Go Deep or Go Long

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God and fit him fully for all branches of his work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (Phillips)

 

When I first became a Christian over six years ago, I read the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation in a period of about six months. Every year since, I’ve followed some kind of reading plan where I’ve more or less read the Bible through in a year’s time. This has been a great blessing to me and a real anchor in my life. I can really sense the day getting away from me if I haven’t read through some bit of God’s Word and reflected on it.

I do have to admit though there are days when it feels like my reading is just checking off a box and moving on to more “urgent” priorities. I was listening to a message from James Merritt once, and he mentioned how many of us can treat reading the Bible the way we read a newspaper if we’re not careful. I’ve been wondering lately if this isn’t starting to happen with me, and more importantly, what to do about it.

My Twitter friend Renee has been going through the Gospel of John methodically for a while. She had mentioned that she just finished about three months of study in John 18 (!). I’m thinking that this type of approach might be a good one to take for a season, to avoid the danger of falling into the check box approach and camping out in a book for a while to soak up its meaning. I’ll probably finish out the plan I’m currently in for this year, but I’m wondering if I should do something similar to what Renee has done in the coming year, or maybe even now. We of course have no law to guide us into how to read our Bibles. The goal is to become more Christ-like, not to cross something off our to-do list.

I’d be interested in hearing how others go through this and avoid those dry periods. Maybe something works better for you. Do you see value in one approach or the other? What do you think?

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5 thoughts on “Go Deep or Go Long

  1. Barbara

    You know, I was just reading ,something the other day – and now I can’t remember where, maybe it was something Challies wrote or linked? – about how some peoples’ bible reading plans will vary, maybe you read it through the first year, and then spend a year digging into several books, etc. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way, as long as you feast upon the word of Christ whatever you do. I think it’s easy to get legalistic about that. Dr. T. David Gordon had some good words of introduction about that sort of thing (the hearing of God’s Word) this weekend when he came to our church to teach on the Psalms in Worship. When I get a break today I’ll listen to that (I have to edit the audio so it can go online anyway) and quote for you what he said….

  2. Barbara

    Well, I apologize, on listening to it again, Dr. Gordon’s talk may not be fully on topic with your question, but then again it may in that it illustrates the need to understand the fullness of the text itself which often gets missed in Bible reading plans that often tend to break up the text and may not leave time for seasons of in-depth study. Here’s what he says in his intro:

    ********
    “Most people experienced the Bible, from the time of Moses to the time of Luther, corporately – in a group of others. Now, we sit down with coffee or tea or orange juice in the morning and we go to some room in the house all by ourselves and we have our quiet private time. And so it seems very natural for us to read the Bible that way, because we’ve been trained to *read* it, And so one of the things I want to do tonight is to un-train you to read it that way, and to train you to read the way, in my judgment, it ought to be read….it wasn’t written for you. It was written for us. It was written for the corporate people of God and for 3000 years of Jewish and Christian history that’s the only way it could have been experienced. And as a corporate document it’s a very different thing. If you were reading Robert Frost on your own, you might find a line somewhere in a Robert Frost poem that really excited and you might think about it and you might even memorize it. But if you were talking with someone else about the poem, you would probably have to deal with the entire poem..,Interestingly, if you share a piece of poetry as a group, you can have that conversation, “What does the poem mean”, not, “Which verse hit me.” Right? And so also, The Bible is our shared book and the Psalter is the shared hymnal of Jews and Christians, and we can do more than say, “This verse hit me.”
    And so I want to talk with a little you about the the literary realities – four aspects of literary interpretation of the Psalms that may help you find in them things that you would have never seen if you permitted yourself to just read until a verse jumped up and slapped you in the face. Which I think is in many ways what we do – we kind of read them as we do poetry – that line doesn’t do anything for me, that line doesn’t…oh! Good fences make good neighbors – make a note of that! – …so I think we do the same with the Scriptures and I want to suggest that the literary questions are very very important to raise.”

    ******
    For the record, as a fairly new Christian I studied and chewed on John 17 (the High Priestly Prayer) for MONTHS. In its context it is so rich in revealing something of God’s heart, the relationship between the Father and the Son, and so pregnant with meaning for God’s people, one of whom I am all the more amazed to be. 🙂

  3. Joe Post author

    Thanks Barbara, I look forward to hearing what you find from those lectures. The good thing I’ve found with the reading plan is that it keeps me from avoiding certain areas of Scripture that I don’t gravitate to or understand as well (Song of Songs, for example). The bad thing is that I feel I only spend a short amount of time in books that should require further study (1 & 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, etc.). I know folks who read a Proverb a day, or spend a month with the Psalms (five a day). I think you’re right in that it’s easy to get legalistic, which I’ve found in myself (I have to read these four chapters or else!). If you can, send a link to those lectures if they do wind up being available online. I’d like to listen to them.

  4. Joe Post author

    That’s very helpful. I think I remember N.T. Wright saying once that it’s very odd how we often read our Bibles. When we receive a letter from someone (ok, maybe an antiquated example?), we of course read it straight through, from beginning to end. However, in many Bible reading plans, we read the intro and first paragraph of the letter and then put it down. Then tomorrow we pick up the letter again and read a few more lines. I think his main point is that we miss something in doing that – the letter(s) to the church in Philippi, the church in Corinth should be read as a letter, from beginning to end. If we miss something, reread it! Sometimes obviously this isn’t practical, especially with the Gospels or the longer O.T. books. I think we’ve discussed this, but one of the first pieces of Bible reading advice I saw that stuck with me was from the MacArthur Study Bible, where MacArthur recommended reading a book over and over again for 30 days. I did that with 1 John back in 2008 and I have to say that was a tremendous help in understanding that book.

    That’s interesting that you camped out for so long in John 17. I’ve been drawn to John 15 (esp. v. 1-11) in the same way. For what it’s worth, I’m thinking of going through Luke in an extensive way starting in January, but I’m not sure yet. That’s what prompted this post 🙂

  5. Barbara

    Joe,

    They will be available online whenever they get uploaded (not sure how long that will be, I only do the edits and then email them to the one who manages the website and he is a college professor and dad so a very busy man) but I can email you the audio files if you tell me where to email them to. I plan to finish editing them tonight so they’ll be ready to roll.

    I have noticed lately that I and others tend to have a frame of mindset that whether consciously or not (I suspect not) seems to be stuck in the Now, so that any decision I make about what to do Now is going to lock me into that pattern rather than considering Now a season to walk through, which by their nature has endings when a new Season begins. Maybe it is time for a Season of deeper study to be followed by another season of simply reading through ,to be followed by another season of deeper study of another book or even a topical one, to be followed…..and that this goes on until the day when you behold our Savior face to face.

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