(Spoiler Alert: I Need to Do It Again)
“In two more days I will have read through the entire Bible in one year,” I enthusiastically told my husband the morning we were returning home from our brief holiday trip to see family.
I wasn’t bragging exactly. I felt some shame because it’s the first time I actually finished such a plan, and I’ve been a Christian for a long time.
But that day I did feel some pride in nearing completion of the Bible in One Year 2019 on The Bible App. Having the ability to either read or listen to the devotion by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel of HTB and the Scripture readings for the day had made a world of difference in my ability to finish.
Then we drove on Interstate 75.
Even though we had left the hotel early, purposing to avoid heavy traffic, we found ourselves in the midst of crazy travelers weaving in and out of the terrible (but quickly moving) traffic. Steve was driving, while I attended the Waze app and adjusted his windshield wipers to accommodate the varying rain. I found myself growing more and more anxious and angry.
“I’m not doing this again next year,” I might have said more than once, meaning I would forgo visiting family if it included treacherous drives. (And it would. The interstate seems to get worse every year.)
“Grrrr, Mr. Illinois,” I fumed at a burgundy Chevy van with that state tag that dangerously veered into our path. “Go home! Get off our roads, Northerners! Go home!”
“I can see that reading through the Bible in one year has made quite a difference in your life,” my husband noted, rather sardonically, I thought.
I gave no response or indication that his pronouncement hurt, and he may have meant to be funny. Typically, that’s his intent. But his words trickled through the deeper places of my mind as I kept him apprised of upcoming highway issues and observed my own personal battle with traffic anxiety as if I were an outside observer.
What difference, indeed, had reading the Bible daily for a year made in my life?
Not enough. Clearly.
Was I different because I’d read the Bible?
Truly, my husband’s observation — in jest or not — saddened me. (I do believe that “out of the heart the mouth speaks,” so even Steve’s attempt to be funny likely held some truth.) And his sarcastic comment was on point.
I was anxious as we drove – though I knew that I should “be anxious for nothing” and, instead, simply pray, because God can and will provide peace even when it makes absolutely no sense to me (Philippians 4:6-7).
I was worried about my safety though I know that my life is in God’s hands and that if He chose to take me home (via Mr. Illinois or some other dangerous, incompetent, selfish driver), that would be good. If I survived such a crash with terrible injuries and loss, God would sustain me then, too. (My preference, of course, is to experience neither of those situations.)
I want to be a light for God such that when others see me doing anything good they will glorify Him. Yet my husband, who admittedly sees me in my most vulnerable, frustrating, and challenging situations (and not just because I live with him 🙂 ), has cause to tell me I am not all I hope to be.
It is a good thing to have someone in your life who tells it like it is. (“As iron sharpens iron,” my husband sharpens me. Sometimes painful but so necessary. I’m sure I sharpen him too.) As a writer, I’d love to have an editor critiquing me and offering guidance so I can improve. As a person, I’m privileged to have such a life editor in my husband.
(I just have to remind myself of that at times!)
The highway incident drove my thoughts for many days afterward. As I looked at my life objectively (or more objectively than usual), I saw a number of flaws.
I wasn’t willing to share the highway – or a swim lane at the health club with someone trying to fulfill a New Year’s resolution, for that matter – though the Bible is clear that we should be generous, giving to all who ask of us, treating others as our neighbor, loving them (because that is how people will know that we are disciples of Christ).
At the health club, instead of joyfully welcoming newbies to my favorite parking spaces, lockers, or gym equipment, I suggested that my friends and I leave chocolates around the gym so that the newbies would eat them, feel they’d broken their resolutions, and quit coming.
(I was kidding. Mostly. And not just because I wouldn’t want to share my chocolate. But mostly.)
The day after our harrowing drive, I visited a lovely former neighbor, who during the course of my visit asked for the update on the old neighborhood. Joyfully, I went into my spiel, providing evidence that the neighbors across the street are “wackos” and the ones next door are “crazy” and “either afraid of the sun or people,” as I see them turn around and return home quickly if they see me when they’re out walking the dogs or their new baby.
(And I’ve only talked unkindly behind their backs, so I can’t imagine why they avoid me. Unless they read the post I wrote after they moved into the neighborhood.)
After the delightful visit, I reflected on my chatty, entertaining verbiage and wondered how my dialogue glorified God or marked me in any way as one of His followers. Suddenly, the visit felt less delightful.
Had reading the entire Bible over the course of the year made any difference at all?
