Dating back to high school, I’ve made several unsuccessful attempts to read the Bible in its entirety. Part of the problem must have stemmed from my initial haphazard approach. With no kind of reading plan in place, I would start with the books I already knew I liked, and then get bogged down by the unfamiliar, difficult parts, usually in the Old Testament. As I got older, maturing as a reader, I realized that I needed to be more strategic about working my way through such a challenging text. I settled on the most straightforward approach: I would start at the beginning, and read it straight through to the end. I attempted to read the Bible that way multiple times, to no avail. I would usually give up somewhere around Leviticus. Next, I tried a chronological reading approach. That initially yielded more positive results, but I still ended up calling it quits before I made it out of the Old Testament.
As a Christian, I felt somewhat guilty about repeatedly abandoning the central text of my faith. I am both a voracious and, in just about every instance save this one, determined reader. I was confused and frustrated as to why I couldn’t will myself to complete this important task. Why didn’t I simply want to keep reading the Bible the way I wanted to keep reading every good book I came across? I’m not sure I can fully articulate the answer to that question yet, but I am currently in the midst of my most productive, thought provoking, enjoyable, engaging attempt to read the whole Bible to date, so I can at the least venture a couple of guesses as to why it’s different this time around.
One, I found a reading strategy that’s working. Back at the beginning of the year when I started, I was following the plan listed in the back of my Bible, which would allow me to complete it in a year’s time. It required reading an Old Testament and New Testament book simultaneously. I kept it up for a while, and it was satisfying to accomplish that much reading in such a short amount of time, but I found myself feeling overwhelmed again when, inevitably, I began to fall behind. It was also somewhat disorienting to read a couple chapters from Numbers followed by a couple chapters from the gospel of Mark. Rather than give up, this time, I decided to change my approach. I began alternating between entire books of the Old Testament and New Testament. I read 1 Samuel all the way through, then I read Luke from beginning to end. I realized that I liked getting a feel for the overall tone, structure, and narrative pace of a book. And switching back and forth between the Old and New Testaments seems to have solved my old problem of wanting to abandon ship before I even made it to the major and minor prophets.
Two, I find myself wanting to keep reading this time, like with every good book I’ve ever read. Maybe it’s my newfound strategy that’s helping me to see the connections between the Old and New Testaments in ways I never noticed before. I think I always struggled with the Old Testament at least in part because I never realized how clearly and repeatedly it points to Jesus. And as I read more about the Reformed tradition and learn more about the concept of covenant theology, the continuity of the Scriptures is being powerfully revealed to me. More than that, I believe that this time around, I’m relying on my own willpower less and the Holy Spirit more. I still skip days, feel like skimming sometimes, and experience some guilt over the fact that it’s definitely going to take me more than a year to read the whole Bible, especially with a new baby coming in October. But through this most recent attempt to read the Scriptures I’m learning that when I focus more on what God wants to reveal to me about himself and less on just muscling through on my own efforts so I can say I did it, that I’m rewarded with a new level of engagement with and insight into what I read.
I know there’s a lesson there that could be applied to my life as a whole, if I’m willing to acknowledge it. Something about relying less on my own efforts to get stuff done, which is scary because it means giving up control. I hate giving up control. But what’s the point of trying to read the entire Bible in the first place if I’m not going to let it change me? Setting aside my own agenda for reading the Scriptures has yielded my most fruitful experience with them, and I pray for the courage to submit other areas of my life to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.