Say No! to a 2017 Bible-reading plan (maybe)

Now is the time of year when the internet fills us up with advice on new year’s resolutions and whatnot. Many Christian websites will publish Bible reading plans—checkboxes, charts, apps, and calendars. The Bible in year, the Bible in two years, the New Testament in 90 days, and so on.

So I rise to say, somewhat sheepishly, but nevertheless plainly: don’t. Don’t sign up for the plan, don’t print out the chart, don’t put yourself on the hook to constantly feel either guilty or proud. 

Of course, let me say—and this is the sheepish part—maybe. Perhaps the detailed plans, the high direction, the system all works very well for you. Good on you, keep at it, and I tip my hat. 

But for some of us, let’s say for quirks in the old personality, the timestamped reading plans become rude taskmasters. We serve the plan rather than the plan serving us. What is meant to discipline us toward God and his Word ends up driving us away instead. 

For some of you it’s time to ditch the yearly Bible reading plan. You don’t need a schedule, you need a habit. You don’t need a detailed, prepared itinerary, you need a road going in the right direction—you might walk slowly, you might run fast, you might even take a detour or two nearby, or you might slip up and forget to travel one day. But you always come back to the road. And since you are not in a hurry and you’re going in the right direction, you never feel guilty about not keeping up.

I gave up on yearly Bible reading plans two years ago, and I couldn’t be happier about it. My Bible reading had become rushed and, often, joyless. I was tired of the low-grade guilt that permeated my spiritual life. Guilt that I missed some days and didn’t feel like doubling down to catch up. Guilt that I was just reading to check the box for that day. I also needed to escape the prideful contentment of feeling extra holy simply because I managed to run a good stretch of reading the appropriate number of chapters each day. 

The yearly Bible reading plans became law to me. But unlike God’s law, which shows us our sinfulness and leads us to Christ, my self-made law simply showed me my sinfulness and left me there. It led me to despair—or pride. 

I needed a Bible reading strategy that both regularly got me into God’s Word each day and took the pressure off of trying to finish something in a certain amount of time. I needed something that actually helped me focus on God and his Word and enjoy both.

It turns out that I didn’t need a new plan so much as new habits. Habits don’t have finish lines; you do not give expiration dates to good habits. Rather, you persist in them for a lifetime. 

And so I created my Bible Reading For Life Plan, something I could roll with for decades. It is nothing innovative or revolutionary. It is boringly normal, and probably resembles many of the popular yearly plans, with the exception that I have no deadlines, no charts, and no checkboxes. 

Here it is: Each day my default reading is a Psalm, a chapter in Proverbs, and however much I feel like reading that day in the Old or New Testament book that I’m currently reading—sometimes that’s one chapter and other times it is four or five. I alternate between Old and New Testament books and flip back to the beginning of Psalms and Proverbs when I get to the end of those. 

Such a plan gives me great flexibility. I can read faster or slower, more chapters or less. I can go on detours to chase a curiosity and then come back to the old standard. I’m never left wondering what book I should read next, nor am I so locked in that I cannot get a change of scenery, if necessary. If it’s Christmas and I want to flip over to Luke 2, I do. Or if I’m trudging through some genealogies in Chronicles, but my soul is thirsting for some casket-proof Gospel from the letters of Paul, I pull up a chair in Romans. Or maybe I was just in a hurry that day so I only read a Psalm. Those days I guiltlessly, purposefully go off track. But because I have a habit, it’s easy to get back on track. 

Such a plan also takes the pressure off. I never feel behind because I don’t have any deadlines. The finish line is death; I’m gonna read the Bible till I die. But I’m not trying to read it so many times. Rather, I’m trying to read it consistently and joyfully. And taking away the rush and the low-grade guilt leads me to greater joy in reading the Bible. 

The potential downside is that I don’t read as many books of the Bible. This is because indwelling sin and outside distractions make it easy to slip into just reading one chapter each day for the current Old or New Testament book, and also because I have chosen to emphasize two books: Psalms and Proverbs. The poetry, prayers, and praise of the Psalms is particularly helpful for me to read repeatedly, while I need all the practical wisdom I can get out of Proverbs. Those two books in particular have become great and trusted friends over the last two years. 

So if you happen to share my personality quirks and find all the charts and checkboxes pulling the rug out from under your Bible-reading joy, I invite you to ditch all the recommended plans and pick up a sustainable Bible reading habit that only ends when you die. 

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