Posts

3 Things I Learned From Reading Through the Bible in A Year

Written By Jefferson, Originally in Bahasa Indonesia

Ever since I became a Christian, I have intended to read the entire Bible in a year. But I was always preoccupied with school activities and felt that I didn’t have enough time to finish reading the Bible.

So I procrastinated for six years.

But in 2017, all the members of my small group decided to read the Bible from cover to cover together in 2018. I was convinced right away that God was telling me to finish this “task”, and agreed to the plan.

 

Preparing for the challenge

So, in the last weeks of 2017, I started preparing for what I needed to finish reading the Bible in the year ahead. I first picked a Bible translation that I enjoy (I personally prefer the ESV), and then got a study bible with notes that I could consult when I encountered verses that were hard to understand.

I then searched for a suitable Bible reading plan. I didn’t want to pick passages to read at random, but wanted a plan that would respect the Bible’s structure and enable me to see its big picture.

After comparing several plans, I decided on one which divided the books of the Bible into four categories—Psalms and Wisdom Literature, the Pentateuch and the History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles. I would read a passage from each category every day.

Unlike the other reading plans, this one didn’t provide any devotional text to accompany the readings. So, I would be “compelled” to really meditate on and apply what I read in my daily life.

The last matter to decide on was the best timing in the day to read the Bible. At first I tried reading in the mornings, but could never finish all the readings before having to leave for work. So I decided to read at night instead—which worked out much better for me.

It might sound like I did a lot of planning, but I truly experienced the truth in Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” as I did so. Throughout this process, I felt as if God was the one who was establishing my path and enabling me to finish what I had set out to do.

Here are three lessons I learned from reading the Bible in a year. I hope it will inspire and encourage you to read the entire Bible in the year 2019.

 

1. Set a focus if you want to finish well

Many of us think that reading the Bible from cover to cover in one year is an incredibly hard feat. Initially, I held the same point-of-view.

In the first few days, I found it hard to read four passages in one day. I was not used to sitting down and focusing on reading for such a long period of time, especially since it involved ancient Jewish literature. At times, I felt so overwhelmed that I just skipped some of the passages.

But God kept bringing Psalm 1 to my mind. The psalm explains that the difference between a righteous and wicked person is this: the righteous delights in the law of the Lord and he meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). He is then described as being “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers” (Psalm 1:3).

As I reflected on this psalm, I realized that the only action the righteous man took was to meditate on the Word of God, and that kept him strong and fruitful regardless of the season he was in or what was happening around him. Even in his meditation, the righteous has to rely on God, for there’s no way that a tree could plant its own seed in the ground and grow.

So if I want to be a righteous person whose life is pleasing to God, I have to spend time in God’s Word, allowing Him to mold me and teach me. This rekindled my zeal for His Word and enabled me to accomplish my resolution.

Here’s the thing, it’s not that we can’t read the Bible in one year; but that we aren’t willing to put in the effort it takes to achieve it. And what a great loss that is for us! God Himself desires an intimate relationship with us. Why would we not pursue that?

 

2. The view at the peak is worth the climb

Since I was reading so many passages in a day, it came as no surprise that I was unable to remember all the details of what I had read. But what I can remember is the main themes and events—and it helped me appreciate the Bible from a different point-of-view. It was like finally getting to enjoy the view from a peak that I’d been longing to climb, but had only seen from snapshots other people had taken.

One of the big pictures that amazed me when reading through the Bible was the broad spectrum of emotions expressed in the wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Songs of Songs). These books accurately capture the reality of ups and downs in life, from joyful times in Psalm 34 and the Songs of Songs, to the gloomy and pessimistic moments in Psalm 88 and Ecclesiastes.

However, amid these uncertainties of life, the writers affirm again and again that God is present as a Rock and Refuge, inviting us to live under His wings and follow Him. I am continuing to learn how to bring myself before God sincerely and honestly, regardless of the situation I’m facing or how I’m feeling.

Another breathtaking aspect of the view was learning afresh the truth that God is Love. It is such a simple fact that even children know it by heart, but who among us can truly comprehend the depth of that simple statement?

So majestic is the love shared between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from the beginning that He created the world and everything in it to share this love. So holy is God’s love that He cannot tolerate sin. So deep is God’s love that He gave His one and only Son to die on the cross.

