By Sheri Ellington
At the end of each year, we look back and we look forward. We evaluate the past and set new goals for the future. Or maybe we realize that we didn’t meet a goal, so we roll that goal over to the new year. I want to share about my recurring New Year’s Resolution, how I finally achieved it, and how it changed my life. In fact, I hope that you will consider setting this as a goal for yourself, and at the end of this article, I will offer you some practical tips to get you started. My New Year’s Resolution started way back in my childhood, about forty years ago.
I grew up in a Christian home with parents who didn’t just say they were Christians. They lived it. They loved the Lord and demonstrated this love through their deeds. They served in their local church and gave generously of their resources. But what really showed me that they loved the Lord was that they spent a lot of time in His Word. They longed to hear from Him. They longed to please Him by learning about Him, His kingdom, His righteousness, and then they actually lived according to what they were learning. What a gift! To have parents who were genuine in their faith and absolutely in love with Jesus!
That kind of love is contagious.
Because I knew that my parents read their Bibles regularly and had read it all the way through several times, I wanted to do it too. I don’t remember how young I was when I began to set New Year’s Resolutions, but a recurring one was to read my Bible all the way through in a year.
Year after year, I started in Genesis and ended in Leviticus (the third of 66 books!).
I got tangled up in the lists of rules and laws and just didn’t understand how it all fit together. Sometimes, I would try to start at a different place in the Bible only to find myself overwhelmed by long chapters of “begats,” genealogies that didn’t have enough plot to keep me engaged. Then there were the books of prophecy in the Bible that I was afraid to read because I wasn’t sure whether I would measure up to God’s standard and be good enough to escape His wrath. I preferred to read about the loving God instead of the Judge. If I was going to read all of the Bible, I would have to read those scary parts too. I wondered if I would ever be able to accomplish this goal.
Many years passed by, and I stopped trying to read it cover-to-cover and chose to do some Bible studies instead.
I only studied the books of the Bible that didn’t scare me (I would not attempt to study Revelation or Daniel or Ezekiel at this point). Even though I was cautious about which studies to do, I was surprised to see themes of sin, forgiveness, judgment, and Jesus’ second coming sprinkled throughout the Bible. Christians are supposed to be encouraged by the promise that Jesus will return one day, but I was still concerned that I wouldn’t be good enough when He came back. After all, I still hadn’t read the entire Bible!
It is fair to say that I put way too much emphasis on reading the whole Bible. It had been a goal for me for as long as I could remember, and I failed to complete it. Every. Single. Time. The enemy taunted me with this failure, telling me that I would never be good enough until I had read it all. I knew this was a lie. I knew that my salvation was not dependent on any works (including reading the whole Bible), but completely dependent on God’s grace and my faith (see Ephesians 2:8-9).
Still, I longed to read the whole Bible.
At first, I desired to read all of God’s Word because I wanted to be like my parents. But the truth was, through my parents’ examples, God put a hunger in my heart for His Word. I didn’t want to be fearful of reading any of it. I didn’t want to give up when I got to the genealogies and laws. I wanted to see how it all fit together. The Lord knew my heart, and one day in a Christian bookstore, He pointed out the solution: A Chronological Bible.
This Bible was arranged in chronological order, with parallel passages presented back-to-back, and the prophets’ messages following the historical events that occurred while they were alive and preaching. This was a One-Year Bible, but it took me more than a year to get through it.
Finally, I was able to get beyond Leviticus and into the Promised Land (in Joshua)!
I read about Israel’s victories and the dark days of the Judges that followed, about the rejection of God as King when His people asked for human kings, about good kings who followed the Lord and wicked kings who led the people into idolatry, about God’s just punishment when He sent His adulterous people into captivity, yet spared a remnant in order to keep His covenant with Abraham and provide a Seed who would bless all the nations of the earth. I read the sermons of the prophets along the way who warned the people of the coming judgment and captivity, while also encouraging them with a hope of redemption by a Savior who would come one day and set them free. I read about the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies when Jesus came on the scene as a baby and grew into the man who would take the punishment for the sins of the world. He proved Himself to be the promised Messiah by His miracles. He astounded those who heard Him with His authoritative teaching. He lived a sinless life and died on a cross in my place and in your place.
Jesus changed the world. He chose disciples who would continue to share the good news of salvation through faith in Him, and He ascended to Heaven after His miraculous resurrection and 40 more days of teaching. The early church was formed from the believers who received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and evangelistic missions began. Letters were written by His followers to teach them how to live out this faith in Jesus. In addition to the history and the instructions, I also read about the blessed hope of Christ’s return and the promise of all things being made right, all things being made new. Revelation wasn’t so scary after all. It was good news!
