New beginnings are fun – a new baby, a new car, a new shirt… a new year. You have perhaps received emails or notes with lists of things to do to make the new year better than last: 7 things to make the new year healthier, 3 things to make your relationships better this year, etc. Research says there is one thing you can do to make 2018 a better year spiritually. George Guthrie found: “The number one predictor of spiritual maturity among those who regularly attend church was reading the Bible daily.” (Read the Bible for Life, p. 6)
George Müller wrote: “The vigor of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts.” Why? Reading Scripture isn’t just a godly exercise in discovering information about Jesus; it is the Spirit’s exercise in aiding our transformation until we look more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit shepherds us through the Word He inspired and allows us to see Jesus more clearly.
Bible reading is character building for the follower of Christ. The Bible spends more time focused on the type of people we should be and less on the specifics of where and what we do. Nearly every time the phrase ‘the will of God’ is used in the Bible it refers to shaping our character. Then, you become the type of person the Father wants you to be and will know and do what He wants you to do.
Jesus prayed the Father would sanctify us, set us apart as His people, by His Word of truth. (John 17:17) We learned in Bible School – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) It is a needed lamp for today and light for tomorrow. Peter encouraged us to “desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)
The work of the Holy Spirit is deepened when we add the dynamic of prayer. D.A. Carson writes “Learn what a passage is saying, and pray it back to the Lord – whether petition, thanksgiving, praise, or frank uncertainty. In time your Bible reading will so be linked distill with your praying that the two will not always be differentiable.” (For The Love of God, Vol. 1, p. 13) When that happens, we experience what Daniel Henderson calls “Scripture-fed, Spirit-led prayer,” a powerful way to pray! (See Worship-Based Prayer) David Mathis writes: "Hearing God’s voice in His word is the most fundamental of His ongoing “means of grace” for our Christian lives. " (Executive Editor, desiringGod.org Marry the Bible This Year)
LifeWay Research did a significant study of Bible reading habits earlier this year. They found less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day. And a third of Americans never pick it up on their own.
Small wonder many church leaders worry about biblical illiteracy, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Most Americans don’t know first-hand the overall story of the Bible—because they rarely pick it up,” McConnell said. “Even among worship attendees less than half read the Bible daily. The only time most Americans hear from the Bible is when someone else is reading it.”
The Power of 4 Effect
The Center for Bible Engagement, a division of Back to the Bible, seeks to answer the question: Why do so many people own Bibles but so few read them? The CBE goes beyond simple Bible usage statistics to consider attitudes and behaviors that significantly impact spiritual growth and a person's relationship with God.
"Someone who engages scripture 4 or more times a week looks radically different from the life of someone who does not. In fact, the lives of Christians who do not engage the Bible most days of the week are statistically the same as the lives of non-believers."
Researchers have surveyed more than 200,000 people around the world about their spiritual lives. The key discovery from the CBE research is that the life of someone who engages scripture 4 or more times a week looks radically different from the life of someone who does not. In fact, the lives of Christians who do not engage the Bible most days of the week are statistically the same as the lives of non-believers.
George Barna found "Many Americans are searching for beacons of hope and moral grounding amidst uncertainty and perceived moral decline. ...Americans overwhelmingly believe the Bible is a source of hope and a force for good even as they express growing concern for our nation’s morals." (The State of the Bible 2017 Study commissioned by the American Bible Society) See The Skeptical State of Bible Reading in 2017 by Christianity Today for a good overview of the research.
Do you have a Bible reading plan for 2018? For several years I followed Avery Willis’ suggestion in MasterLife – three chapters a day and five on Sunday – reading through the Bible every year. My only attempt at creativity was to change translation or study Bible every year. You can even break up Psalm 119 over three days and read through the Bible in a year. Fifteen to twenty minutes a day is all it takes.
Perhaps you want a fresh approach. If you use a smartphone or tablet, YouVersion has several options. Here is a list of some other options available.
George Guthrie, author of Read the Bible for Life, has good articles on five steps to read the Bible through and three fresh ideas for improving your Bible reading. I’ve used his chronological reading plan and 4+1-reading plan; he also offers a starter plan.
Robby Gallaty and Replicate Ministries have recently introduced the F-260 Bible reading plan. The F-260 is a two hundred and sixty day reading plan that highlights the foundational passages of Scripture that every disciple should know. The plan expects believers to read 1 or 2 chapters a day for 5 days each week, with an allowance for weekends off. The 2 off-days a week are built in so you may catch up on days where you’re unable to read. In order to digest more of the Word, the F-260 encourages believers to read less and to keep a H.E.A.R. Journal: Highlighting, Explaining, Applying, and Responding to passages, allowing for practical application throughout the year-long plan. Available free for smartphones, tablets, YouVersion, pdf, or you can buy the book - adult, teen and kids versions available.
If you have been reading through the Bible yearly, and are looking for a fresh devotional approach, here are two resources I would highly recommend. If I could only have two books, the first would be the Bible; the second would be The Blue Book: A Devotional Guide for Every Season of Your Life by Jim Branch. It combines Scripture reading with rich reflections from a variety of writers, both historical and contemporary. Another excellent option is New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp. He has the best understanding of the Father’s transforming grace work in our lives of anyone I've read.
Faithfully reading His word is the one thing that will lead to a Happy New Year!