It is the story of the gospel in a nutshell—but seeing God’s character in every book of the Bible, even the ones we don’t often read, really brought that truth home to me. My understanding and knowledge of the Lord definitely deepened in ways I never expected over the course of the year.

Through the pages of the Bible, God causes “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) to shine in our hearts. I would not trade this view from the peak for anything else.

 

3. Reading the Bible helps me look forward to our glorious end

I have now read the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. Can I now say that I know God well? Hardly! How many times do we have to read through the Bible to know God wholly? Two times? Three times?

The truth is that it is not until we meet the Lord face to face that we can really know Him fully. One day, God will return and dwell among us. On that day, we will see Him face to face, and death or sin will no longer stand in our way (Revelation 21, 22). We will then be able to converse directly with the Word Himself.

Until then, the Bible is the only way we can reliably know God now. We, whose minds were blinded by the gods of this world, can now see the light of the Gospel and the glory of Christ through the Bible (2 Corinthians 4:4). Though we can only know God partially because of our finite minds, He promises to meet us so that one day we can see Him fully. We may then say confidently with the apostle Paul, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known [by God since the beginning]” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I’m looking forward to that day!

While waiting to see God face to face, let us keep growing in our understanding and knowledge of Him through the Word He has given us, which ultimately points to the true, living Word—Jesus Christ.

 

I want to close by inviting you to pray a prayer by Anselm, a church father from the 11th century. After meditating on the majestic characters of God in his book Proslogion, Anselm responded with the following words:

I pray, O God, that I may know You and love You, so that I may rejoice in You. And if I cannot do so fully in this life may I progress gradually until it comes to fullness. Let the knowledge of You grow in me here, and there [in heaven] be made complete; let Your love grow in me here and there be made complete, so that here my joy may be great in hope, and there be complete in reality.

Soli Deo gloria.

Knowing the Bible is Not Enough

Photo taken by Ian Tan

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

Early this year, someone new joined the small church that I attend. He identified himself as a Singaporean working in the United States, temporarily sent back to Singapore for a work project. During one prayer meeting he shared that he was serving as a youth leader back in his home church. He seemed to know the Bible very well and sounded very confident of his own salvation. He could easily quote the relevant verses (John 14:6, Ephesians 5:8 and more), and share how important a faith in Jesus was for salvation. We quickly accepted him as part of our small church family.

But merely a month later, our pastor and other church members informed me that this man was actually a fraudster. He had made up stories and borrowed money from various church members. He eventually fled with the money that our church members had lent him and never returned to our church. His phone line was canceled too and beyond contact. I never saw him again.

I was very surprised at this chain of events. How could a person so knowledgeable about the Bible turn out to be a fraudster?

I realized that knowledge of the Bible does not necessarily translate into godly living. James 1:23-24 says this is like a person who looks at himself in the mirror and goes away, immediately forgetting what he looks like. If God’s Word has no impact on the way we lead our lives, then we will be no different from a non-believer.

Even though I have been a Christian for a number of years, I didn’t always read the Bible. For a long time, I heard God’s Word only in church on Sundays. Even then, I was like the person in James 1:24—my life was not transformed. I was still living by my own flesh. I was a Christian outwardly, but inwardly my heart was not aligned with God. I indulged in my own sinful ways without a repentant heart.

But then I went through a dark period a few years ago. The only thing that comforted me during that time was God’s Word, and I realized how desperately I needed the Bible in my life. I have since learned a few things about reading the Bible, and reading it effectively. Perhaps they might be helpful for you as well.

 

Set aside time

Setting aside quiet time to read the Bible is very important to me, because I want to focus without distraction. This habit started during my period of darkness. God’s Word was what gave me strength to go through that period, and I realized how much I need His Word and how truly it refreshes me. Like Jesus withdrawing to lonely places and praying (Luke 5:16), I try to find time in the midst of my busyness, so that I can slip away and be with my heavenly Father. Daily, God’s Word gives me the strength that I need.

 

Ask God for help

Also, I dare not take the Word of God lightly. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed and is good for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but I do not always have the wisdom I need to understand and apply what I am reading. And so, I humbly seek the help of the Holy Spirit, knowing that our God is a generous God and is always ready to give us wisdom without reproach when we ask for it (James 1:5).

