A New Year’s Resolution?

I am not a huge fan of New Year resolutions.  This past Sunday I preached at a church that I will also be preaching at next Sunday.  And I told them yesterday that next Sunday, the first thing I was going to say in my sermon was going to be, “Well, how many resolutions have you broken already?”

However, here is one New Year’s resolution that I am going to suggest you should make and strive to keep.  This year, resolve to read through the entire Bible.  Maybe you have resolved to do this before, and it went pretty well till you got to the genealogy in Genesis 5, or the description of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-31, or all those rules about offerings in Leviticus 1-7, or that section in Numbers 1-8 which combines census lists, job descriptions, a travel itinerary, an Excel spreadsheet detailing contributions, rules about offerings, and that exciting section about tribal tent arrangements and how to march through the wilderness.  And, of course, if you managed to slog through this, Chronicles was off in the distance, looming on the horizon!

Nevertheless, I encourage you to make the resolution and to press on in keeping the resolution.  And I do this for a number of reasons:

(1) Moses and Jesus both tell us that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4)  So, my first reason is: If you do not feast yourself on the word of God, you will die!  So, if you want to stay alive, read the Bible, and not just parts of the Bible, but the entire Bible—every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Sorry—no one who sits down to the feast is allowed to pick and choose which courses they will be served.  You have to eat everything: appetizer, salad, bread, entrée, “all your veggies,” water, wine, side dishes, and, of course, the dessert.

(2) No matter where you are in the Bible, no matter where it is you are reading, what you are reading about is your ancestry.  The genealogies are not just any old genealogies; they are your genealogies.  You are a child of Israel; you are a son or daughter of Abraham.  This is your family tree: Grandfather Abraham, Grandmother Sarah, Uncle Isaac, Aunt Rebekah, Cousin Ruth, weird Second Cousin Samson. This is the grand and glorious account of how you came to be you.

(3) Not only is this your genealogy; this is also your history.  This is the account of the people you have chosen to join up with.  This is the history of redemption—indeed, this is the history of your redemption.  This is an account of how God has worked throughout the history of the Israelite people to bring you back to himself, culminating of course in the life, death, and resurrection of one very important Israelite, Jesus Christ.  It is an exciting history.  This is the history of the people of which you have become a part by an act of adoption, an engrafting.  Read it, study it, love it.

(4) Finally, this is far superior to what many Christians do, using a page-a-day devotional guide, or a pop-up verse-a-day out of a little container labeled, “God’s Box of Promises.”  A few years ago I gave a seminar that I entitled, “Why Johnny Can’t Read His Bible.”  I gave ten reasons, and one of the reasons was this: “because Johnny was never taught how to connect the dots.”  We get into the bad habit of reading these little isolated bits of God’s word, and we never get to see how all these little bits are connected, because our Bible-reading methods don’t allow us to.  But reading larger chunks of God’s word, and reading them regularly and over a shorter period of time, allows us to better connect the dots.  George Herbert, the 17th-century poet and Anglican priest, writes:

Oh that I knew how all thy lights combine,
And the configurations of their glorie!
Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the storie.

This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:
Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christians destinie:

Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
And comments on thee: for in ev’ry thing
Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.

Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:
This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.

Some Christians read the Bible and only see individual stars.  Others read the Bible and see constellations.

This blog is all about trying to read the Bible as a set of constellations.  There’s far more to it than simply reading the Bible through in a year.  But it’s a start.  So I want to encourage you to make the resolution.  One plan I used this past year is the one that the 19th-century Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, came up with for his congregation.  If you follow this schedule, you will read through the entire Bible once, as well as the book of Psalms and the New Testament a second time.  You can access this reading schedule here.  You can download it as a PDF and put it on your desktop.  For some other possible Bible reading plans, check out this post from Justin Taylor’s blog.

Perhaps you might even want to up the ante a bit.  The books of Psalms and Proverbs, by their chapter counts, lend themselves to something you can do monthly: five psalms each day, one chapter from Proverbs each day.  I would definitely recommend the five-psalms-a-day venture.  It isn’t something you would have to do for the whole year, but you might just end up doing so anyway.  The psalms are a great training ground in learning how to pray.  Because we evangelicals have often been taught that we should be spontaneous in our prayers, we rebel against formalized, written prayers.  And there are certainly some advantages to spontaneous prayer.  But, often, spontaneous praying degenerates into simple stream-of-consciousness praying, with an overpopulation of the word, “just,” occurring in “just” about every other sentence: I “just” want to praise you; I “just” you want you to do this; I “just” want you to do that; “just” be with them; “just” help him, Lord; Lord, “just” guide her.  Hey, I “just” came up with another resolution.  Every day, pray at least one three-minute prayer in which you do not use the word “just.” Try it.  It’s harder than it might sound.  But I’ve gotten away from my topic onto a bit of a hobby-horse.  But, perhaps praying the psalms, five of them each day, would prove to a good training exercise.  It might even improve your spontaneous prayers.

In any case, consider adopting this resolution and use some kind of schedule to read through the Bible this year, and make sure that the schedule you adopt is one that has you reading different parts of the Bible each day as well.  Who knows?  Perhaps one day in 2014, you’ll read a chapter in one part of the Bible, a chapter in another part, a chapter in another part, and a chapter in another part, and you’ll find yourself wondering, “Hmm . . . the chapter I just read seems to have some kind of connection to that chapter I read earlier.  Let me look at that again.”  Indeed, as Herbert suggested, you’ll read one verse, then another, see how they connect, and see how they both point to another that “ten leaves off doth lie.” Maybe you’ll “just” find yourself on a collision course with—of all things—biblical theology!

Happy New Year.

Jerry Shepherd
December 30, 2013