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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.

How God Used My Painful Experiences to Bless Others

Written by Jefferson, Singapore, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

A few weeks ago, my Bible study group in church was reading Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life together. There was a section from the book that caught my attention:

It is the last category, painful experiences, that God uses the most to prepare you for ministry. God never wastes a hurt! In fact, your greatest ministry will most likely come out of your greatest hurt. [Emphases are all Rick Warren’s]

This paragraph resonated with me deeply as I was reminded of how God used a painful episode I had just gone through to reach out to my colleague, who is a non-believer.

A few days before that, a close friend in church had confronted me about my insensitive behavior. He was hurt because I would often prioritize my needs above his. And this applied to some of my other friends too. For instance, I would insist that they accompany me out for meals even though I knew that they were exhausted and would have preferred to rest instead.

After my friend confronted me, I was quick to apologize but deep down, I was far from convicted.

“Was what he said true? Am I as selfish as he depicted me to be?”

I struggled with these questions for days because I could not reconcile what he had told me with how I perceived myself.

As I continued reading The Purpose Driven Life, the section on Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 comforted me greatly. He recounted his sufferings during his ministry in Asia Minor, which reminded him to rely on the Lord wholeheartedly.

In response to that passage, Rick Warren wrote: “For God to use your painful experiences, you must be willing to share them. You have to stop covering them up, and you must honestly admit your faults, failures, and fears. . .Paul understood this truth, so he was honest about his bouts with depression.”

Those words reprimanded me. Being criticized is never pleasant. While it is often conveyed with good intentions—that we may see and correct our flaws—it will hurt our feelings inevitably. However, I decided to look past the hurt and embrace my friend’s criticism with an open heart. I also made a commitment to be more sensitive towards my friends’ needs.

 

Painful Experiences Help Us to Know Ourselves Better

Through my friend’s criticism, God opened my eyes to the sins I was previously blind to. As I pondered over this, Psalm 139:23-24 came to mind:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

I realized that I have been selfish and inconsiderate of those around me. Though it was hard, I am thankful for this experience as I was once again reminded of my sinfulness, but even more so of His grace that enables me to walk in obedience.

 

God Uses Our Painful Experiences to Bless Others

A few weeks after this happened, God gave me the opportunity to share my experience with a colleague, who is a free thinker.

As we were walking back to the office after lunch one day, he asked me what I thought of him. I decided to probe into his sudden inquiry before answering his question.

Apparently, one of his friends had vilified and criticized him harshly. After he shared his experience with me, I decided to share about my experience of being criticized—how my friend’s criticism led me to understand myself better and how God helped me to reconcile with my friends.

My colleague listened intently until I began to speak of the reconciliation with my friends. He interrupted me and asserted that he did not believe in God. He was not convinced that the reconciliation I had experienced was done with God’s help.

Even though he proceeded to change the conversation topic promptly, I could tell that my sharing made an impression on him. While he may not have been open to talk about God, I believe that God had still worked through me to reveal His love to him.

In the words of Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life, “Who could better help an alcoholic recover than someone who fought that demon and found freedom?” We can be God’s vessels to minister to those who face the same struggles as us.

I learned that there is meaning to our struggles. While it may seem that God is chastising us, He has a purpose that is beyond our understanding. He will be our comfort in our pain. When we confess our sins and repent, He will forgive us and help us so that His works may be realized through us.

When we relate our painful experiences with those who are in similar situations, the door is open for us to share God’s love. An honest testimony about how God works through our weaknesses can be used to open the eyes of others to the Lord.

If you are going through a painful experience, I hope that my sharing will encourage you. The Lord never promised that we will be spared from pain and tears in this life, but He has promised to work through us despite our sinfulness, and bring us healing and comfort. He can also use these painful experiences to glorify His name and bless those around us.

See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39)

The Day I Could No Longer Deny Jesus

Written By Jefferson, Singapore

“Do you want to know about the Truth?” my religion study teacher asked my friend and I one afternoon recess. We were in the teacher’s room, though I can no longer remember why we were there.

“Sure, sir,” I replied.

My teacher directed us to the library and, as soon as we found seats, he asked, “Who is Jesus?”

I answered right away, “He is the Savior.”

“Correct, though incomplete.” He replied.

I glanced at my friend for help, but he looked just as clueless. I did a quick mental review of the materials from the religion study classes I had attended in my Christian school—nothing came up.

Registering our confusion, my teacher told us to take a Bible from the shelf and read Romans 10:9. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” we read aloud.

“So, who is Jesus?” our teacher asked again.