When I first came across Ephesians 1:14, for example, I really had trouble understanding it. It says that the Holy Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” But other parts of the Bible tell us that not everyone who calls out to the Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). So how can the Holy Spirit guarantee my salvation?

I brought my confusion to a trusted mentor, whom God used to help answer my question. My mentor explained to me that the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and walk in the ways of the Lord as we work out our salvation, and so guarantees our salvation when we do not harden our hearts and allows Him to work in us.

 

Allow God to convict me

As I read God’s Word, I remind myself to invite God to search my heart (Psalm 139:23-24). When I lay bare my heart, God helps me see how His wondrous truths could be applied to my life. There are times the Holy Spirit shows me how to repent of my erroneous ways.

Sometime last year, I said some things that made my friend upset. During a morning devotion, I came across the verse Matthew 15:18, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” This caused me to reflect that the words I speak can defile me. I realized that what I said to my friend was not at all glorifying to God, and it reflected how self-centered my heart was, and how insensitive I had been towards her. I needed to apologize to her and align my heart with God.

God’s Word is like a double-edged sword to me, judging my thoughts and the attitudes of my heart (Hebrews 4:12). When I read the Bible humbly, I allow it to convict me of my sins. Through this, God is shaping me into the unique individual that He designed me to be. Though I will not be perfect until the day I see Him face to face, I know that even now, God is in the process of transforming us into His image with an ever-increasing glory when we allow His living Word of truth to sanctify us (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

Simply knowing the Bible is not enough. Though I had listened to many Sunday sermons, I did not allow them to change my life. Only when I read the Bible with a humble and contrite heart did the Word lead me back to God for salvation. God is always ready to forgive us no matter how far we have gone astray from Him (1 John 1:9). Knowing this, we recognize that the Word of God is like a gift, and effective Bible reading will consistently point us back to God.

Let us be doers and not just hearers of God’s Word (James 1:22). Let us read our Bible so that we can be men and women after God’s own heart, working out our salvation as sojourners. Then we will live as true disciples of Christ.

5 Spiritual Disciplines We Overlook

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” teaches popular American preacher, John Piper. Amen! Don’t we all long to be fully satisfied in God and God alone? But what about when we don’t feel satisfied? What about when we feel tired, unmotivated, or distant?

Those times are why spiritual disciplines are so important. Spiritual disciplines are good and God-honoring, regardless of how we feel about doing them. Discipline keeps us on track when we lose motivation and it is necessary for our growth as Christians.

Here are five spiritual disciplines that have been helpful in keeping me focused on God, even when motivation is lacking.

 

1. Bible Reading

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

God has prepared work for His people, and this verse explains that God-given scripture is the very way that God prepares each of us for that work. God is constantly working to bring people to Himself, and He allows us Christians to be a part of that in varying ways. We might not always have a clear and specific picture of exactly how God plans to use us, but the Bible will prepare us with knowledge and understanding so we are ready for whatever it is that God calls us to.

I go through phases where I read heavy sections and lots of text, but it’s also been helpful for me to slow down, read smaller portions, and leave time to ponder and reflect on it. Journaling during or after reading also helps me process and retain what I read. Instead of approaching this time with expectations for exciting new revelations, I like to approach it as a time set aside to get to know my Father better. After all, our faith is based on a relationship with God, and we can’t have good relationships with people we do not spend meaningful time with.

 

2. Prayer

Prayer is another way to spend quality time with God. God is holy and perfect. The mere fact that we are allowed to come before Him and be heard is truly amazing. Praise Him for it! And not only does God allow us to pray to Him, we can pray to Him with great boldness.

When David prays for forgiveness after murdering a man for his wife, he asks God to forgive him in accordance with God’s unfailing love and compassion (Psalm 51:1). In Exodus 32, after God’s people have committed a great sin by making a golden idol to worship, Moses’ plea for saving the people banks on one thing: God’s promises. God promised Abraham that he would make his descendants (Israel) numerous, and God promised them a land for their inheritance. None of these promises could be fulfilled if God completely destroyed his people, and when Moses called on these promises, God relented (Exodus 32:11-14).

Identifying God’s promises has helped me immensely in prayer. In doing so, I can pray with more confidence for Him to follow through on them. . . not because I, or anyone, is deserving of the promise, but because God made the promise and he will follow-through on it.

