We’re doing something a little different today. The reading plan we’re on wasn’t written for a leap year, so we have an extra day to deal with, and Ian asked me to write a devo just for fun. So, yes, you can skip this one if you like, and you’ll still have read your way through the Bible.
And by the way, if this is your first time through, I am very excited for you. I won’t give any spoilers, but I’m going to tell you right now, you’re going to do a doubletake a few times. You’re going to have to reread a few lines just to confirm you read what you thought you read: Wait, the guy in Judges 19 did what to his concubine? Did God tell Ezekiel to cook his food over what kind of fire? There’s a lady named “Gomer,” and Hosea had to marry her why? There is some downright bonkers stuff afoot in the redemption story.
We’re about 60 days in, so you’ve made it a solid 16% of the way through the Bible. Awesome work! I’m guessing you’ve had some days where you felt like you got the perfect reading, something in it spoke right to your soul. Conversely, I’m certain you’ve had days where you read merely out of obligation when it was the last thing you wanted to do, and the passages were confusing or seemingly irrelevant.
Confession: when I’m only reading out of discipline, or the passage is full of thrilling tidbits like the measurements of drapes in the tabernacle, my reading turns into skimming. My brain will go on autopilot, and I probably couldn’t summarize what I’ve read one minute after closing the book. Days like that make me ask myself: “Did that even count as reading the Bible?” “Am I getting anything out of this?” I want to talk about those two questions. And, in typical Adam fashion, I’ll do it with a story.
When I was 18, my saintly grandmother told me I needed to read the Bible through once per year. I ignored this advice for a couple of years, but then I took her up on it when I turned 20. I’m 44 now, so yeah, I’ve read this book a lot. In my other devotions for the 2020 project, I’ve written openly about my failings, but this is one thing I’ve gotten right. I’ve read many versions, read straight through, read chronologically, and read using plans like this one. However, I’m not on my 24th reading as the simple subtraction would suggest, and here’s why.
In my early 30s, I was sitting at my kitchen table, slavishly slogging through one of those daily readings that seemed truly pointless (I’m lookin’ at you, Leviticus), and I stopped and said, “I’m not doing this anymore.” My rationale was that it had become an empty ritual, devoid of any spiritual benefit. I didn’t want the Bible to become something I disliked or resented, and that’s what was happening. So I kicked the habit, stopped reading right in the middle of a chapter.
Here’s the problem, I didn’t replace it with anything. I did what I’m guessing most Christians do, which is catch the odd verse in church, and read when I’m looking something up for whatever reason. I discovered something rather predictable: Not reading the Bible at all is infinitely worse than reading it out of obligation. In those years, I went weeks and months without reading the Bible, and though that may not scandalize us, maybe it should. There’s something that just doesn’t square about someone saying they’re a Christian, that is, claiming the belief that the redemption story as told in the Bible is the very essence of life, and yet not making that story central to their lives.
So after about three and a half years, I came back to it. I just grabbed the Bible I’d been using when I quit, opened up to the bookmark that hadn’t moved, and got going again. And, honestly, it felt like coming home. I’m not going to over-dramatize the story and say that my life went off the rails in those years. It didn’t. But I did feel like something was missing. I doubt I’ll ever stop again. And the reason is that I found answers to those two questions I asked myself when reading felt uninspired: “Did that even count as reading the Bible?” “Am I getting anything out of this?” The answer is a resounding “Yes” on both counts.
As to what I get out of it, there are days I’m convinced that God has arranged the Bible, my reading schedule, and my whole life such that I would read precisely what I needed on that particular day. I look at the words on the page, feel them speak to my ailing spirit, and I wonder how in the world that passage could come to me at such a critical moment through an arbitrary reading plan. On a few days like that, I’ve simply wept with gratitude and amazement. I won’t dwell on this because it has either it has already happened to you or it will soon, guaranteed. It’s miraculous.
Also, though neither my grandmother nor I could have foreseen it, having read the Bible 20-ish times is of incalculable value to writing church scripts. I consciously and unconsciously pull scriptural references and symbolism into my Easter and Christmas scripts because they are always right there in my mind. I don’t have to search. But I had no clue I was being prepared for that. What might God be preparing you for?
As to whether or not it “counts” to have read the Bible when there are days where you’re just putting time, here’s one of my favourite passages in scripture. I think it might be one of Jesus’ favourites too since he quotes the first line in answer to what the greatest commandment is.
Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.
In these verses in Deuteronomy, we learn that loving God is the most important thing. Jesus’ audience would know this quote well because it’s part of the Shema, a passage ancient Jews knew the way modern Christians know John 3:16. And they knew that right after the command to love God was the command to read all the words he gave to us: talk about them, engrave them on posts, make ornaments out of them, etc.
We need to let that sink in for a moment. Jesus told us that loving God is the most important thing we can do, and following the passage he quotes, we’re told that we need to get his words right into our souls. I submit that he may be telling us that his words and laws, and our absorption of them are one of the ways to love him. The proximity really suggests that. And those instructions to talk about the word of God all the time and inscribe it on posts or city gates is all about repetition. It’s calling us to acts of discipline to get the words in our hearts and minds. So even on days where it’s tough sledding to get through the readings, you’re being obedient, you’re putting your reps in.
So there’s a little vision casting for you as we enter a stretch of scripture you may find less than inspiring (history, prophets, etc.), in completing this task, you are following Christ’s greatest commandment. The first part of that Golden Rule is to love God with all your heart, and the instructions that follow it are to read his words, to learn them, to know them, to make them part of your life. That’s what you’re doing today. Whatever else happens, today, you followed God’s greatest command. Well done! Keep it rolling!
Lover of Leap Years; writer of dramas; connoisseur of sauces