I often hear someone say, “I’m going to read through the whole Bible this year.” I don’t say it, but I think, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” I’m not normally a pessimist. When I applied to college, the adjective I used to describe myself on my application was “optimistic.” But when I comes to year-long Bible plans, I’m a realist–they are rarely realized. I don’t want to be a heretic, but I think trying to read the Bible in a year is usually a bad idea. And I love reading the Bible.
I’m reminded of the new jogger who boldly declares, “I’m going to run a marathon in 3 months.” I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ve been running for twenty years. I’ve run three half-marathons, but haven’t been able to do a full marathon for a variety of health reasons (AFib, plantar fasciitis, and a varies of injuries to my toe, calf, knee, hamstrings, etc). Running in a marathon won’t happen for most people, and it’s probably a bad idea (running is hard on the body).
Reading through the Bible in a year is a lot like running a marathon. It’s hard for most of us to do, and not very helpful. The Bible contains 1189 chapters, which means if you read seven days a week, 365 days a year, you’ll need to read 3-4 chapters a day just to finish.
If you’re sick, or miss a few days on vacation, it goes up to 5-6 chapters a day. How much do you comprehend, or even remember when you are reading that much Scripture that quickly? Not much. (If you’re retired and have several hours a day for long Bible reading–that’s fantastic–I’ll look forward to that!)
Most people who start with this lofty plan end somewhere in Exodus, or perhaps they make it as far as the desert of Leviticus. Then they feel defeated, discouraged, perhaps like they let God down.
I never recommend reading through the Bible in a year.
I was speaking this past Sunday to the high school group at my church (Calvary Church of Souderton) with my wife Shannon about personal Bible study. I gave them three recommendations. My first was, “Start slow.”
Most people when they start running are excited, eager, energetic, so they run too fast, too far, too long, which often leads to injury, pain or burnout, which means they give up after a few runs, like most year-long Bible readers. If people ask me about starting to run, I say, “Start slow.”
When I started running (in my 30’s), I began running a slow mile, for several weeks, and then very gradually running longer distances. Over the course of a year, my distances increased, and I started running in races: a 5K, a 10K, then a half-marathon–but only after having run for several years.
When it comes to Bible reading, “Start slow.” Plan to read your Bible just a chapter a day, or perhaps 5-10 verses. It may take you a few years to finish it but you probably already know how the story ends. And you will get more out of it from a slow read. If you’re reading a short section, you can re-read it, and reflect on it since you aren’t in a hurry to tick off those four chapters. You are far more likely to remember a chapter you’ve read twice, than 4 chapters you’re read once. If God can speak through a donkey (Numbers 22), he can certainly speak through speed-reading programs, but it is more likely we will be able to hear him if we are reading his word slowly.
My next blog, “Bible Reading 101 (Part 2): Keep Track.”