A close friend of mine is currently struggling with postpartum anxiety. As I pray for her, I reflect on Matthew 6:25-34, which illustrates how well God cares for all of His creation (even the birds and flowers!), and explains that because of this, we should not be anxious. The momentum of my prayer for my friend is rooted in the knowledge that God will care for her, as she is of even greater value to Him than any bird or lily flower. Holding to God’s promises that He makes in scripture helps me to pray with greater confidence and boldness.

 

3. Fasting

In Deuteronomy, God’s people are told that they were caused to be hungry, that they would learn that they are sustained not by man’s bread, but by God’s word alone (Deuteronomy 8:3). In the New Testament, Jesus makes an assumption that His followers practice fasting, since He tells them, “when you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do. . . ” and “when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting. . . ” (Matthew 6:16-17, emphasis added).

We practice fasting so that we can spend time separated from man’s sustenance, and seek God’s instead. With every stomach groan, as my body calls out for man’s food, I am reminded that God alone created and God alone sustains me. This particularly helps me focus when I need to pray for or about a specific person or decision in life. Every stomach rumbling reminds me that God is the one I should seek for everything I need, including sustenance and direction.

 

4. Tithing

Just as we should learn to depend on God instead of food for sustenance, we must also fight against the tendency to rely on money’s security over God’s provision. Psalm 50:10 says that every cattle on a thousand hills belongs to God. None of what we “earn” is truly ours. Every blessing comes from God. Tithing helps train us to hold what we have with open hands.

Recently, my husband and I felt compelled to give our car away to a man at church who had recently crashed his. Another family has been unemployed and falling behind on finances, and we felt called to give of “our” savings to help them. I use quotations for “our” because we believe it wasn’t our car or our money to keep. God allowed us to be stewards for a time, but we had to be willing to give when God called us to.

By practicing tithing and keeping an open hand, we will be more prepared to obey God when He calls us to give above and beyond what we are comfortable with, and so give graciously of all that we have (be it time, money, or possessions).

 

5. Verse Memorization

As a child in Sunday school, I memorized verses for stickers and affirmation from my teacher. I developed a distaste for the culture around it, because I saw verses taken out of context and twisted to support claims people make.

Perhaps people will always twist Scripture for their own purposes, but if we are to obediently meditate on God’s law day and night (Psalm 1:2), then we have to know the law we are to meditate on. Memorize scripture, know its context, and meditate on it.

I heard a story once of a man who was jailed in a foreign country for being a Christian. He was not allowed to have a Bible. For 20 years, the only Word of God he had was that which he had hidden in his heart, and could write out while he was imprisoned. What kind of Bible would we have if the only scripture available was the scripture we had memorized?

God convicted me of my neglect to commit verses to memory, and in response I am now practicing hiding His word in my heart (Psalm 119:11) through scripture memorization. I wasn’t sure where to start, and a friend recommended a verse memorization app created by Desiring God. It’s been really helpful for keeping me motivated and accountable.

 

There are many resources that will help you as you journey through all of these spiritual disciplines. The internet is an amazing resource, and it can be used for good. I encourage you to not get too wrapped up in one specific way of following any of these disciplines. If you feel discouraged or grow weary, change up how you’re participating, but don’t stop altogether.

All of these disciplines help us to grow as Christians. That doesn’t mean we’ll always feel the growth. There are times where we must persevere, because in addition to glorifying God through our satisfaction and joy in Him, we also love God by obedience to His commands (1 John 5:3). And through our dry seasons, we trust that God will not stop “equipp[ing] us for every good work.”

Do You Read Your Bible For Fun?

Photo taken by Ian Tan

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

I spent the whole of November immersed in the countryside of Western Australia with my family. We brought no work along—no revision (for the kids), no prep, teaching or writing (for my husband and me).

At several of the Airbnb homes where we stayed, there was no phone signal, let alone Wi-Fi, only pristine beaches, forests and mountains. We were looking forward to resting from our school and work routines. And I wanted to read my Bible for fun.

What? I can hear you thinking, “Do the words ‘fun’ and ‘Bible’ even go together?”

Okay, I’ll admit that Bible reading probably isn’t Number One on most sane people’s “Fun” list. We do it, but it’s probably on a different list altogether—the “Things-That-Are-Good-For-Me-That-I-Don’t-Enjoy” list, along with cod liver oil supplements and visits to the dentist.