Reading it had made some difference
If nothing else, reading through the Bible in 2019 made me deeply ponder God’s word for 20 minutes a day. (Imagine the difference 20 minutes of taking my eyes off myself and my issues and simply focusing on Him could make!) I also realized how much of the Bible I had never bothered to read.
My takeaways from the Old Testament varied from “so that’s where that saying/verse/reference originated” to “wow! that points to Jesus!” to “I had never heard of that” to a bored scanning through the multiple lists of genealogies, numbers, warriors, workers, building dimensions and materials, and distribution of land and roles.
As a lover of literature, I adore the themes and the “coincidences” in Scripture. The image of the lamb and sacrifice in Genesis through Revelation, for example. The “types” of Christ — stories throughout the Bible that point to the Gospel story, such as Abraham offering his only son Isaac on the altar pointing to God offering his only son Jesus for us.
Despite a wide and varied authorship over hundreds of years, the Bible is amazingly consistent in its overall message. Reading the Bible in its entirety helped me trace common themes and see the intricacies of God’s plan for us, including prophecies from the Old Testament mentioned in the new.
I was fascinated by Christ’s choice of ancestors (because He actually had a choice, right? He is God, after all.) Consider these unlikely women in Christ’s lineage: Tamar, who played the harlot; Rahab, who was a harlot; Ruth, a widowed Moabite who insisted on staying with her also-widowed mother-in-law and worshiping her God; and Bathsheba, the famed adulteress who had a fling with King David, who essentially murdered her husband and made her his wife to cover-up her illegitimate pregnancy.
The stories of the Israelites — mostly their failings, the penalties they paid that made them seek forgiveness, their promises to do better, followed by their failings — made me feel a bit superior because I’m certainly not like them. (Cough.) And made me aim to stay close to God and obey Him.
Some books in the Old Testament were harder to absorb because I didn’t know the history – and that has sparked a desire to know the history so I could better understand the content.
When I was an English teacher, I realized that students had a harder time enjoying the classics because they had neither the vocabulary nor the context to understand those great works. (I wrote about it in a compelling post about “The More We Pretend to Read.“) Because I’ve never been a great student of history, I will have to work harder to comprehend some of these Old Testament Scriptures.
I found myself wanting a timeline of history to plant each significant person and event overlapped with corresponding books of the Bible. (Found one!)
Even reading through the names and the numbers – though dull and cumbersome and easy to discount as less important than other content – made me realize that God knows us by name and thinks we all count.
Ultimately, however, even my imperfect reading or understanding of the Bible kept me in the Word, and I found that Scripture or stories and God remained in my thoughts even when I wasn’t actively reading.
Sometimes when I had questions from the reading, I’d hear a sermon or conversation that just so happened to cover that very passage and address my questions. When that happened, I realized how much God wanted me to understand his love letter to me.
My first husband and I dated before the internet existed and before long-distance phone calls were free. He lived in Wisconsin. I lived in Florida. Love letters were our main means of communication, and I eagerly anticipated and read every letter when it arrived. I still have every one, and maybe one day I’ll include them in a book.
I want to cherish God’s love letters to me as intensely. Ultimately, what I realized most as I reflected on reading God’s word this past year is that I want to read God’s word. I want to run to my “mailbox,” the Bible (or in this case, my Bible App), and open His love letters.
What I can do differently as I read again
If you haven’t discovered The Bible App or the Gumbels’ Bible in One Year devotional, I would highly recommend it. Nicky divides the books of the Bible by topic and provides a daily devotion in which he ties some aspect of the days’ readings (from either Psalms or Proverbs and the New and Old Testaments.
(I wonder at his ability to find a common theme in each day’s passages. He’s also a talented speaker, and Pippa adds her little bits each day that help me realize she’s transparent and a lot like me, an imperfect person God loves anyway. I love listening to their British accents, but you can look at the content online or have a daily email sent to you if you don’t prefer the app.)
I often listen to the devotional and the Scriptures as I drive to work. I often go back and highlight some verses and write my own notes or comments as a response to my “aha!” moments as I’ve read or listened.
Of course, I sometimes get distracted by traffic or pedestrians or trying to figure out what the letters and numbers say on the license plates of other commuters (and other deep thoughts). So listening while doing something else isn’t always a great option.
In addition to being intentional and, I hope, less distracted, what I’d like to do differently this year is supplement at least the Old Testament readings with readings about the history of the books and the figures mentioned in them, and look at that timeline I’ve discovered.
As I wrote in my subhead, I do need to do this again — and I’ve already started — not to prove anything to my husband, mind you, but because I want to grow in my faith. If immersion is the best way to learn a language, then I want to immerse myself in God’s word to learn Him.