I know the routine because I’ve been through it so many times it’s almost embarrassing. The new year is approaching, and we have a great goal in mind. Every year has been the same, but this year will be different. We will faithfully read our Bibles every day. Come what may, nothing (and I mean nothing) will stop us from meeting this goal…until the resolve has been worn down by our daily tasks, and we get so busy that we let that one day slip by, and we wake up January 6 and realize we already failed. At this point, is there any reason to keep trying? Why can’t we do it? Why is something so simple so hard to accomplish? If I was a “good Christian” it wouldn’t be so hard; I’d want to do it. (Some of you might be there right now).
Disclaimer: While reading this post, some people might get upset and disagree. However, I believe if you’ll read to the end, you’ll understand and even agree with what I’m saying. I think too often we are guilty of over-emphasizing a tradition at the expense of the reason behind the tradition. I am a strong advocate for daily Bible reading, but…
- Other than one contextually inapplicable instance, the Bible never says “read” the Bible every day.
The one instance is found in Deuteronomy 17:18-20 where you find God’s instructions for the kings who will one day sit on the throne of Israel. They were to read from the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) every day of their reign so that they could “continue long in [their] kingdom, [they] and [their] children, in Israel” (ESV).
Other than this one passage that is specifically directed to Kings of Israel, the completion of daily Scripture reading is never found as a task we are commanded to accomplish. We can find many tasks and goals in Scripture we are exhorted to pursue, many of them multiple times (such as meditating daily on God’s Word), but reading the Bible is not one of them. In fact, if you really think about it, it’s a pretty shallow goal. After I was married, my goal was not to read my wedding vows every day so that I could have a better marriage and a better relationship with Carrie. My goal was to be the husband God wanted me to be, but accomplishing that goal would not come from reading my wedding vows every day. In fact, that goal would not be accomplished by reading Bible passages that tell me what kind of husband God wants me to be. That goal is only accomplished by applying those principles.
If your goal is to read the Bible every day in 2018, will you be a better person at the end of the year if you do accomplish this goal? Not necessarily.
- The patriarchs never read the Bible yet they are mentioned in Hebrews 11 for their great faith.
The first 21 verses of Hebrews 11 are devoted to heroes of the faith who never even owned a copy of the Scripture (because it had not been written yet). Noah didn’t exemplify great faith in building an ark because he was in the Word every day. Abraham didn’t consistently follow God because of daily Bible reading. Joseph wasn’t a man of character because he read his Bible every day.
- Failure is too easy.
If we miss one day, we failed. We may argue that we can pick back up the next day, but the reality is, we failed, and we know it. Our goal was to read the Bible every day, and deep down we know we failed. That’s why we get through the middle of January and don’t pick up our Bibles again until April because we think to ourselves, Well, I’ve already missed a day, what’s the point of trying? In April we’re determined to be faithful the remainder of the year, but four days later when we miss a day we give up again. After that, we’ll hear a stirring message about the importance of reading the Bible every day. We determine that nothing will stop us from being faithful at this task, but we miss a day that turns into 2 that eventually turns into weeks, and we have failed again.
Sadly, in the end we are not the better for trying. In fact, we are discouraged and feel defeated because we could not accomplish this seemingly simple task. We then find ourselves overwhelmed with guilt because we believe God could not be pleased with someone who is so prone to failure.
- The Bible never says we find favor with God when we read our Bibles every day.
Jesus made very clear the means of demonstrating our love for him. He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me…If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” (John 14:15, 21, 23-24). Does anyone else get the feeling Jesus is trying to tell us something?
In my opinion, this might be the most important reason. Is there anything “wrong” with someone making a New Year’s Resolution to read his/ her Bible every day? Of course not. However, if your primary goal is to read the Bible every day because you think that is going to make you a better Christian and you’ll find more favor with God, you are gravely mistaken. Favor with God does not come by merit. Your favor with God came at the price Jesus Christ paid on the cross, and there is nothing you can do to earn more favor with him. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
- Reading the Bible every day never changed anyone’s life.
