Sorry for the pessimistic title! But knowing that a large number of New Year's resolutions typically get dropped by mid-January, I wouldn't be surprised if many reading this post do not find themselves in this predicament. I want to offer you some encouragement and perhaps a plan that may refresh instead of burden you.
As I explain in the article I am reposting below, many Bible reading programs do not account for human nature. Such things as the unforgiving character of a checklist, the legalistic tendencies of our hearts, and the common disruptions in our calendars can make following a typical Bible reading program frustrating rather than freeing.
As I explain below, I have journeyed through many types of reading plans. That experience, combined with my own desire for Bible reading to be worshipful, meditative, and joyful, led me to put together what I call the STAR Bible Reading Program. If you are already behind and discouraged in your Bible reading, or even if you just want to try a different approach, perhaps this method might revitalize your time in God's Word.
Over the years I have used a number of Bible reading programs. From choosing different books of interest to McCheyne’s classic plan to a consecutive Genesis-through-Revelation-in-a-year approach, when it comes to Bible reading plans I have either tried them or discussed them at length with those who have.
One of the struggles I have always had with reading programs is the guilty feeling that comes when inevitably a reading is missed. Usually the first few times I try to make it up, but then get distracted from enjoying the reading because I “have to” get caught up. As my own personal reading rhythm is more inclined toward pausing and meditating on certain passages when I am touched by a truth, the need to check off a completed reading usually ends up frustrating me. Why does one of the sweetest means of grace have to have built-in legalism battles?
This struggle became especially acute a few years ago when I tried the 3650 Challenge (also known as Professor Horner’s Bible Reading Program). This method has you read ten chapters from different places in the Bible per day (the 3650 obviously coming from the multiplication of the number of days in a year by ten). At first I enjoyed reading from ten different places in the Bible and the richness that brought. Yet again I began to feel burdened after a couple of months to catch up if I had “only” read five chapters on a previous day. After a time, I gave it up.
However, a good result came out of that experiment for me. I ended up transforming that program into a version that looks much different, yet encourages some of the same goals while allowing for the freedom I need. I thought perhaps someone else might benefit from it.
Instead of the ten divisions of the Bible in the 3650 method (some of which did not make sense to me such as having the book of Acts read every day), I shortened the divisions down to six. These partitions correspond to the six sections that the Bible is often divided into in survey or overview courses, with four coming from the Old Testament and two in the New as below.
The Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy)
The Writings/History Books (Joshua-Esther)
Wisdom Literature (Job-Song of Solomon)
Gospels & Acts/History (Matthew-Acts)
In my Bible, I have six book darts for each section that point to the next chapter to be read. I usually read from three to six chapters per day as meditation, schedule, and time allow. I move the dart ahead to the next chapter after I am done with a chapter, and then turn to the next section’s dart to read from there. This method is as simple as that.
I personally call this reading program by the overused acronym STAR. However, I named it this because it has these four qualities.
**Systematic - ** By reading through each of these major sections of the Bible, you know that you will work your way through the whole of the Bible.
Thematic – The Bible is rich in the redemptive themes woven throughout its tapestry. By reading from different sections on any given day, you see ties emerging. For instance, on the day I wrote this a passage in Leviticus on unclean animals, Haman’s overthrow from the book of Esther, and the psalmist declaring God’s triumph over his enemies led me to think and pray regarding Christ’s victory in this world. I would never have made those connections otherwise.
Adjustable – As described above, I can read as much as a given day allows me to do. Also, if I want to read more than one chapter from a section I am in (when reading Esther 9 I went ahead and read the short chapter 10 to finish the book), I can.
Refreshing – Perhaps it is just me, but I have found the freedom to stop on some days and meditate without the pressure to keep going energizing and helpful. Pausing to pray as long as I need in the midst of my Bible reading has been quite refreshing to me. Yet because I want to return to any given section to maintain “momentum” in my reading there, this approach also keeps a gentle pressure on me not to be too long away from it.
A final word. Please do not read this as a critique if the discipline of one of the other approaches is beneficial to you. The goal of any approach is what Augustine heard long ago. “Tolle lege!” Take up and read! This method is just one other way to help encourage this in the church.