Since reading the Bible through in its entirety, I have read it over and over several times – different reading plans, different translations. I have even used an app on my phone to listen to an audio version of the entire Bible. If you think you don’t have time to read, turn off the music and turn on the Bible. You’ll be amazed at how fast you can listen to the whole Bible by doing it while you’re driving around town. But be sure to listen. This is God’s Word to you. He wants to reveal Himself to you. Listen attentively.
Why should you read the whole Bible? Here are some points to consider:
1. The Bible is God’s Word.
If you have a boss, and he has directions for you to carry out your work, you are likely to listen to him. He will be evaluating your performance based on how well you accomplish what he has told you to do, and your salary may be impacted. If you really miss the mark, you may lose your job.
Well, the good news it that God doesn’t judge us based on carrying out a list of instructions. God is the “boss,” the sovereign King of kings, but His Word is more than a list of instructions. It is an invitation for us to be in a relationship with Him through Jesus. His Word reveals God’s character and love for us, and His plan to include us in His fellowship. Man messed up, and God fixed it, through the blood of Jesus. He will judge us based on how we respond to His invitation, not based on our works. But if we miss the mark, if we reject Jesus, we will lose more than a job. We will lose the opportunity for reconciliation to God. We will spend eternity separated from Him in a place of torment, Hell.
2. The Bible points us to faith in Jesus.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him to continue in the faith, he reminded him, “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Those “sacred writings” were the Old Testament scriptures. Even the Old Testament can make us wise for salvation and can point the way to Jesus. We should read it!
3. The Bible is “profitable.”
Reading the Bible is a good way to invest your time because it “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Lord teaches, reproves (rebukes), corrects and trains us. This may not always be pleasant (see Hebrews 12:11), but it is always profitable, always beneficial to us. We need this kind of guidance in order to be complete (mature) and ready to do the good works He planned in advance for us to do (see Ephesians 2:10).
4. The Bible gives us hope.
Life is hard, and we will have ups and downs, regardless of whether we are Christians or not. But as Believers, we have so many promises available to us and we find them in God’s Word. Romans 15:4 tells us that “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.” We are not left alone to endure the trials of life – God gave us His Word to encourage us. We can live with hope, even in the darkest of times. Romans 15:5 goes on to tell us that God is the God of endurance and encouragement! The Bible is His Word and He speaks to us through it. He encourages us and He gives us the endurance we need to live with unwavering, faith-filled purpose, no matter the circumstances.
Do you need instruction? Read the Bible!
Do you need endurance? Read the Bible!
Do you need encouragement? Read the Bible!
Do you need hope? Read the Bible!
Here are some practical tips for your reading:
1. Pray first.
If you are a Believer, the Holy Spirit in you is the same one who inspired men to write down the words we have in the Bible (see 2 Peter 1:21). Ask the Lord to teach you. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He will do it because He says He will teach us all things (see John 14:26) and guide us into all truth (see John 16:13).
2. Read according to a plan, so that you understand the context of what you’re reading.
It is important to keep scriptures in context in order to have a proper understanding of the message. Taking a few verses here and there, out of context, can completely change the meaning. There are many plans available online for free – here is one site you might try.
3. Read regularly, but don’t be legalistic about it.
The point is not just to check-off a list of scriptures you’ve read or to be able to say with arrogance, “I’ve read the whole Bible.” The point is to allow the Word of God to permeate your being, to cleanse you (see Ephesians 5:26), to sanctify you (see John 17:17), and to make you complete (see 2 Timothy 3:17).
Instead of saying, “I’ve read the whole Bible,” you can say, “The Lord used the Bible to make me whole!”
4. Find a quiet place and time so you can pray, read and listen.
It doesn’t have to be a long time, but it needs to be focused time in order to be effective in your life. Pray, read, and listen.
The Bible is like no other book you will ever read.
It “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God revealed the intentions of my heart to me, that I was too concerned about reading the whole Bible just to be like my parents or just to achieve a New Year’s Resolution. Then He changed my heart to give me a hunger for His Word that still motivates me to read it, study it, meditate on it, and live it, by His power.
Like reading the Bible changed my life, I expect that it will change yours. God compares His Word to the rain that causes plants to grow. He says, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
As you are considering New Year’s Resolutions for the coming year, I pray that you will consider spending time in God’s Word. What purpose does He want to accomplish in your life or through your life? This year, let’s prayerfully read the Bible, listening and living our lives accordingly. It may be the best year of our lives!
Happy New Year!