When it comes to daily (or not-so-daily) Bible reading, January 1 can be a welcome arrival. A new year signals a new start. You’re motivated to freshly commit to what you know is of indispensable importance: the Word of God.
Yet this isn’t the first time you’ve felt this way. You were entertaining pretty similar thoughts 365 days ago. And 365 days before that. And 365 days . . . you know how it goes.
So what’s going to make 2013 different? What, under God, will keep you plodding along in April this year when staying power has generally vanished in Aprils of yore? From one stumbling pilgrim to another, here are five suggestions for what not to do in 2013.
1. Don’t Overextend
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!”
This hackneyed high school yearbook quote is bad advice for most things, Bible reading plans not excepted. If you shoot for and miss the “moon” of six chapters a day, you won’t quietly land among the “stars” of three. You’ll just be lost in space.
It’s better to read one chapter a day, every day, than four a day, every now and then. Moreover, the value of meditation cannot be overstressed. Meditation isn’t spiritualized daydreaming; it’s riveted reflection on revelation. Read less, if you must, to meditate more. It’s easy to encounter a torrent of God’s truth, but without absorption—and application—you will be little better for the experience.
As Thomas White once said, “It is better to hear one sermon only and meditate on that, than to hear two sermons and meditate on neither.” I think that’s pretty sage advice for Scripture reading, too.
2. Don’t Do It Alone
When it comes to Bible reading consistency, a solo sport mentality can be lethal. Surely that’s why many run out of gas; they feel like they’re running alone. To forestall the dangers of isolation, then, invite one or two others to join you in 2013. Set goals, make a commitment, and hold one another accountable. Turn your personal Scripture reading into a team effort, a community project.
A daily devotional, too, can function as a helpful companion and guide. D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God (Volume 1; Volume 2) and Nancy Guthrie’s Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament are two excellent options.
3. Don’t Just Do It Whenever
Every morning we awaken to a fresh deluge of information. We’ve now reached the point where, I’ve heard it said, an average weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than Jonathan Edwards encountered in his entire lifetime. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sure makes me think.
It is imperative, then, to set a specific time each day when you will get alone with God. Even if it’s a modest window, guard it with your life. Explain your goal to those closest to you, and invite their help. Otherwise, the tyranny of the urgent will continue to rear its unappeasable head. What is urgent will fast displace what is important, and what is good will supplant what is best.
If your basic game plan is to read your Bible whenever, chances are you’ll read it never. And if you don’t control your schedule, your schedule will control you. It’s happened to me more times than I care to admit.
4. Don’t Live as if Paul Lied
Did you know Leviticus and Chronicles and Obadiah were written to encourage you? That’s what Paul believed, anyway: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4; cf. 1 Cor. 9:10; 10:6, 11; 2 Tim. 3:16).
What a sweeping word! Paul is going so far as to claim the entirety of the Old Testament is for you—to instruct you, to encourage you, to help you endure, and to give you hope.
Few of you will conclude Paul is simply mistaken here. Good evangelicals, after all, are happy to take inspired apostles at their word. But does our approach to our Bibles tell a different story? Do we act as if Numbers or Kings or Nahum has the power to infuse our lives with help and hope?
Whenever you open your Bible, labour to believe that God has something here to say to me. Whatever I encounter in his Word was written with me, his cherished child, in view. So pursue God’s graces on the pages of Scripture this year. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow everywhere await.
5. Don’t Turn a Means of Grace into a Means of Merit
Your Father’s love for you doesn’t rise and fall with your quiet times. If you are united to Jesus by faith, the verdict is out, and the court is dismissed. You’re as accepted and embraced as the Son himself. Period.
So as another year dawns, commit yourself anew to becoming a man or woman of the Word. But don’t overextend, do it alone, just do it whenever, live as if Paul lied, or treat means of grace like means of merit.
Your Bible is one of God’s chief gifts to you in 2013. Open, read, ruminate, and obey. May you be ever transformed into the image of our incarnate King, and may he alone receive the acclaim.
Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition and lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.