Today I reached the halfway point of my Bible in one year plan.
I started it in January 2018.
At this rate, I should finish it in seven years. And then I’m due a sabbatical from the Bible, right?
I have tried and failed to complete a BIOY plan many times. This is the first time I’ve actually persisted with it, even long after the year in question expired. And to be clear, it’s not the case that my inability to complete these plans is somehow due to a lack of desire, or a dislike of reading the Bible. Quite the opposite! My slow reading is born out of a desire to really wrestle with it and love it, rather than treat it as a challenge to overcome.
The particular plan I’m reading takes you through the Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice. This means that each day I have so much material to read, that I simply can’t get through it in any meaningful way.
Take one random day as a snapshot. On April 28th, my set reading was Judges 4-5, two chapters with some challenging material in. Then half of Psalm 107 (half a Psalm – like pausing a song partway through and coming back to it the next day?!). And finally, Romans 9-11, chapters which, to my mind, raise some of the most challenging theological questions in the New Testament! With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and with me that particular ‘day’ was at least a week.
Some days I get through it all. More often than not, I end up reading the OT/Psalm one day, and NT the next. Because I don’t want to just read it, in the sense of scanning the words with my eyes (though I confess, I sometimes speed read the genealogies! Tomorrow I begin Chronicles… woohoo!). As Psalm 1 says, I want to delight in it, meditating on it day and night. Chewing it over. Pondering it. Allowing it to make connections in my mind, and pushing me to prayer and application.
Sometimes I read a 5 verses Psalm and I can’t shake it for 3 days. Sometimes I read a passage and I think “that reminds me of x” and for the next couple of days I feel drawn to read a different portion of Scripture that illuminates it. For some seasons, I feel the Spirit prompt me to break from the year’s plan and read through a particular part of Scripture that will speak into a particular theme. That may mean pausing for a month, while I re-read the gospels, for example. Sometimes I need help, and so I read a commentary alongside whatever book I’m working through, which slows the whole thing down. Sometimes I read a passage and find it baffling, and need to go and re-read it in a different translation to help me get the meaning of it. Some days my daughter gets up super early and obliterates my scheduled reading time.
Some days I get through my reading and tick the box on my app. Then the next morning I realise that I don’t remember a thing about what I read the previous day, because I hadn’t really been paying attention. My eyes were scanning the words, but my mind was elsewhere. So I untick the box and start again.
John Piper writes,
‘The fact that hundreds of the pages of God’s inspired word are devoted to poetry moves me. One of the effects is to make me aware that God thinks the sound of language matters… I take heart that so much of the Bible is poetry. It is self-evident to me that poetry is not meant to be speed-read, but ordinarily read aloud. So I would encourage you to supplement your speed with slow savoring of the way things are written to be heard.’John Piper
I’ve found that to be a helpful observation, and when I realise that I’m in danger of not taking Scripture in properly, I try reading it out loud. It forces me to slow down and really consider the words.
I also try and take notes as I read. I have a bad memory for chapters and verses, so it helps me to write things down that I can refer back to. I type them out. I tag key themes, so I can search through my notes, finding things I’d read and making fresh connections. At present I have a 340-page word document with my notes, observations, and questions. Someone asked me a while back, “If your computer was wiped and you lost everything on the hard drive, what one document would you miss most?” Leaving aside personal things like photographs, I’d say it would be this document of my Bible notes. I’d take this over my archive of sermons any day!
Some days, I don’t read the Bible at all. And I’m ok with that. Because there is more to ‘meditating’ than reading words on a page. And although I haven’t opened my Bible and worked through a chapter, I might still have meditated on God’s word as I worshipped, reflected, and prayed Scripture-shaped prayers. Those days are very rare midweek, and typically only happen if for some reason I feel God leading me into an extended time of prayer. But I hardly ever read from my BIOY plan at the weekends. Rather, I may read a different book of the Bible, or whatever passage is being preached on at our church that week. Or I read other books to help me grapple with some of the questions that have accumulated through my week’s reading.
I think there’s a lot to be said for slow reading.
That said, there’s also a lot to be said for faster reading. If my pace means that I only get to read particular books of the Old Testament once every seven years, that’s not going to be all that helpful! Not least because I believe a lot of Scripture gives up its meaning not simply through slow reading, but repeated reading.
Having a set plan to work to can be really useful, and I love the structure of forcing myself to read through all of Scripture, including the bits I’m least excited by. Having the goal of reading in a defined period can be really helpful for some people, whereas for others it becomes a pressure. For some, the milestones are helpful motivators, while for others the pressure of having to read quickly or the guilt of falling behind can be a heavy burden. The milestones become millstones, which crush the life of faith.
We need to know ourselves. We need to know what works for us, we need to be self-aware about our motives, and we need to keep in mind at all times that this book is not a challenge to be overcome, but a gift to be treasured.
To be honest, if I were starting again, I think I would pick a different reading plan. One which takes me through the whole Bible once, rather than doing the NT and Psalms twice.
And for the second half of my reading, I’m going to try and pick up the pace a little. I’m going to focus mainly on the Old Testament portion of my plan, working through that slowly and taking notes. I’ll try and read the assigned OT passage every weekday. For the New Testament I can move a little faster as it’s more familiar and I’ve written plenty of notes already, to which I can add new insights. I like the practice of alternating between OT and NT, but I might ditch the set NT readings and just work through it at whatever pace feels right. I’m excited to start the gospels again tomorrow and to see what kind of pace feels most life-giving this time round.
Check back in at Christmas 2024 and we’ll see how I’ve got on!!