know the Lord or what he had done. Why? It is in part due to the loss of the leaders and this ritual. We have no record of Israel following this ritual during their history
But then a restoration took place in the days of Josiah. In 1 Kings 22 they found the book while repairing the temple and Josiah had the book read to him. He realized this is why the people are under condemnation and in trying to restore the people he restores the ritual - (2 Kings 23:1-3). This was to return them to the covenant and reestablish their identity. But tragically, the next generation rejects God.
After the Exile, it was the same pattern for restoration. Leadership committed themselves (Ezra 7:10), and they gathered the people to read the law - Nehemiah 8:1-3, 8. This went from early morning to midday, and men came to give them the sense of the word so they understood it. The next day they began the Feast of Booths for the next seven days and the law was read each day (Nehemiah 8:18). This was what God had instructed Moses in Deuteronomy!
The clear message of the old testament is this - God wants us to be reading his Word. It is written in a way that is meant to be read and understood. It should be done both privately, like with the king and Joshua, but also publicly as an entire group. It was fundamental for the faithfulness of Israel and their restoration when they wandered away.
How scripture was used in the New Testament
The ritual of public reading continued into the time of Christ. Synagogues regularly had reading and Jesus began his ministry with a public reading from Isaiah (Luke 4:16-20, Acts 13:14), and it continued in the churches. These letters were written to be read out loud in their communities - (Colossians 4:16), 1 Thessalonians 5:27. Timothy himself was charged with this ritual as part of his ministry (1 Timothy 4:13). And finally, Revelation has a wonderful promise for all who read and hear it Revelation 1:3. That is a true blessing for all reading of God’s word.
The purpose behind this is for them to see the unfolding narrative. It makes things memorable and living for them. People see who God is, what he has done, who they are, and what they are to do. It’s no surprise then, that every revival started with the reading of God’s Word.
This is a ritual that each of us needs to establish individually, and the public reading of scripture together is part of how we form a strong community. Let me encourage you to dig in individually, but also have times in small groups where you read entire books together.
Let me give you an example of how this was done at one church: a family wanted to read all of the gospels on one Saturday - it takes about 8 hours. They had a plan to read, share meals, and take breaks at various points throughout the day. They had a come-and-go policy so no one had to stay the whole day. And, the preacher gave context for the readings at times. He later told me how impactful it was for all of them, and overall what a wonderful experience it was.
This was at the prompting of an individual family that invited the church. It doesn’t have to be all the gospels, it can be shorter books like Romans or Revelation. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have groups pop up like this? Can you start them?
How to Make Scripture Reading a Habit
We’ve seen the vision, now let’s make it happen in our lives. First, we need to understand how growth works. Reading scripture is not an overnight miracle. You might read a few days and not feel very different. In fact, it might be hard to do and understand! However, the daily practice and rhythm builds value overtime. If we look at growth in the world, at the moment is hardly recognizable - i.e. babies, plants, etc. It’s 1% changes that add or take away over time. Because of this it’s easy to underemphasize the value of this daily ritual. But if you ask people who read every day, they will say it has been one of the most important things they do.
Second, we need to overcome our barriers - Crossway did a survey in 2018 and there were four: 1. I don’t feel like I have enough time. 2. I lack motivation and discipline. 3. I feel intimidated. 4. I struggle to apply the Bible to every day life.
I don’t feel like I have enough time - How long does it take for people to read each book (Chart)? How long is it to read the Old Testament, New Testament, and all the Bible (Chart)? Now how many of us have 30 minutes a day (Chart)? The real issue is not a shortage of time, it’s how we are using our time. If you have five minutes, use them! On top of this, realize there is no extra credit for reading it to yourself. Have it read to you while you’re working out, doing the dishes, or driving. You’ll be surprised how much time you have.
I lack motivation and discipline - Truthfully, who doesn’t lack this in most areas of their life? The areas we value are the ones we push through and work on to enjoy and desire more. I used to be this kind of person with the bible - I would start and never finish. Until 2017 I had never read the Bible completely. That was until I was talking about it with a friend and he said in essence “You need to sit yourself down in that chair and do it…” I needed a good talking to! But even then, I struggled later that next year.