You find me a man whose primary goal is to read the Bible, and I’ll show you a man who can win in Bible Trivia and yet never grow in his faith. The only thing that brings real change is the application of Scripture. Don’t believe me? Then please explain why the Scribes and Pharisees, people who were in the word for hours every day, would refuse to believe Jesus was the Messiah and eventually have him crucified. Why would Jesus call these students and teachers of the Scripture hypocrites? Why would a good portion of Jesus’ ministry focus on undoing the erroneous teaching of these leaders?
They read, memorized, meditated on, and even copied the Scripture every day of their lives, but they were never the better for it.
Making the right resolution
- Make realistic goals.
Don’t put yourself in a box. Deciding to read your Bible every day for an hour is fine, but unless you’re retired or have grown children, it probably isn’t very realistic, especially if you aren’t in the habit of reading your Bible daily.
- Identify your purpose for the goal.
If you decide to read your Bible every day, why have you decided to make this your goal? Is it because you will feel like a better Christian? Is it because you feel like you “should”? If the goal is the end in itself, it won’t last. Reading your Bible as an end in itself is futile. Reading your Bible as a means of growth and pursuing God is priceless. If the goal is something about which you are passionate, you’ll continue to be strive for the goal in spite of setbacks.
- Give yourself completely to meeting the goal for this noble cause.
Don’t be mediocre. If the goal is worth setting, it’s worth reaching.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a passion to grow, guide you in your journey of growth, and teach you how to apply what you have learned.
Reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture about anger is never going to help you overcome that stronghold if you don’t apply it. “But how do I apply it?” you ask. The Holy Spirit will show you. Ask him to show you specifically how to apply these truths to your life.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” (John 16:13)
Allow me to illustrate how to put these principles into practice. Suppose I want to study the Sermon on the Mount in depth this year. What should my specific but realistic goals be. I want read through the Sermon on the Mount at least once a week. I want to find 2-3 books that speak specifically on the subject of the Sermon on the Mount. I want to find other Scripture that speaks on the same principles found in the Sermon on the Mount. In order to get a good grasp on the Sermon on the Mount, I’m going to meditate and even memorize portions of the Sermon on the Mount or parallel passages. (Notice at this point my goals have not put me in a box, but they are big enough to require a lot of me.)
Now that I have set my goals, I need to ask myself, why have I set this goal? Do I just want more knowledge? No. I believe the Sermon on the Mount is a firm foundation on which I can build my walk of faith. It is Jesus’ explanation of the Kingdom of God that he established during his earthly ministry. Therefore, to learn more about it is to cultivate the right ground in which to grow in my faith. I believe the Sermon on the Mount is foundational to Christian maturity and because I want to be a mature believer, I will stick to my goal even when the going gets tough. It isn’t just a task to be completed; it is a noble goal to be reached.
After this I’m going to give myself completely to the task. I’m going to be faithful, but setbacks won’t hinder me or discourage me, because I never put myself in a box. However, the seriousness of the task keeps me going. Because I am giving myself completely to this goal, I will not be satisfied only to learn about the Sermon on the Mount; I must apply it to my life because the Bible never changed anyone who didn’t apply it. The Holy Spirit will lead me into all truth and help me know exactly how to apply these important principles to my life.
Is it important to read your Bible every day? Yes, but not as an end in itself. Obviously, you can’t apply what you don’t know.
Psalm 119:105 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (emphasis added). The writer of this Psalm did not memorize scripture as an end in itself; he memorized Scripture to help him live a life that was pleasing to God.
Consider also Joshua 1:8, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Is the key to success reading or even meditating on the “book of the law”? No. The key to success “to do according to all that is written it.” Again, you can’t apply what you don’t know. The key is, you have a goal, and you know the only way to meet your goal is to get in the Word.
Let’s wrap it up.
New Year’s resolutions are intended to bring change. They are intended to help us break bad habits and begin good habits. If you see reading your Bible as an end in itself, you are missing the big picture. God is not interested in our accomplishing “noble tasks” that bring about no change. In Isaiah 1 we read about the Israelites who did everything they were “supposed to do,” but God said he hated it, and it made him sick. Why? Because God wants us to pursue him out of love, not to accomplish a task out of obligation. Can you be a person of strong faith and not read your Bible every day? That’s the wrong question. The question we should be asking is, “How can I become a person of strong faith?” And the answer will inevitably lead us to the Bible.
God bless you in your journey of growth!