Written by Jon Coombs, Australia
Jon Coombs is the Lead Pastor at Mooroolbark Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia. For over 15 years he has been working in various forms of ministry through churches, schools, mission agencies and not-for-profit organisations. He holds an MDiv from the Melbourne School of Theology and writes regularly at joncoombs.com.
Many years ago, I made a commitment to read through the whole Bible in one year. This meant reading four to five chapters per day, which takes you through Genesis to Revelation within 12 months. It was the first time I had done this and my sense of accomplishment, as well as the steady growth in my relationship with God, was incredible.
From that year on I’ve attempted to do the same, but I don’t think I’ve managed to read it from cover to cover again.
Perhaps you’re like me. You start off the new year with a plan to follow—to finish the whole Bible in one year. But by the time the third week of January rolls around, you’re three days behind, equivalent to 12 to 15 chapters to catch up on. The doubt about actually doing this in the first place creeps in. The guilt of not doing what you said you’d do piles up.
And suddenly, you find yourself questioning whether your relationship with God is actually where you thought it was.
From a young age, in church or in a Christian home, we are taught that reading the Bible and praying are simply parts of the Christian identity and rhythm. I’m not going to disagree with that. The Bible itself speaks of the need to do these.
When God gives Moses His words in Exodus 24, there is the understanding that His people are to respond and obey it. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, there is the command to have them on repeat.
Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.
A Bible reading habit is about having God’s words on repeat.
It’s to help us in our worship of God. To help us hear from Him (Jeremiah 33:3).
It is to help us know more of our identity as His people (1 Peter 2:9).
It is to help us understand the story we are part of (Psalm 139:16).
It is not to feel guilty
As a pastor, I definitely feel the responsibility to stay in the Word for the sake of the congregation I lead, so the guilt can feel especially amplified when I’m not able to keep up with Bible reading.
But the point of a Bible reading plan is not to make us feel guilty. We aren’t saved or made right with God because of it, which I imagine we all know. Yet we are vulnerable to thinking this way because our hearts are easily drawn toward performance, toward task, toward being assured of our connection with God based on the spiritual activities we do.
Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:2-11 that it is not through a self-reliance and self-confidence that we are assured of being right with God. Instead, it is through faith in Jesus Christ, whose work on the cross is more valuable than our dedication to Bible reading plans and Scriptural streaks.
When we do feel guilty because we aren’t reading the Word, it may be the case we are being prompted by the Spirit, but I suspect it could also be that we have misplaced expectations. Expectations that turn Bible reading into a duty to perform rather than a delight in walking in relationship with God.
It is in the Good News of the Gospel that we find not a duty to perform but the confidence and a willingness to seek to know God through the Scriptures. So, when we do fall behind, we simply continue reading where we were up to, knowing that skipping a day is not shaking the foundations of our faith.
It is not about keeping a 100-day streak
I was talking with someone a month or two ago who had a 100-day streak in their Bible reading. Things then came up and they didn’t do it for about a week. Instead of just picking it up from where they left off, they gave up. They didn’t see much of a point to continue reading because they felt they were too far behind that they couldn’t catch up.
But that’s not the point! There’s no competition going on (unless it’s self-imposed, and that’ll probably raise questions around “heart”).
There’s no freedom or delight in coming to read God’s Word as just words. That’s no indication of relationship; rather, it’s a symptom of performance-based Christianity. A symptom we need to medicate by reminding ourselves that “…the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).
Bible reading has increased my knowledge of the Scriptures, which has been helpful in times where I need to remember what God’s Word says. Whether it’s for encouragement, recalibration, or comfort, I find myself hearing God in fresh ways through His enduring Word.
It’s not about following a set of explicit rules
There are no explicit rules around reading the Bible. No one is demanding or making it a law to read a certain part or amount of the Bible. The important thing is to read it. If you read a verse or read a whole book, whatever it is, the aim is to read it.
I like Bible reading plans because they help me work through Scripture bit by bit. They help me have a goal and show me where I’m going.
We can get stuck because there are so many options to choose from within Scripture itself. When we want to read about God’s work in early history, we can look toward the early books of the Old Testament. When we wish to hear about Jesus’s life and listen to His own words, we head to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. When we need comfort, or are wrestling with our own emotions, or simply want to rest in God’s words, then perhaps something like a Psalm or Proverb is where we should land.
And while sometimes this is known as Bible roulette, where we are opening the Bible and seeing which page speaks to us, perhaps a better way to approach it is to choose a book and see it through. This way, we will be able to get a bigger picture of the context, understand the flow of thought, and not twist the meaning of short passages or verses.
My experience in reading through a Bible plan has been hard but joyful work. It has helped me see the bigger picture of the Bible. It has shown me how God has worked through human history. It has enabled me to be conformed more to Christ and His ways (Romans 8:29).
Reading the Bible is vital for our relationship with God, to understand and worship Him. As we read His Word, we will find the Spirit transforming our hearts in ways we may not even be able to imagine. We will find ourselves changed and made aware of what God calls us to as His followers.
I’d always encourage a Bible reading plan to anyone (this one is a good one). What I wouldn’t encourage is feeling guilty about not meeting someone else’s Bible reading requirements. Read what you can, work through a plan at your own pace, and worship God in the process.
This article is originally published on the author’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.