The New Year is a time for new beginnings. It is a time for fresh starts. The gym will be packed. Resolutions will be made. And people will determine to be a better version of themselves in 2020, likely with cringe-worthy puns about 20/20 vision. A common resolution or decision for Christians in the New Year is to read the Bible in the year. I want to lay out some encouragement for why this is an excellent idea, some dangers involved with it, and some help in planning for this goal.
Perhaps it is readily apparent why the Christian should regularly and thoroughly read the Bible. But, in case it isn’t, let me share a few reasons. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he rebuked Satan by quoting Deuteronomy. How well would we fair against the attacks of the devil if it depended on our ability to quote Deuteronomy? Jesus tells Satan, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Our spiritual life is nourished by the words that God has given us in Scripture. It does not function as a magical talisman. It is a book to be read, understood, contemplated, and applied to our lives. The Bible tells us who God is and what God wants us to do with our lives. The Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote to his congregation on the verge of a New Year:
“Those believers will stand firmest who have no dependence upon self or upon creatures, but upon Jehovah our Righteousness. We must be driven to our Bibles, and to the mercy-seat, if we are stand in the evil day…. It has long been in my mind to prepare a scheme of Scripture reading, in which as many as were made willing by God might agree, so that the whole Bible might be read once by you in the year, and all might be feeding in the same portion of the green pasture at the same time.”
God’s Word is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). All that is needed for life and godliness has been provided for us in God’s Word (2 Pet 1:3). As we make plans for the New Year, we should plan to read our Bibles.
There are, however, some dangers in a Bible-reading plan. The enemy of our souls will attempt to twist and distort even the noblest of endeavors, so that he can dampen or discourage our enjoyment of salvation. A regular plan of daily Bible reading can descend into formality, where it becomes a lifeless duty. We are prone to make our reading plans a point of self-righteousness. We can think, “My efforts in reading the Bible daily makes my justification better.” Or sometimes we are overwhelmed with the duties of life and our Bible reading becomes something we zip through carelessly. This frequently happens when we reach those long census lists in the Old Testament. We fail to really contemplate the meaning of God’s Word. We fail to tremble at the Word of God. When we make our daily Bible reading something more than it really is, then it becomes a legalistic burden. M’Cheyne encouraged his flock that if it becomes a burden, “throw aside the fetter and feed at liberty in the sweet garden of God.” He added that shouldn’t be “a snare upon you but a helper of your joy.”
After seeing the benefits and the dangers of a daily Bible reading program, we should take the time to plan. This will prevent you from wasting time trying to decide what part of the Bible to read. A plan will also keep you disciplined to read the whole Bible. And if you make the plan with a group of people, it gives you accountability and the opportunity to discuss in what you are reading.
For the past few years I have been using the M’Cheyne Bible-reading plan. The M’Cheyne plan is basically 4 chapters a day. Over the year, you will read the entire Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice.
Other plans aim to read through the Bible with daily OT, NT, and Psalter readings. There are Chronological plans that attempt to read through the Bible in chronological order (FYI - the canonical order is not chronological). Another method is to go with a daily devotional and follow that reading plan. Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, DA Carson’s For the Love of God are really good daily devotionals. Another is John Calvin’s Heart Aflame which includes daily readings through the Psalms. In my opinion, the best daily devotional in print today is Tabletalk. We offer several free copies each month. If we consistently run out, let us know and we’ll order more. You can find many of these resources, outlines, and even apps or downloads for your smartphone. My encouragement is to take this New Year as an opportunity to devote some time this year to learning more about who God is and what God has called you to do.