What helped was changing my habit. On person spoke of the process and broke it into a cue, habit, and reward. Let me illustrate with my personal journey. I never had a specific time for reading, and unsurprisingly, because it wasn’t a habit, I didn’t get it done. But then I changed my plan, I would do my reading before I ate breakfast. The cue was my morning, the habit was reading, and my reward was eating breakfast. Once I did that, it locked in.
The reason for this was biblical principles - (Matthew 4:4, John 6:27, and Job 23:12) - all emphasis the value of God’s word over physical food. So, here’s an encouragement: Feed your spirit before you feed your body. Take that time and get it done before life gets in the way.
However, you may still have trouble. This is where I would encourage people to read with someone else. This can be having an accountability partner like a friend or family member, or it can be a shared activity. But the key to all of this is making sure you have a dedicated time and place - like dinner. This is where small groups and community can help. Do the reading regularly, communally, and extended. Listen to it together. Read to each other.
I feel intimidated - The Bible is a long, long book and lots of it can be challenging to read and understand. Further, the idea of reading everyday may seem a bit overwhelming. Break it into manageable pieces. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
But also, know that you’re not going to understand everything the first time. In these cases, the answer is to keep on reading, sometimes the answer is given later. Also, if you want to, ask a friend or use a good commentary to help you on the sections you’re confused with. Also, if you fall behind, just pick up with that days reading - don’t beat yourself up.
Another good option is to do this with someone else. Things that seem intimidating as an individual become more doable with another person or a small group. Instead of reading through the Bible all by yourself, why don’t you do something easier by yourself each day - (like the Pslams), then do a longer session with friends for about an hour once a week?
I struggle to apply the Bible to everyday life - How often have you been to a church and felt like you weren’t being fed? It may be because the church isn’t doing a great job equipping people to feed themselves. Here’s some tips to make your bible reading more applicable.
The point of the law is to show us the nature of sin and lead us to Jesus - Galatians 3:19-22. Start with trying to understand what it meant to them first, then it will be easier to understand what it means for us. When you’re reading the Bible, realize that the story of Israel is a micro story of all of humanity. Their story and struggle with sin is an example for us today.
Read it as well with a focus on showing us who Jesus is, our need for him, and how we need to look to him in faith. Instead of just seeing Israel in the exodus, realize this story is preparing us for our exodus in Jesus. Or when Israel needs a better king, realize that Jesus is that king, etc.
Additionally, Mark Roberts came up with a system called PATH - Praise, Admonish, Thank, Help. This is a great little formula to help pull things out of the text. It helps bring it to real life.
But, let me say this again, this is where doing it with others is very helpful. It’s easy to be confused and not get the point by yourself. But when you have someone else things naturally flow and you see new things.
Where Do I Start?
Pick a plan - Let me give you two options. First, we have a congregational reading of the New Testament that is provided in your theme booklet. If you want to do something bigger, let me recommend a plan from the Bible Project called “One story that leads to Jesus”. If none of those work for you, The YouVersion app has lots of options or you can find others online.
Freshen it up - Let me encourage you to read from a different version. It’s easy to fall into a rut when you do the same one. I have a friend who changes every year! Try listening to scripture. Hearing it is different than reading and you will notice different things. Plus, a professional reader can help you stay engaged, make those tricky names easier, and you can focus on understanding. Also, you may try a dramatized version. This has different actors for each person so the “he said, she said” is cut out. But it also has sound effects and some music to help keep your mind engaged and help imagine what it would be like.
Use this for discipleship - Raising up disciples in your family can be intimidating. But let me assure you, reading the Bible is a good start. Read to your kids, read to your family or have some audio version read to you. Don’t make these things too complicated, read and discuss.
Use this for evangelism - Evangelism can be challenging. Could you give people Bibles and offer to read with them? Can you ask friends to read with you? Could you start a reading group? Make it really clear there will not be teaching outside of a couple minutes for explaining context. There are lots of book summaries available that can give you a quick summary (Survey of the Scriptures by Brent Kercheville). A reading group can make it easy and opens doors.
My goal would be for various reading groups to pop up in our church for various purposes - individual growth, family growth, and even evangelism as well. It makes it so simple, you don’t need a teacher and everyone can participate. You can do it!
Brethren, we need to remember the power in God’s word (Isaiah 55:6-11). It’s how we are changed inside and out. Let’s believe in it and let God’s word do the work. It is God’s way of calling us back to him, his ways and thoughts are so much greater than ours, it will work, and transform us.