Learning and Living the God-centered life

One Biblical Doctrine at a time…

Bible Reading Plan advice

If you’re planning to try again in 2011, let me offer a few thoughts that may serve you on your way.

1. The goal is not the goal. I used to think that the purpose of setting goals was to achieve those goals. Makes sense, right? But I’m more inclined now to think that the purpose of setting goals is to create forward momentum. Whether or not I achieve the goal specified is almost immaterial. The act of goal-setting is successful if it moves me forward in a worthwhile endeavor.

I read an article in late 2008 by Karl Rove on his yearly book-reading competition with former President George W. Bush. In 2006 Rove read 110 books to Bush’s 95. The next two years brought two more victories for Rove. What stunned me, though, was the sheer number of books each man consumed.

So I brought it up to Kimberly and challenged her to the same. She trounced me in 2009. I might catch her this year, but if I do I’ll be indebted to Kimberly’s pregnancy, which makes reading a tad dizzying for her. My point? I read more books in 2009 than any year previous, and more books this year than last. I didn’t accomplish the goal of reading more than Kimberly, but the goal created forward momentum towards a worthwhile end.

What difference does it make if you complete a read through the Bible in one year? The goal is not the goal. The goal is a means to the goal, namely, glorifying God through an increased knowledge of and affection for him and his gospel through his word.

2. Read different translations. A friend gave me this idea many years ago. He said that reading a wide variety of versions (from formal to paraphrase) would help me see things in Scripture that I wouldn’t notice if I read the same translation over and over. He was right. The first version I read through in a year was God’s Word to the Nations, a very simple translation. There were many times that the way GWN phrased something would direct me back to other translations and ultimately enhanced my understanding of Scripture.

Since the English Standard Version is my current translation of choice, I try to read it every other year. But I’ve greatly enjoyed the time spent in other versions. If nothing else it gives me first-hand acquaintance with them and guards me from parroting what others think and say about them.

3. Don’t sweat missing days. Unless you are an extremely disciplined person, you will likely miss a number of days next year. (And if you are tempted to think that God will love you less on days you don’t read, remember that Christ is your righteousness. If you are trying to earn your own, then you’d better be perfect.)

When you do miss a day, don’t sweat it. I used to rework my plan so that I could get back on schedule. But doubling up to catch up served only to make reading the Bible a burden. You might say that the goal got in the way of the goal. My desire to read the Bible in a year became more important than glorifying God through an increased knowledge of and affection for him and his gospel through his word. Is that good?

So if you miss a day, just pick up where you left off. Don’t sweat it. God loves you because of Jesus, not because of your good deeds.

4. Start early. I don’t remember who commended this practice to me, but it has been tremendously helpful. Some writer argued that people ought to draw up their new year’s goals by November 15 (before the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Festivities). Doing so frees people to think through their plans without the added pressure and stress of the holiday season. Furthermore, the article admonished, people should work on those new year’s goals right away. No need to wait until January 1. Beginning before the end of the year provides momentum once the first of the year hits. It also identifies unrealistic goals and gives the planner an opportunity to rewrite new year’s goals before the new year begins.

This is a great piece of advice that I’ve found to be helpful when applied to reading the Bible. Looking back on those years that I resolved to read the Bible in a year but didn’t, my failure often stemmed from the problem of January 1. As a teenager I would attend our church’s New Year’s Eve midnight service (a lamentable idea, in my estimation). Then I would sleep in the next morning and awake to the longest football day in the U.S. (a time-waster). By the time I went to bed, Day One had passed and I’d have to double up to catch up.

For me, beginning a Bible reading plan in November or December has been a tremendous help. If this thought has you saying, “But you didn’t read the Bible in a calendar year!” then I’d remind you that the goal is not the goal.

You may choose not to read the entire Bible in 2011. These posts really haven’t been about that particular goal. But if you plan to, be more concerned about reading the Bible than about reading it in a year, and more passionate about the God whom the Bible reveals than either.
- Matthew Hoskinson series on Bible Reading for 2011