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Actually reading the Bible

A few years ago my wife bought me a fitbit watch. She’s subtle like that.

It has proved to be a great present though. I like having a daily target of steps a day. And when I reach it, I enjoy seeing the little congratulatory fireworks display which goes off on my watch screen.

And a friend uses the same app so we can see how each other are getting on. A measurable target and accountability has been good for me.

The same applies to spiritual disciplines too.

A Bible app

Last August my son encouraged me to download the YouVersion Bible app on my phone and I started a plan to read the whole Bible in a year. Over the years, I have started, stalled and given up on various different Bible-reading notes.

However, this one worked. I kept it up and completed it last week.

Measurable

The mix of carrying it everywhere and being able to both read or listen to the text has been helpful. But I also liked seeing the ‘streaks’ of continuous days and the % completion it showed me each day. Also, by sharing the app, others in my family can see how you are getting on.

As with the fitbit, the concept of a measurable target and accountability has been good for me.

Disturbing

Similarly to physical exercise though, it has not been easy. Actually reading the Bible has been a disturbing and challenging experience.  Some parts of the Bible are familiar, uplifting and comforting. Others are dark, confusing and offensive.

So after a year of reading the whole Bible for the first time, these are my reflections:

The importance of daily discipline. In a basic and straight-forward way, simply reading the Bible every day was good for me. I was frequently uplifted and challenged in ways that helped me with the tasks and challenges of that day. The daily discipline helped keep me on track with God.

It took me out of my comfort zone. Due to my interests and work, my Bible has many texts highlighted or underlined which relate to social justice. But what struck me afresh was the core problem of idolatry. This took me more outside my comfort zone. The dominant theme I was struck by was:

‘I am the LORD your God…You shall have no other gods before me.’  (Exodus 20:2)

Listening to the text was different to reading. About half way through the year I switched from just reading the text to mainly listening to it. The YouVersion app has an actor who reads the text in a way I came to appreciate. Listening to his emphasis and tone helped me hear the Bible in a different way.

How much Christian culture edits the Bible. In some church circles, quite a small number of verses are endlessly repeated which can be misleading. This verse from Jeremiah is a great example:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

The repetition of this verse could give the impression that Jeremiah’s message is generally positive and encouraging. But Jeremiah is not an upbeat spiritual prosperity manual – actually it’s full of dire warnings of God’s judgement. The Bible does not exist to just comfort and sooth us.

The hard bits don’t get any easier. My son also read through the Bible and often asked me extremely difficult questions about the seemingly God-ordained violence and slaughter in books like Joshua. The parts that offended or confused me forced me to think more deeply about what is revealed through them. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it

 One cannot read the Bible as we read other books. One must be ready to really ask questions. Only in this way does it open itself up to us.

It led me to books like Krish Kandiah’s Paradoxology and Greg Boyd’s Re:Knew podcast. The parts I disliked made me grapple with them and I benefited from that struggle. And I used what I learnt in my youth group and home group.

That you cannot understand Jesus without the Old Testament. Jesus’ message comes alive in the context of the God revealed in the Old Testament. He shines brightly in both his fulfilment of, and contrast from, the Old Testament. Again to quote Bonhoeffer:

Only when the wrath and vengeance of God on his enemies is real can our hearts be moved by forgiveness and love of enemies…One cannot speak the ultimate word before the penultimate.

So these are my reflections. If you struggle to read the Bible then I would encourage you to download the app and give it a go.

I am now 4 days into a new reading plan. Rather than finishing something, it feels like last year was actually the start of something.

8 thoughts on “Actually reading the Bible”

  1. Nice one, I did the same last year and read the ‘as it happened’ chronological one on YouVersion – so refreshing I’m doing it again (though less successfully it has to be said!)

  2. I too am using You Version, I started a through the Old Testament in two years plan which I finished earlier this year, and a through the New Testament in a year completed last year.

    This year, as our church is celebrating 200 years since it opened, we have been asked to read the Bible in a year, so by the end of this year, I will have completed the Bible in two and a half years.

    One of the things I have learned in the dark parts of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament histories, is to ask the question, ‘Where is God in this?’ Sometimes the answer is that God is not there, which is quite telling.

    As for the Jeremiah quote you gave, the context is important, When God said, ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,”‘ he was speaking to people about to go into exile. It was the false prophets who were saying that everything will be OK you will not go into exile, the false prophets were saying the comfortable stuff, Jeremiah was saying that the worst was going to happen, exile, but that God had plans to prosper them in an alien place.

    Without the context of the verse, those who use it for comfort are doing what the false prophets were doing.

  3. Glad you enjoyed getting through the bible. I liken it to flying over a landscape; there is not time to pick up the details but it really helps to see how it all fits together. I find it helpful to read through the bible one year then spend the next year in detailed reading or studying of single books or shorter passages or even having a rest and just savouring a verse for a few weeks.

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