See a previous post to learn more about Bible reading plans.
On the morning of January 1st you set sail with great enthusiasm on a journey to read your Bible daily, and to read it through in one year. But now it’s February and the dark early mornings pouring puzzled over blood offerings and priestly duties has rocked your boat to the point where you are sincerely wondering – “Should I turn back?”
I am often asked how to persevere with daily Bible reading. The question expresses commitment to living under the authority of God’s Word, and humility in the face of the difficulties the commitment entails. Reading the entire Bible in a year will be rewarding, inspiring, and utterly worth it, yes—but it will not be easy!
Here are three challenges that make perseverance in Bible reading hard, and suggestions as to how we can face them.
Though getting through the Bible in a year requires just 10-12 minutes of reading per day, perhaps the most common reason we struggle with daily devotional time is our schedules. Whether it’s a result of poor planning, unwisely committing to too much, or the unavoidably busy seasons with young children, deadlines at work, or caring for loved ones in need, sometimes it seems hard to squeeze it in. How do we deal with it?
Stay consistent and committed in community. For me, the routine of devotions at the same time and place each morning, regardless of how I slept the night before, has been essential. The structure provided by good Bible reading plans are helpful at maintaining consistency.
The community of our small groups, friends, or spouses can also provide encouragement to press on and to hold us accountable to grow in the discipline of daily devotionals. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works… encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
As Christians, we begin with the assumption that “all Scripture is God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Nonetheless, we may wonder: Why does God inspire texts that He knows will be hard for His people? Let’s consider three problems and how to deal with them.
1) We don't understand
Parts of the Bible are difficult to grasp. It takes years of hearing faithful preaching and personal study to see how obscure books (ahem, Leviticus!) and passages fit into the overall message of the Bible, which is why we must persevere.
This does not mean we cannot instantly benefit from the Bible—far from it. But we must recognize that sometimes the benefits are cumulative. After nearly two decades in the Bible, I feel I get more out of it day by day. For instance, genealogies used to be painstaking, but now I find them fascinating! There is still much I do not know and texts which I find hard to understand, but the fruits of consistent reading over time are sweet indeed.
Martin Luther’s approach is helpful: “First I shake the whole Apple tree that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.”
2) We do understand
Some truths of the Bible bring us to the extremities of our own understanding. Sometimes I get caught up in God’s attributes—like reading of God’s inexhaustible love and patience toward His rebellious people. Other times there are harder truths which I accept but cannot fully understand, like God’s wrath and the eternal punishment of unbelievers, or the doctrines of particular redemption.
Having a community where I can discuss what I am reading and contemplating has been absolutely essential. Whether my small group, my wife, friends, or a mentor figure, by sharing my doubts and struggles with Scripture, I bring them into the light and gain invaluable feedback and comfort through their council.
3) We don't know how to apply it
Not only is the whole Bible inspired by God, it is also “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) But for many of us, much of the Bible can seem irrelevant to our daily lives.
As much as we sometimes wish it was, the Bible is not a handbook organized by topic (e.g. prayer, marriage). The Bible is primarily a story—the true story about the Triune God of love who created the world, whose people rebelled against Him, and whom He saved by grace ultimately through the sending of His Son to die the death that rebellious people deserve, and to offer eternal life to all who believe. It is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Though many individual topics get addressed, our task more to enter this Gospel story and apply it to every aspect of our lives.
God has inspired hard texts in Scripture, and God is sovereign over our hard times. There will be nothing that comes into your life this year that God does not already know about and that God does not allow. It is God’s will that you glorify him through these times through relying on His grace through them.
How will you receive His grace? A primary means God has ordained is His Word. Luther says that hard times can actually help us understand the Bible better: “The devil and temptations also do give occasion unto us somewhat to learn and understand the Scriptures, by experience and practice. Without trials and temptations we should never understand anything thereof; no, not although we diligently read and heard the same.”
In hard times, it is tempting to waver in our commitments to God’s Word. But the Word anchors us in the storms, it is the rock when the ground below us shakes, and it is the Wisdom of God when all the knowledge of the world is not enough.
The great Puritan preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote the following resolution when he was 18 years old “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same." (Resolutions, 28)
May we press on with similar resolve this year.