I’m no different, and the thought of Bible reading usually fills me with mixed feelings, ranging from mild reluctance to guilt and occasional dread.

But it strikes me that this is unfair to God. The other things on that list are understandably off-putting, involving degrees of physical discomfort in return for questionable benefits, whereas God’s Word costs me nothing and bestows infinite grace, comfort, wisdom and counsel. So, why don’t I crave it more?

Here are three reasons I can think of:

  1. I unintentionally treat the Bible as a spiritual clinic or dispensary. I search its pages when I have questions or needs, when I’m suffering, or when I want something. So, when life is fine by my standards, I lose the urge to read His Word.
  1. I treat reading God’s Word as a task. This could be in church, during Bible study prep, regular Quiet Time, or during an academic Bible course or seminar. Structure is by no means a bad thing, but if I start becoming merely dutiful, Bible reading can feel like just another task. Having ticked it off on my “to-do” list, I wouldn’t go back there just for fun, right? Not when there’s Netflix . . . which brings me to my next reason . . .
  1. There are plenty of distractions. That’s right, the instant gratification of non-urgent distractions such as my hobbies, my Spotify playlists, the Internet, and video games or other forms of entertainment, can make reading feel like hard work.

Maybe you can relate to these reasons or think of more. There are plenty of ways to counter the feelings and objects that take our time away from God, from better planning to implementing device-free hours at home, but let’s leave aside that half of the equation for now and focus on our motivation for Bible reading in the first place.

It’s probably not enough just to get rid of the obstacles to our reading. You see, on holiday I didn’t have the time pressure of duties and deadlines—I could take my time with my 12-month Bible reading plan, for instance, and not rush to prepare next Sunday’s kids’ Bible story or answer 10 questions for this Friday’s Bible study.

My usual technology-dependent distractions were also removed. But helpful as all of this was, it didn’t mean that I automatically hurried to open my Bible. After all, as in any kind of relationship, feeling bad or guilty might motivate me to read a few verses once in a while, but guilt doesn’t make for a lasting engagement. Even a neutral feeling won’t keep me returning to God’s Word. Put aside one distraction, and another rushes to take its place.

No, if I’m to enjoy God’s Word, shouldn’t I expect to find something enjoyable in it? In fact, the scriptures themselves tell us there is something wonderful about God’s Word that we can expect to see, feel and appreciate. Psalm 119 repeatedly emphasizes the psalmist’s enjoyment:

In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

(Psalm 119:14-16, ESV, emphasis added)

The same sentiment can be found in verses 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 111, 143 and 174—you get the picture! This psalm was penned by a believer who recognized that the world around him was disappointing, treacherous and not as it should be, but that God’s Word was trustworthy, true and satisfying. And how much more so for us who are living after Old Testament times and can know Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s promises!

Do you remember that amazing moment recorded for us in Luke 24, when Jesus appeared to His followers after His resurrection and helped them see Him in the scriptures?

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47, ESV)

Jesus showed them that He is the fulfillment of God’s Word—“the Word made flesh”, as John’s Gospel tells us.

Yes, I can go to the Bible to find wisdom and answers useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training myself and others in righteousness. But even more than that, what a gift I have been given, that in the Bible’s pages, both Old Testament and New, I can see Jesus and everything He’s done for those He has saved. To borrow a phrase from pastor and author John Piper, to pick up my Bible for fun is to expect to “see the beauty of Jesus in His word”.

Happily, during my holiday, I did pick up the Bible just for fun, and not only once but several times. Beach-combing, forest-walking and rock-climbing in peaceful surroundings helped me appreciate God’s creation more so than in the fast-paced city where I live, and I wanted to read about His works.

As I reflected on the many things and people I was grateful for, I also found myself thankful for everything that God has done in Jesus in their lives and mine. Repentance for the forgiveness of sins has been proclaimed to me and to you, and we continue to proclaim it to the world—how awesome is that?

Of course, holidays don’t last forever, so as I get into stride with 2017, I’d like to manage my duties and distractions so that I continue to pick up the Bible for fun. How about you? Do you find enjoyment in God’s Word? Why not try looking past the footnotes and cross-references, and simply enjoy the greatest story ever told—that of the Savior of the world, as revealed in the precious pages of your Bible?