Bible Reading Plans

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. … I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. … Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  (Psalm 119:11,15,105 NIV)

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the entire Bible. Fittingly, it is focused on the blessings of knowing and applying the commands and principles of God’s Word. 

Perhaps some of you resolved to read your Bible cover-to cover in 2017. Countless reading plans are available to keep you on pace toward accomplishing that goal.

Through the years, my personal Bible reading plan has grown increasingly ambitious until it now looks like this:

  • One Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) each month
  • Remainder of New Testament: Every six months
  • Psalms and Proverbs: Every six months
  • Remainder of Old Testament: Once each year

Bible reading plans designed to cover the entirety of God’s Word in a year are not without benefits, especially if you’ve never read the Bible cover-to-cover. Following them will certainly help ingrain the discipline of reading God’s Word into your daily routine.

But annual Bible reading plans are not without their pitfalls either. They can lead to reading hurriedly and mindlessly in order to cover the required material for that day without sufficiently digesting, meditating upon, and applying its content. While you might accomplish your reading goal, God’s greater goal of molding you into the image of his Son often suffers.

Recently, I downloaded a devotional Bible to my iPad. Described as a “cover-to-cover journey through the Bible”, it is organized into chapter readings covering six days a week for a full year, with each reading followed by a devotion. One of those daily readings covers chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel, which detail the events and the compelling teachings of our Lord as he gathered with the disciples in Upper Room on the night before his crucifixion.

Given their importance, I spent two months on those five chapters when I taught the Gospel of John several years ago. While I can certainly read John’s account of the Upper Room Discourse in one sitting, I can’t imagine adequately grasping its content and application for my life in one morning Bible study. A 500-word devotion cannot scratch the surface of the important lessons Christ conveys to his disciples that night.

The written Word is God’s primary means of communication with us. It is too important to rush through in order to accomplish a New Year’s resolution while ignoring its application for our lives. I encourage you to read your Bible daily, but do so prayerfully, patiently, attentively, and systematically. 

Like the psalmist, ask the Lord to open your eyes that you might see and comprehend the wonderful things contained within the Scriptures. (Psalm 119:18) Read with the expectation that God will answer that prayer and respond appropriately when he does. Highlight or underline those passages that particularly pierce your heart. Make notes in the margins or in a separate journal. A marked-up Bible, like the one shown above, is one that has been digested rather than merely read.

As for that Upper Room Discourse in John 13-17, I can’t think of a better place to spend some quality time over the next couple of weeks as we prepare our hearts for Easter, reflecting on the final teachings of our Lord before he went to the cross. I hope you will join me on that journey.

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. … Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” (Psalm 119:130,133 NIV)

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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)

These verses are so familiar to me that when I encountered them in my morning Bible reading recently, I almost missed the change that was made in the 2014 update to the New International Version (NIV) of the Scriptures. The word patience had been changed to forbearance. My immediate and instinctive reaction was “There they go again! Why don’t they leave well enough alone?”

Having memorized these particularly verses many years ago, I often quote them in my teaching and in conversations regarding spiritual matters. These traits of the fruit of the Spirit identified by the apostle Paul have provided a useful checklist to gauge whether my inclinations are driven more by my flesh or the Holy Spirit.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I typed those words without looking at the text. They flow together so well and are easily memorized. Replacing patience with forbearance disrupts that flow. I stumble every time I try to quote it now. Why change such a powerful and poetic list?

Then I quickly realized that my negative reaction to this change was being driven by my flesh as the Spirit revealed to me that the word forbearance better conveys his intent when Paul penned his letter to the Galatians. According to my Wycliffe Bible Commentary, the Greek word Paul used literally means long-spiritedness. The King James Version (KJV) translates it as “long-suffering”.

The word patience has a very broad application whereas the word forbearance relates specifically to our attitude toward others. According to Wycliffe, the word Paul used “involves a refusal to retaliate or work vengeance for wrong received”. My KJV Study Bible describes it as “a disposition quietly bearing injury”. Webster’s defines forbearance as “the quality of someone who is patient and able to deal with a difficult person or situation without becoming angry.”

As I reflect on these definitions, it becomes clear that forbearance is sorely lacking in our world today. Perhaps with a little more forbearance, our elected leaders might be better able to work together to develop solutions to the many problems facing this nation. With a little more forbearance, maybe Christians could overcome some of our denominational differences and present a more unified message to the lost people outside our church walls. (Are you listening, Southern Baptists?)

In Romans 3:25, Paul writes “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood–to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” (NIV) Aren’t you thankful for God’s forbearance? How can we fail to practice forbearance toward others while enjoying God’s forbearance toward us?

In our fleshly pride, forbearance does not come naturally. While we can sometimes fake some aspects of the fruit of the Spirit Paul identifies in Galatians 5:22-23, forbearance may be our best indicator of who is winning the ongoing battle for the control of our heart – our flesh or the Holy Spirit.

May we all display a little more patience forbearance with those whom God places in our paths this week. (Old habits are so hard to break!)

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9 NIV)

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