Not By Bread Alone

December 14, 2012

I’m a regular Bible reader. The guide I use has daily readings for the whole year, and I should be able to finish it without problems. I’ve done so for years now. But I confess that I miss days at times. I try to read ahead when I can, and I play catch up when necessary. Bible reading has become a regular part of my life. But I avoid the term “daily” because I suspect that all of us who develop the habit of Bible reading slip up. I don’t want to set perfection as the standard for the person who has not yet developed the habit.

The beginning of the year is important to me as the time to set my goal for Bible reading in the next year. Starting the habit of Bible reading doesn’t require the beginning of a new year. The habit can be started at any time. But I have found that a new year has been a helpful time to start. The new year can provide motivation to form a new habit.

I have failed in my reading goals in the past, although I currently have years of consistency behind me. I suspect most people who successfully form the habit of being a regular Bible reader have had some failures along the way. Forming habits is not always easy. Life has many distractions. Research indicates that it takes a couple of months to form a habit. But we have to be careful to be consistent or we can unlearn a habit. Don’t let past failures stop you from trying. This habit is worth it.

For me forming the habit of regular Bible reading did not start with a daily Bible reading guide. I started smaller. I started with smaller goals with the commitment to try to read daily. (Note the word “try.” I tried for consistency not perfection. Forgiveness allows us to keep trying.) For example, I started first with the commitment to read the gospels. After I reached that goal, I made the commitment to read the rest of the New Testament. It is good to read through the historical portions of the Old Testament (Genesis through Esther). A simple reading log can track your progress.

The Bible reading guides that I have liked the most through the years have provided some variety in reading. I’ve done better with reading guides that gave at least an Old Testament and a New Testament reading each day. The guide that I have used the most through the years is the M’Cheyenne guide. It gives four different readings each day. Variety is helpful. It’s tough to plod through Leviticus or the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles. Having other passages to read really helps, because it ensures some spiritual nourishment in your reading. (Not that there are not lessons in Leviticus and the genealogies of 1 Chronicles. They just may be harder to recognize for the beginning reader.)

Bible reading is not just about reading. It is good to write down questions of things you don’t understand. In time, your reading may help you answer those questions. I’ve just had one answered that I have pondered for about forty years. Most questions probably won’t take that long to be answered. The most important things in scripture will be clear. Yet there is always something to be pondered. A quotation that goes back at least fourteen centuries suggests that the Bible is like a river “shallow enough for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough for the elephant to swim.”

A few simples tools can help. A Bible dictionary is helpful for looking up words that you don’t know the meaning of, and a map is helpful for locating places. These simple tools can enrich your reading experience.

It is also important to reflect on how this applies to me. Bible reading is about a transformational relationship with God. It has changed me as a person. It is not just about the head but the whole inner person. “… man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NIV).