A confession: I don't exactly enjoy reading. Sure there are books I've read that I have really appreciated and am generally glad I took the time to read them. There's even a handful of books that I've read multiple times and highly recommend to others. But an ongoing "joke" with me is that I've read most of most of my books (that's not a type-o). I will frequently pick up a new book, enthusiastically start reading, and then just a few chapters from the end decide, "Nah, I'm done" and put it on the shelf where it'll sit. I have my favorite authors (Jack London, John Steinbeck, CS Lewis, Colin Meloy), and if I'm feeling so inclined to read fiction, that's generally who I'll look to. But reading by choice is not something I regularly do.
And then there's the added complication of reading the Bible for my own, personal spiritual well-being and growth. One of the "occupational hazards" of being a pastor is that people like me have spent so much time pouring over and study the Bible for academic reasons, and it's THE primary tool for my job, that many seminarians and pastors really struggle with being able to approach Scripture "normally." I almost hate to admit it, but reading the Bible for personal reasons has historically been nearly impossible for me.
But several years ago I had a bit of an epiphany...I decided that I needed to do a better job at reading fiction for fun. It had been years since I last read a novel, and creatively I was feeling a bit dry. I picked up Steinbeck's East of Eden for the first time and I loved it! My copy was roughly 600 pages - a length that I never would have expected to finish, or, if I did, it would have taken me an entire year to slog through it. Instead, I plowed through in about a month.
When I finished, I thought to myself, "Why is it that I could read this novel in only a month, but I've never been able to get past Numbers when I've tried reading through the Bible?" The stark contrast between my experience reading East of Eden and the Bible didn't sit well with me; afterall, the Bible is really just a story, too. It's a true story, but it's still just a story about what God has been doing - and is still doing - in the world and in the life of his people. We all love a good story, and the story told between the pages of Genesis to Revelation is the best story ever told! What gives!
So here's what I've learned, and here are my suggestions for how to read the Bible this year in a way that can help you actually read it, and stick with it for the whole story...
Read the Bible like a novel. I have a very high view of the Bible and I want to take it seriously. But sometimes, we take the Bible so seriously that we psyche ourselves out, and that makes it really hard to read. Read the Bible like your favorite novel. That means allowing yourself not to become too caught up or concerned with the details, reading a bit faster than you ordinarily do, and focus your attention more on the story being told, than all the nitty-gritty. Realistically, how many doves a person was required to sacrifice for a certain sin, or the names of every member of a particular clan, may have been important for ancient Israelites, but they rarely contribute anything really significant to the overall story of the gospel.
Give yourself permission to skip/skim large or less interesting parts. The Bible is important, and what has been preserved and handed down has been so because of the work of the Holy Spirit. On one hand, I will absolutely affirm that every single word has value and is there for a reason. But that doesn't mean that every single word is going to speak to you right now. It also doesn't mean that every single word is interesting. So here I am giving you permission: if reading all the census data, genealogies, and obscure laws are going to derail you progress or distract you from seeing the bigger story taking place, skip them. But just this time 😏. I'd encourage you to also be daring enough to do some additional reading and research when you have time and explore what other are saying about what these passages contribute to our faith.
Trust your memory. One of the things that puts pressure on us when reading the Bible is our anxiety over forgetting some tiny detail that is going to be really important later. But even when we read a long novel, we don't study and pick apart every little detail; we trust that when the time comes in the story, we will have no problem remembering what we need to remember. This year marks my 6th year in a row reading through the entire Bible. I've found that each time I read a passage, even thought it's been a year or more since I last read it, the passage in question feels increasingly more familiar. I'm no where close to being able to quote chapter and verse for things, but I'm learning that I really do know my Bible. And every time I read it, something different becomes more clear and suddenly makes more sense than it did last year. My brain remembers exactly what I need to remember, and I recall exactly what I need to, when the time comes. Trust your brain...it's hanging on to more than you realize!
And finally...Read with someone. Hards things are always easier when we have someone else to do them with. When it comes to the Bible, that may be a small group, reading aloud with your spouse or family each night, or just simply knowing that that are others reading the same thing you are right along with you. I can't help but think of the words of Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up."