Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My New Bible Reading Plan

(My plan doesn't rely on the high tech stuff, but this is my setup.)

Have you ever struggled to find a Bible reading plan that works well for you?  That has been my struggle recently, and I wanted to share with you what I have developed, and have found to be a great enhancement to my morning devotions.

Why did I need a new plan?
(Feel free to scroll down to the details of the plan if you want to skip the “why.”)

I've used several plans over the years. Usually, I default to a plan that includes some Old Testament, some New Testament, some Psalms, and some Proverbs each day.  But for a while I also used and enjoyed Professor Horner's system (link to PDF), which gave an incredibly broad overview of the Scriptures, with large amounts of reading from all over the Bible every day.

Each system has its advantages. But I found I couldn't stick with Professor Horner's system for more than about a year and a half before the frenetic pace left me a bit frazzled. There are great advantages in swallowing large amounts of Scripture every day for a while, but it does keep one back from a more careful, in-depth look at the Word.

Lately, I had begun to find myself dissatisfied with every Bible reading plan I tried. All involved multiple chapters a day, and I really felt I needed something that allowed me to give greater concentration to small amounts of Scripture.  But I couldn’t bring myself to embark on a one-chapter-a-day, Genesis-to-Revelation type of study. Perhaps it’s shameful to have to admit it, but there are certain books I just didn’t want to get bogged down in for a month or more. After a great deal of time spent in Deuteronomy, for example, I’m nearly gasping for the refreshment of the epistles. And while some of the Bible’s most beautiful words of hope can be found in Isaiah, it also has many, many chapters of judgments against the enemies of God’s people. All of that is useful, but one can only read so much of it at a time before one begins to thirst for words of grace.

I began to toy with the idea of creating my own Bible reading plan, one that would give me small amounts of Scripture each day, while giving me a great deal of variety in my reading. At the same time, I didn’t want to be reading things out of context, since context is such an incredibly important part of Scripture interpretation and understanding. So I certainly wasn’t going to choose some sort of random, “shut-your-eyes-and-open-the-Bible-and-read-whatever-page-it-opens-to” approach.

The more I puzzled about it, the more I thought that Professor Horner’s plan might have some answers for me.  It did offer lots of variety, it was not calendar-based, and it divided the Bible into sections from which one would read each day.

What if, instead of Professor Horner’s ten-chapter-a-day approach, I adapted it into a one-chapter-a-day plan, and read from a different section of the Bible each day? That way, I could get the variety that I thirsted for, could get the in-depth study that I knew I needed, and could keep my daily selections within their natural contexts.

And so, from these musings, my new plan was born. And I’m finding it to be everything I hoped it would be.

The Details of the Plan

It is generally recognized that the Bible can be divided into five or six different categories. Of course there is some blurring of the lines between categories, but for a weekly reading plan, you can do very nicely with the following divisions:

·        Law – Genesis through Deuteronomy
·        History – Joshua through Esther
·        Poetry and Wisdom – Job through Song of Solomon
·        Prophets – Isaiah through Malachi
·        Gospels and Acts
·        Epistles and Revelation

That gives me one different type of Scripture to read each day of the week. So Mondays I read one chapter from the “Law” section, working my way through the chapters in order, so that everything remains in its correct context. On Tuesdays I read a chapter in the “History” section, also working through that section in its natural order. And so on throughout the week. This way, I get a very nice survey of the Bible every week (except Sunday), while at the same time going through at a slow enough pace that I can spend time studying and taking notes.

Since this plan is not calendar bound, in the sense that you don’t have to finish at a certain pace, I am also free to divide a long chapter in half if I find that I want to spend more time on it. There’s no guilt for having fallen behind what someone’s predetermined plan says I should be reading today.

I find that this plan really helps me to get through the sections of the Bible that I find harder to read than others, such as the thundering judgments of Isaiah, or the grieving of Jeremiah in much of his two books. Since I know that I will only be reading one chapter from these difficult sections each week, I approach them with a better attitude. And that makes me more open-minded, and enables me to gain more from these valuable passages. And believe me, these are vital and valuable passages. It is my own sinfulness that makes it hard for me to appreciate these sections. With this new approach, I’m learning to appreciate them more.

While not everyone will agree with me on this, I also skim over the genealogical stuff. I know and believe that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable. I believe that the profit in the genealogies comes from the fact that they show that God knows every individual, and, more importantly, they confirm the necessary genealogical line of the Messiah. (That’s why the Bible stops keeping track of genealogies after the birth of Christ.) So, when I encounter a chapter full of names, I thank the Lord for His intimate knowledge of all people, and for His wisdom in bringing the Messiah into the world. And then I skim over it and move on to the next chapter. (But be careful if you do this. Sometimes there are real gems stuck in the middle of the lists of names. So don’t just skip them. Skim them, looking for those little nuggets. It would be a shame to miss them.)

So how do I keep track of where I am? I decided to borrow Professor Horner’s strategy here, too. I created a bookmark for each section, and I clearly labeled it to show what section it belongs in. I just move it forward with me as I go along. You can see a sample below.

(I chose to make magnetic bookmarks that fold over top of the page so they won’t fall out. I labeled both sides of the bookmark for easy identification from any angle, and then placed a distinctive mark on the side of the bookmark that shows which side of the page I actually left off on.)

Since in-depth study was an important consideration in designing this plan, I also needed to set up a note taking system that would work well for me. Being the computer geek that I am, I chose to set up my system in Evernote. You can of course use a much more traditional system, such as pen and paper. But whatever system you use, you may find it helpful to use an organizational strategy similar to the one I am about to describe.

I created six individual notebooks, one for each day of the week and its corresponding section of Scripture. Each notebook then has its own page devoted to a book of the Bible within that section. So, within the “Law” notebook, I have a page for Genesis, a page for Exodus, etc. (If you’re using pen and paper, you will of course need much more than a single page for each of these books.)

I then take chapter and verse notes wherever and whenever thoughts strike me. But I make sure that I date the notes, so that the next time I come to this section of Scripture, I can review the notes that I made last time. This is a great way to refresh my memory on important points I might have forgotten, as well as giving me a glimpse of my progressive understanding and appreciation of the passage over time.  (If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may recognize the fact that the notes on chapter 4 verse 5 turned into a recent blog entry!)

Please let me know if you decide to try this Bible reading plan, and how it works for you!

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