Reading Wrong, Reading Right (2)
I recall a conversation with a church deacon some years back about his daily Bible reading. He was very excited about the Word and all he was learning from it. I asked, "What is your reading program?" He replied, "Well, I start at Matthew and read a little bit every day until I finish Revelation." "Great!" I said. "Then what?" "Then I start all over again," he explained. "I go back to Matthew and read all the way through to Revelation."
Apparently 39 books of the life-transforming Word of God were not part of this man's spiritual diet. Sad to say, he's not alone. For many years I served on pastoral examining committees, and one question I always asked was whether the candidates were in the habit of reading the Bible through repeatedly. Only a handful of the many candidates I interviewed could answer that affirmatively. In fact, many of those pastoral candidates - both men just coming out of seminary and men who had been in pastoral ministry for years - confessed that they had not ever read the Bible through entirely even once.
We are reading the Bible wrong if we are not reading all the Scripture, over and over. Paul taught that all Scripture is profitable to equip us for the life of good works (2 Tim. 3:15-17). Apparently he believed we should avail ourselves of all of it. He declared to the elders of the church in Ephesus that he was free from any judgment any person there might bring upon himself, because he had not neglected to teach them all the counsel of God (Acts 20.26, 27). Right reading of God's Word means reading all the Word of God.
As I mentioned in the previous installment, the best way to do this is to set a schedule. Let's say you read two chapters a day of the Old Testament, one from the New, and one from the gospels. If you have to spread your reading out over the course of the whole day, that's fine. Read some in the morning, a chapter around noon, and the rest before you retire. But set your course, and stay on it, to read the entire Bible over and over.
This schedule, in fact, will take you through the Old Testament once, the New Testament three times, and each of the gospels six times over a period of eighteen months. Not every day of your reading will be rewarding. Nor is it necessary to "hang around" a text waiting for its full meaning to unfold before you move on in your reading. We can never plumb the depths of Scripture! There will always be more to learn, more insights to excite and challenge us, and more questions that will never be answered for us this side of glory. But part of the joy of reading the Bible like this is encountering those profound mysteries and looking forward to the day when we will know even as we are now known.
It's not necessary to understand everything you read. The more you read all of Scripture the more you'll be able to see connections between various books and sections of the Word. You'll hear the apostles Paul, James, Peter, and John, as they intone on the call the holiness, harmonizing with what Jesus teaches in the gospels, Moses declares in the Law, and the prophets echoed throughout. That should cause you to understand how important is the pursuit of holiness, and lead you to deeper devotion in that quest. Other subjects will begin to crop up and link together from various parts of the Bible as well. Paul tells us that the Spirit does His best teaching in us when He is able to "compare spiritual things with spiritual things" - teachings from all over the Bible that bring the light of God to bear on particular topics and concerns with increasing brilliance and clarity (1 Cor. 2.12, 13). Theologians call this "the analogy of Scripture," and we'll become better at hearing the Spirit teach this way the more familiar we become with all the Word of God.
So set up your schedule and begin right reading of the Word of God. Persevere on that tack, even when it seems like the wind of the Spirit is just not filling your sails. Keep tacking, and soon enough a gust will reach and refresh you that is the very breath of God steering you in some new direction or clarifying your course in some new way.
Right reading of Scripture begins with reading it at all. But it is improved, and lays a foundation for ever-increasing growth in the Word, when we read all the Scriptures, over and over.