The answer was clear; the Lord’s plan that had led me up to that moment however, wasn’t as clear-cut.

 

Doubting Christianity

Since I was a boy, I had an interest in existential questions. “Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What will happen after I die?” As I grew older, I began searching for answers.

My first stop was Catholicism. When we were little, my parents would teach my younger brother and I about Jesus dying on the cross to save people from sins so that they could enter heaven after they die. They would also take us to the weekly Mass.

However, as a little child, I neither understood about salvation nor enjoyed the Mass. All I knew was that church was dull and ritualistic. I would rather stay at home and watch cartoons than go there. “If salvation means going to the boring Mass every week, I don’t want to be saved,” I thought. After countless complaints and tantrums from my brothers and I, my parents, who were pretty indifferent about religion themselves, decided to stop attending Masses altogether when I was about eight.

My next stop was agnosticism and atheism. By then, I was enrolled in a Christian middle school. However, the behavior of my so-called Christian classmates was not Christ-like at all. To me, it seemed as though Jesus, who claimed to be God, was unable to turn people toward righteousness. So I concluded that Protestantism was as powerless as Catholicism. I started developing my own philosophy—things I believed could help me live a good life—which was greatly influenced by Eastern pantheism and Western secular humanism.

This only lasted for three years. By the time I entered high school, my beliefs had been battered by constant challenges and setbacks. For instance, I used to believe that by sheer willpower I could focus on philosophical things, which I considered to be more worthwhile than the pursuit of fun. Yet, my mind would inevitably wander and I often found myself distracted by entertainment like comics and movies. These repeated occurrences proved that I was incapable of doing any good on my own.

Having been let down by my own philosophy, and, knowing from experience that human ways always lead to disappointment, I turned to the faith I used to despise: Christianity.

Why Christianity? Three years studying it in middle school taught me that it was different from other faiths. Christianity says that I am saved only because God wants to save me. As I began to understand how His love fills and penetrates every corner of His creation, I found answers to my initial objections to Christianity, including that about my “Christian” friends.

For several months I flirted with Christianity. I began praying but did not treat God as God. I also started reading the Bible for interest but did not believe its theological claims.

This continued until I met this religion study teacher, who talked about the end times as described by the Book of Revelation in his first lesson. Having watched a documentary about this a few weeks before, I approached him at the end of the lesson to clarify several things with him. During our brief discussion, his logical answers intrigued me. I had never thought that the Christian theology was a rational one. This led me to several more talks with him about the relationship between faith and reason.

But though the pull to believe in God became stronger, I kept resisting. Though I found it more and more difficult to deny His existence, I did not want my life to be ruled by God. That is, until that fateful question was asked.

“Who is Jesus?”

 

Struggling with the Truth  

If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord”. . .

“Okay, I can just confess and live pretending that Jesus is not really Lord. I am the lord of myself, after all!” I thought.

. . . and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

I felt like I was cornered. This verse brought me right to the center of Christianity, where I could picture Jesus standing in His glory, very much alive, with His hands and feet still bearing the holes from the crucifixion, His stomach the wound from the spear, His arms spread out toward me, as if calling me back to Him.

My defense mechanism kicked in, my mind trying to argue that this could not be true. Interestingly, every one of my arguments only further supported the claim that Jesus is indeed the Lord. One of my strongest arguments against Christianity was that Jesus was not able to change my friends to live righteously. However, reflecting on my own experience and this verse, I realized that living righteously requires faith: When one believes that Jesus really is the Lord whom God raised from the dead, God’s love will fill and enable him to live a God-glorifying, righteous life.

I began to see that every second of my existence, every single thing I could ever find in this world, points to the existence of God and His sovereignty as the Lord. The fact that He did die and rise again gave me hope that despite having wandered far from God, I can be saved and return to Him. There was no escape. I had to believe.

Looking at my teacher, I found myself saying, “The Lord.”

 

Living with Jesus as Lord

For the first 15 years of my life, I had lived a miserable joyless life. All my attempts at living “a good life” floundered. Only after my repentance did I feel the joy and peace of surrendering to the Lord who makes known to me the path of life (Psalm 16:11).

Since Jesus is the Lord over creation, no one can claim that he has control over his life. We can choose to either live acknowledging Jesus as Lord or denying it. As the missionary Hudson Taylor once said, “Christ is either Lord of all, or is not Lord at all.” And if we do claim that He is Lord, everything we do ought to point to Him and His glory, even trivial things like cleaning our rooms (1 Corinthians 10:31).

It has been more than six years since I acknowledged Jesus as my Lord. I can say that it has been totally worth it.

Soli Deo gloria.