From the editors : This week marks the beginning of the Bible Reading Challenge, a group that started two years ago with a simple premise: what if Christians from around the world started reading their Bibles together? What if we read more than one chapter or section at a time? What if we truly feasted on the Word of God?
It’s not a new idea, but we sometimes forget that reading the Bible all the way through is truly an amazing and transformative experience. And it truly doesn’t matter how or where you read. Whether you want to read five days a week or seven, start in Genesis and read all the way through or mix some of the New Testament in along the way, by yourself or with a group like the BRC – it just seems like there’s no reason to not jump in somewhere and get started!
That’s not to say that reading your Bible is always easy. I vividly remember my first attempts. As a new believer in my teens, I hadn’t grown up in the church. While I knew some of the Biblical stories, I had no idea how the narrative actually flowed. I definitely didn’t understand the importance of the Old Testament. What’s up with Leviticus anyway? I knew I was supposed to read this book, but I couldn’t do it. So I quit.
Actually, I quit several times. I would get a few weeks into my new plan, and then I’d get overwhelmed by my ignorance of the Biblical story and quit again, over and over and over. I became so frustrated by my inability to understand.
And I’m a reader. I love to read. I could read any other book no problem, but I couldn’t understand the Bible.
After college, my husband and I went to seminary. I still didn’t know the storyline of the Bible. I had so many questions in all of our classes, but I specifically remember sitting in our intercultural communications class. We were talking about the Biblical narrative and its importance in cultures that are illiterate or don’t have written language. I was fascinated! I wanted to know those stories!
So I emailed our professor and asked where I could go to learn more. His response wasn’t very helpful; he assumed I knew much more than I did. His only advice was to just “Go read your Bible.” But I had tried…and failed. I knew I needed to read my Bible, but I just couldn’t understand it.
That was ten years ago. This year, I’m reading through the Bible for the fourth time. This time, I get to read with my church family! So what changed? Both my understanding of the storyline of Scripture and my perspective on Bible reading.
How I Got Started
Nine years ago, when I was pregnant with our oldest child, some sweet friends gave us The Jesus Storybook Bible. In the weeks leading up to our son’s arrival, I opened it and began to read. That book opened my eyes in a new way. I had read story Bibles before, but this was the first time that I really saw the story of Scripture as one complete story from Genesis to Revelation. It’s not just a disconnected series of events! I had heard that, but I had never seen how these stories fit together.
Looking back, this was a pivotal moment in my journey toward Bible literacy. I had taken Old and New Testament classes. I had learned the Inductive Bible Study Method. But I had not been shown how God had orchestrated all of history to climax with the life, death, and resurrection of His Son.
Since then, I have learned to talk about the meta-narrative of Scripture in terms like creation, fall, redemption, and glorification. God created the world, but Adam fell into sin and in him we all fell. Because of the fall, the world is distorted and so are our hearts. We long for the world to be restored. God saw our need for redemption and sent Jesus. Through Him, our relationship with God has been redeemed! Because of Jesus, we look forward to the day when we are glorified with the Son. We look forward to the day when we will worship at the throne of God. Each story in the entire Bible fits into this bigger story.
Once I understood that the Bible was not just a series of unrelated stories, but one big story from start to finish, I could begin reading God’s Word with new understanding. I could see how David and Goliath pointed backwards to the fall but also pointed us to the day when the Son would defeat the ultimate enemy of God, and the same is true of every story in Scripture.
But reading the Bible remained hard. Despite my better grasp of the grander themes in God’s Word, I still struggled to get through the tedious passages of the Old Testament.
A Savings Account
“For years I viewed my interaction with the Bible as a debit account: I had a need, so I went to the Bible to withdraw an answer. But we do much better to view our interaction the Bible as a savings account: I stretch my understanding daily, I deposit what I glean, and I patiently wait for it to accumulate in value, knowing that one day I will need to draw on it. Bible study is an investment with a long-term payoff .”(p. 81).
Until that point in my life, my view of “quiet time” was that I should input my Bible for that day and withdraw enough to get through that day. Every day I was making a deposit and a withdrawal, so I wasn’t building anything for later. If I couldn’t immediately withdraw what I had just deposited, I became very frustrated.
Instead, Wilkin helped me view my Bible reading as depositing into a savings account. It won’t feel like much for a long time. But little by little, it adds up so that over time, you are able to make a withdrawal that is substantial.
This view of Bible reading helps me to see that it’s okay that I don’t understand every chapter of the Bible. It will take time to build up my savings account of Bible literacy. But the effort of reading Scripture (even when I don’t understand it) will lead to a greater knowledge of the text, which I trust will lead to greater understanding in the future.
The Fourth Time Around
Now that I am reading through the Bible for the fourth time, I am beginning to see the fruit of the first three times. I am starting to make some connections between different stories that I hadn’t seen before. When I get to the prophets, I have better understanding of the historical context. When I make it through Leviticus, I can sit in awe of all that Jesus has fulfilled.
There are still chapters that I struggle through. It is still hard to make the time to read every day. But the fruit of faithful Bible reading is increasing; seeing this growth has been enough encouragement for me to complete the Bible reading plan for this year. It has given me a vision for pushing through the hard parts. It has opened my eyes to greater depth and beauty in God’s Word that I would have ever known had I not started the first time.
So if we could get a cup of coffee and chat for a while, I would encourage you to start. I would tell you that yes, you will feel inadequate and that’s part of the point. God asks us to do hard things for His glory! I would tell you that struggling through the Bible the first time is so worth it when you get to the fourth. And I look forward to how much more I will know and be able to enjoy the Lord when I get to my tenth.
I can’t wait to hear you say the same.