It's important for a Christian to read the Bible.
The Importance of Reading the Bible
Let's be more precise: I believe it's important for a Christian to achieve both breadth and depth as they read the Bible.
We need depth. We need to study carefully, so that we understand correctly what we read. That way, we find focused applications so that our reading is obedient and trusting, not merely intellectual. That way, we understand more over time, which means the next bits of the Bible we read make more sense. And so it goes on, and so it gets better.
But we need breadth too. We are very forgetful creatures, so the longer you haven't read any part of the Bible the less likely you are to call it to mind. The whole Bible is the word of God. Who knows what challenges will face you just around the corner. A part of the Bible that does not seem especially relevant may suddenly come into sharp focus. This is what I have found. So we need not only to have once read right through the Bible, but to be doing so all of our lives.
New Year's Resolutions
Many people make resolutions at the start of the new year. You may already have made some for 2021.
Why not commit to read right through the Bible. It need not be in one year, although if that's a helpful target, why not? I'd suggest a better target is to read through at the right pace for you.
For me, one year is too fast. Yes, I get to see every word of Scripture every year, but I also miss more going at that speed. It also requires more of me in minutes than I can sustain, which means I get behind, which means I feel discouraged, which means it turns into a duty. (There's nothing at all wrong with discipline, and sometimes discipline will sustain us when we don't feel like doing something important. But joyless duty over a sustained period is not what the Lord wants.)
Here are three tools to help you.
Robert Murray McCheyne was minister of St Peter's Church in Dundee from just 1836 to 1838, before dying in 1843 at the age of 29. He somehow knew his time was short, and his whole life had an urgency about it.
He devised a scheme so his whole church could read the Bible each year, and so his preaching and pastoring could be informed by the fact they were all reading the same portions at the same time. I blogged briefly about it back in 2006. I've used his one-year scheme many times myself, and find it very helpful. You can download his scheme as a simple leaflet I've produced that can be folded and tucked inside your Bible.
2. Bible Reading Plan Generator
Being a software developer, I've written a simple piece of desktop software that will take any set of Bible books, and divide them into equal portions to read over any number of days.
You can read more about the Bible Reading Plan Generator, including how to install and use it, on the page on this website that is devoted to it. It's free to download and use. Use it to create your own plan.
3. My Plan
Over the years, I've converged on what works for me. It's what works in this season; I've no doubt I'll need something different in a few years' time, so it may not be quite right for you. So I offer it, not as the miracle Bible reading plan, but more as something to use that I find more helpful than McCheyne's, so may be a good place for you to start.
Here are the principles behind it
- I read once each day, not twice.
- I want to read from more than one place in the Bible at at time. Sometimes (say, the first few chapters of Chronicles), it's hard on some days to read at the pace required for breadth, and find things to apply and live out. So having more than one passage to read means the overall day's reading will never feel barren.
- I need to read the Old Testament in two years not one. As explained above, the portion sizes are too big to read in one. And, unlike with McCheyne, reading one portion in the morning and one in the evening is not right for me either.
- This is not dated. "Getting behind" induces feelings of guilt. So let's just number the readings, and do the next day's readings next.
- There are not 730 days in two years. Well, there are. But rather than "get behind", let's not assume I'm going to manage to read every day. Let's plan for 6 days a week, and a few weeks a year when (illness, travel, whatever) nothing happens. You may say that's weak and setting the bar too low. Personally, I see it as planning realistically, and therefore devising a scheme that will remain a joy.
- I'd like to read the New Testament in one year, not two. It's much shorter. At any point in my life, I'd like there to be no passage in the New Testament that I've not read in the past 12 months. That feels manageable, in a way that it doesn't with the Old.
- When it comes to reading the New Testament, I don't want to read it in the order it occurs in an English Bible. I'd be reading the life of Jesus four times from January to June, and then epistles solid from July to December. Again, McCheyne's solution is morning and evening reading, which I've chosen not to adopt.
- So let's read one gospel, then some epistles, then another gospel, and so on. What's more, some of the epistles have a connection with a particular gospel. Paul was the authority behind much of Luke's writing. Acts follows Luke as "volume 2". Peter was the key source for Mark. John wrote 3 epistles and Revelation as well as his gospel. So why not follow each gospel with epistles bearing some connection.
- Turning to the Old Testament, two books in particular are different. The Psalms are the prayer book for the Christian life and the Christian church. A bit like the New Testament, I want to read the Psalms through more frequently than once every two years. In fact, it is healthy for my prayer life to read a little of the Psalms each day. I could do it in a year, like the New Testament, but then the portions to read often become smaller than the natural sense units. So I'll read the Psalms every 8 months (3 times in the 2 year cycle).
- The Proverbs contains practical wisdom for the Christian life. Each one needs to be chewed and turned over thoughtfully and prayerfully, and then born in mind throughout the day. You feel like you get indigestion if you read any more than 4 or 5 at a time. (If you've ever done McCheyne's plan, you'll know this feeling when you read a chapter a day from 14th March to 13th April). So, again, a little each day is better than long periods living without the wisdom of Proverbs followed by indigestion. I'll read these in one year.
So here is a plan to read the Old Testament (excluding Psalms and Proverbs) over 510 days. During those days the New Testament will be read through twice, the Psalms three times, and Proverbs twice.
In terms of how much you'll be reading, in the NIV you'll average 1028 words per day (Old Testament), 687 words per day (New Testament reading), 249 words per day (Psalms), 57 words per day (Proverbs). That's 2021 words per day. The average adult reads 200-250 words per minute in English. So this would take you about 10 minutes per day. You can do that, right? You can even afford to slow down and take 15-20 minutes per day, so you have time to chew over and pray in what you read.
The Plan: 510 Days
Here is the plan. If you'd prefer, you can download this as a printable attachment. Most of the references here are hyperlinked so you can click through to read online.