The Bible and Me in 2023
Happy New Year!
It is a few days into the new year already. That’s long enough time for some of us to have named the year, set some goals, made some resolutions, and, maybe, break them already. For me, my new year resolution has been the same for some years now; I basically rely on God’s grace to achieve one main thing all year long — and every day, in fact. This rhyme which we sang as kids keeps it simple for me:
Day by day, My Lord of Thee, three things I pray: To see Thee more clearly, Love Thee more dearly, Follow Thee more nearly, Day by day
I think it’s a noble prayer worth praying again and again. (Sounds like David’s prayer in Psalm 27:4 — one-thing-cum-three kind-of prayer.) The question that lingers from such a prayer, though, is the ‘HOW?’ — how can I see the Lord more clearly and love Him more dearly so that I may follow Him more nearly day by day?
The Bible gives a multifaceted answer which boils down to one thing: THE WORD OF GOD!
Of course, ‘The Word’ has multiple usages and applications — on the one hand, it refers to the Incarnate Word — Jesus, the Word Who became flesh — and on the other hand, it refers to the Scriptures — the Bible. I believe that The Bible offers us a magnifying lens through which we get to see Jesus more clearly and by doing so, love Him more dearly — and we cannot love Him dearly without wanting to follow Him more nearly!
So my challenge to each of us is this: Will you consider cultivating a Personal Daily Engagement with the Bible this year?
I have read the Bible through a few times but often haphazardly. I binge-read many chapters one day, then stay away for many days and play catch up later. I skip some chapters (because they have become too familiar, or even memorised) and I sometimes skip whole books (because we have thought through them verse-by-verse in church). However, for the first time, last year, I read/listened to the Bible systematically without skipping or jumping ahead of my reading plan. I followed Daily Audio Bible Chronological reading plan and community and I loved it. As I listened to Revelations 22 on 31 December, I wiped a tear. It was such a pleasant experience to have gone through the entire Bible in one year, this time, systematically. Of course, there were days I missed and had to catch up on later, but I went through it in the order the plan was laid out, and I finished it! (And I’ve started it again all over again.)
From experience, I know two approaches and/or principles that can shape how we engage daily with the Bible:
1. The Intimacy Approach (Deep Dive)
This involves a slow, meditative reading of the scriptures, focusing on small portions per time. It may look like a deep study of whole books, chapters, or verses. For example, a professor developed an approach of studying the Bible over a hundred years ago which (over many modifications) involves 4 steps, viz: First, you choose a book of the Bible. Second, you read it in its entirety. Third, you repeat step 2 twenty times. And fourth, you repeat the above three steps for all the books of the Bible! Of course, you can’t expect someone following that approach to have covered the entire Bible in one year. It will be a slow pace, but a very transformative one!
2. The Familiarity Approach (Overview and Textual knowledge)
This involves a faster reading of much larger portions of the Bible. The advantage here is that it gives you the entire sweep of the biblical narrative. Examples will include the various Bible-in-a-year plans out there. (You can find some examples of such Bible reading plans here: https://www.ligonier.org/posts/bible-reading-plans)
To be clear, both approaches are needed and are helpful. A disciple of Christ will need both approaches in his/her engagement with the Bible. So prayerfully consider which one will be apt for the season you are in — or a perfect balance that suits your current circumstance.
Let me end with a few tips and/or tools that can help you do this well.
You can subscribe to a reading plan that will deliver the daily portion to be read to your email inbox every day (eg https://bibleinoneyear.org). This is helpful for those who don’t like using too many apps. On the downside, however, the emails may get buried in your pile of unread messages, and you may never be able to stay consistent via such means.
You can download certain apps that can help you do this and track your progress. A most notable example is the YouVersion Bible App where you will find a lot of Bible Reading plans, among others. Some people have also found the YouVersion Bible app a bit distracting or with a tendency to keep you under unnecessary pressure when you have friends on it who are always highlighting scriptures, making prayer points, and adding notes to text much more frequently than you do. If you are susceptible to coming under pressure because of that, you can explore turning off all notifications in the Bible app, or explore some other means.
You can buy a digital or physical One-Year Bible and use this.
Know yourself and don’t compare how you do this with how someone else is doing it. We learn in different ways, so find the means that works for you (e.g., some prefer reading to listening and vice-versa).
Consider taking this journey with someone else or in community with others so that you can stay accountable.
If you fall behind (especially in a Bible-in-a-year plan), stick to where the plan says you should be when you are back and continue from there; then, if possible, go back and catch up later. It’s better you go through the journey with a few missed days than to not finish because you had so much to catch up on that you couldn’t get back to catch up with the original reading plan.
How about you? What has worked for you in engaging daily with the Bible? Let us know your thoughts on it; someone else may learn from it.
As we engage on this adventure, may the Lord make His Word come alive afresh to us IJN.
I hope this helps someone.