As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
When Davis Burton spoke to his church a few Sundays ago, it's a safe bet that he got a better hearing than preachers usually do.
Davis spoke to his congregation about his experience of reading through the Bible in a year. His sermon took the form of a comprehensive review and summary of the story arc of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Covering Creation, the promises to Abraham, the Exodus, the rise and fall of Israel, the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the travels of Paul, and the growth of the early church, Davis spoke without notes to an audience that hung on his every word. Especially his mom and dad.
Davis is nine years old. Listen to him on YouTube.
His church, the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, is beginning their own year-long journey through the Bible this month, and Davis serves as a bit of inspiration. It worked for me; Davis started me thinking about the last time I read the Bible straight through. I think I've done it a couple of times, but it's been a while. I know January's almost over, but no one ever said a year has to be measured from January to January. So here's what I'm going to do.
I'm starting a One-Year Bible reading plan at youversion.com. I'm starting on Monday. What do you think? Want to try it with me? Just go to youversion.com, set up an account, and start a reading plan. The One-Year Bible plan will be one of the options you'll see. Of course, there are other ways to do it.
There's nothing wrong with just reading a book of the Bible straight through, of course, or picking and choosing a Psalm a day, or whatever. But Davis said something in his sermon that sort of struck me and made a lot of sense to me. He said:
“You wouldn't rent a movie and go to scene selection and say, 'This part looks interesting; I'll start here.' Because then you don't know who the characters are, what they're doing and where they are. So just like you have to watch the whole movie to get the whole picture, you have to read through the whole Bible to see what God's saying.”
When you think about that way, it makes a lot of sense, doesn't it. Of course we should read the Bible straight through once in a while. It gives us a sense of the big picture. It reminds us that our God never changes, that the same God who made promises to Abraham is the same God who brought his descendants out of Egypt, and who came into the world as Jesus Christ, and who will ultimately set Creation back to right. Sometimes it helps our faith to step back and be reminded again of the whole picture, the big idea of what God has always been up to in human history. Sometimes we need to be reminded that our stories are all woven into a much bigger Story, and as such are also inseparably woven together with each other and with the generations of the faithful who have come before us.
So let's try it together.
A few suggestions, if you'd like to try it but don't feel very comfortable about the whole thing. First, make sure you're using a translation that's easy for you to understand. Try the New International Version (NIV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the English Standard Version (ESV), the New Living Translation (NLT), or even The Message (if you don't mind a pretty loose paraphrase). There are plenty of solid, contemporary English translations out there, so there's no need to wade through language that would make Shakespeare scratch his head if you don't want to. Just to make it interesting, you might even pick a different translation than you usually read.
Set aside time each day for your reading, and try to stick to it. It probably won't take you long to develop it into a habit. Make it a time that's as convenient as possible for you: if you commute into work in the morning on a train, or read during your lunch break, or whatever, integrate your Bible reading into it. Try to make it a time when you're not too tired.
If you're more comfortable with technology, there are plenty of online Bible resources. Biblegateway.com or youversion.com will have a number of different English translations. You can download a Bible to your Kindle or Nook or whatever. You can even get an audio Bible for your iPod or on CDs. (Though, personally, I think you'll get more out of reading it than listening to it.) The point is, technology has only increased the options we have for reading the Bible; it's a shame we seem to let it distract us so often. Put it to use in making reading through the Bible a part of your 2011.
If you miss a day, don't worry. Read a little more the next few days to make it up. If you get way behind and really want to stay in sync with everyone else, just skip ahead. You can always go back next year and read the parts you missed. Don't feel guilty, or get discouraged; no one's going to ask you if you read the Bible all the way through when you get to heaven. Just keep plugging along.
Read as part of a group. The Bible was intended to be read in community, after all. Ask someone to serve as a discussion partner to process what you're reading. Set up a weekly discussion group to meet for coffee or something and talk over the week's readings. I'm going to blog about my reading at http://lectiodivinachicago.blogspot.com/. Join me there, and we'll share in a virtual discussion group our thoughts and impressions about what we're reading and what God's doing in our minds and hearts with it.
And that's my final suggestion. Read prayerfully and reflectively. Expect that God will do something when you read his Word, because he promises that he will. You might not know what that is, except in hindsight. But you can trust that when God speaks, new worlds are created.
I hope you'll join me as we read the Bible through together this year.
Come on: if a nine-year-old can do it, so can you.
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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.