Take this Challenge in 2023
Since 2012, I have read through the Bible every year, and I’ve found this to be among the greatest of spiritual disciplines.
One of the joys of this discipline is that it means that each year begins and ends with the Tree of Life: The first man and woman were locked out of the Garden of Eden lest they should eat from that tree and live forever in their now fallen state; and at the end of the book, we see that if we choose to be with the Lord for eternity, He invites us to partake of that Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem.
When I was in my teens, I read through the whole Bible. That was a stupendous experience, but I didn’t repeat it until I married Joyce. One of her early disciplers laminated a reading plan that she continues to use from year to year, though this year she’s reading through the One Year Pray for America Bible. For the first seven years of our marriage, I read through the Bible annually. Out of that process, I wrote my plays The Revelation and The Acts. My knowledge of Scripture had become better than ever, and this drew me closer to the Lord.
Then my schedule got busy. My reading plan fell by the wayside. I was still reading on most days, but I was only dipping in here and there. That was beneficial to some degree, but in 2012 I committed to reading through the entire Bible once again, and the difference has been like night and day! I haven’t missed a year since then, and I highly recommend it.
In fact, I challenge you!
I have friends reading my posts who are atheists: I challenge even them to read through the Bible in the coming year. There is a long list of atheists who discovered the love of the Lord at least in part through Scripture reading: C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Franz Mohr (piano tuner for Vladimir Horowitz and others), and several friends of ours.
Even if you’ve been a Christian for years, I recommend reading through the Bible yearly. There’s so much false teaching out there, and some of it can actually sound great if you’re not grounded in the word of God.
As you read, you may run into things that don’t make sense. Though we can draw principles for ourselves from most passages of Scripture, they were all written for people who lived during the times the Bible was written. For instance, in John 10:27 Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” I was honored to take an evangelism class from Dr. J. Christy Wilson when I attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He told how, when he was a missionary to Afghanistan, he happened upon a group of shepherds. Their sheep were all mixed together, but when any one of those shepherds would call to his particular sheep, the animals would come out from among all the others in the blended flock to follow that shepherd. Thinking it was a certain command that had brought about the desired effect, Dr. Wilson approached one of the shepherds to ask if he could try it. The shepherd laughed and said, “They don’t know your voice!”
Grab a good commentary, and it will help these passages come to life and make sense. Reading the Bible for All It’s Worth, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, and The IVP Bible Background Commentary for the Old and New testaments are all great resources.
Also, trust that God is loving and wants the best for His children, even though we who are not omniscient don’t understand everything. Joyce shared a teaching in which she told how one passage troubled her every year until the one year it finally made sense. She also spends some time talking about the power of reading scripture through every year.
You do need a reading plan. I suggest YouVersion. You can read on your computer, smartphone, or tablet, and it keeps track in the cloud. At times this is one of the ways I’ve been able to stay on track. (OK, confession time: When I restarted my annual Bible reading, I didn’t actually get all the way through in 2012; I started in October 2011. There’s a catch-up button that adjusts your start and finish days so that you don’t have to find where you are on the calendar if you get off pace. It just sets the next reading at the current day.) Now, for the way I’ve been able to stay on track to finish by New Year’s: My friend Max McLean. The NIV version has a button you can click, and Max reads the passage to you on your device. So you can stay on top of your reading plan while you’re doing dishes, folding laundry, commuting, or exercising. Many versions have a reader, and it’s free.
YouVersion has 50 different reading plans just for reading through the Bible. They also have a number of others that are shorter, if you want to start there. I sometimes enjoy the chronological plan, which allows you to read in the order in which the Bible was written (as far as that is known). So, in reading Acts, for example, after Luke relates about Paul being in Corinth, the plan jumps to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. There is also a plan that mixes the Old and New testaments. That is a great one if you’ve never read through the Bible before, because on genealogy days, the readings will be paired with accounts of their holy subject and Descendent: Jesus. By the way, over the years, I’ve used those long passages of names to remind me of God’s faithfulness through family lines — in that each individual listed had a unique story, and I’ve even prayed for their descendants.
Joyce and I performed in the film Indescribable, which tells how the character I play, Frederick Lehman, finishes his hymn “The Love of God” with a verse based on the Akdamut, written by a rabbi in the Middle Ages. There’s a scene in which a modern rabbi explains that every line of the Akdamut ends with the syllable ta, which is spelled with the last letter (ת, tav) and the first letter (א, aleph) of the Hebrew language. This is effectively an admonition that once one finishes reading the word of God, one ought to go back and begin again.
This year, Joyce and I are going to read through the C.S. Lewis Bible, using the plan of the Chronological Bible on YouVersion to keep us on track. Join us if you’d like. If you post comments or questions, the app will alert us, and we’ll respond as soon as we can.
In 2021 I read through The Bible Project Reading Plan. I’ve really been blessed by The Bible Project, which illustrates (literally) the truths of Scripture with summaries of books of the Bible and thematic summaries that trace an idea through the whole of Scripture. At the start of each book or section of a book they have that video precede the reading. On other days, it’s just the Scripture, except where they include their thematic illustrations. Here are the first two videos, one of each type:
In 2020, I also decided to read through the Book of John throughout the year. In May 2019, I was in an Off-Broadway production of Revelation, and when I was in that one book day after day, it brought understanding and a richness that was profound. Now when I read through Revelation I can hear the songs of the musical even if I’m reading in a different translation. Since John was written by “the disciple Jesus loved,” I’ve always considered John to be the most important book of the Bible. Search for John under reading plans on the YouVersion app. There are a bunch of them.
Did this article encourage you? If so, share it with your friends and family to encourage them to read their Bibles!
(Used with permission. By Rich Swingle from Rich & Joyce Swingle. Photo Credit: Patrick Fore on Unsplash)
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