Whatever New Year’s resolutions you make, please make one to read the Bible. And not in some selective way of only reading the ‘greatest hits’ passages, but of seriously going through the whole Bible. It will be an effort but let me give you three encouragements.
First, the Bible is a living book. Unlike any other book ever written there is life in this book. You could say that the Bible lives because it is always fresh, relevant and never outdated. True, yet it lives at a deeper level because it was inspired by God’s Spirit and that same Spirit speaks powerfully through it today. The Bible is more than simply words on pages; it is a powerful channel through which God meets with us. Through reading its pages we enter – if we are willing – into the presence of God himself: the written word reveals God’s eternal Word, Jesus. Precisely because it is a living book, we do not simply read the Bible but instead we find that it reads us; an interaction that may be uplifting or profoundly challenging. Note, too, that one of the many remarkable features of the Bible is that it transmits its virtues. The Bible does not just possess life in itself but gives life to those who read it, ruminate on it and remember it.
Second, the Bible is a giving book. We may hear it said of some book that ‘it repays reading’ but that phrase was never more truly spoken than of the Bible. Read it seriously and you will be repaid with interest: the more you put into Bible reading, the more you will get out of it. In its pages are hope for the dismayed, strength for the defeated and peace for the downhearted. There is courage for today, confidence for tomorrow and joy for eternity. Whether we have had difficulties with the kids or one of those life-changing moments where your doctor frowns and begins ‘I’m afraid I have to tell you …’ God’s word gives us what we need when we need it. In God’s word is strength and serenity. Here, too, the virtues of the Bible are contagious: those who are given faith, hope and love from its pages become those who, in turn, can give faith, hope and love to others.
Third, the Bible is a forgiving book. We have all done, said and thought what is wrong and have failed to do those things that are right. In ourselves we are separated from God and, whether we acknowledge it or not, our greatest need is to be forgiven and to be brought back into a right relationship with him. Only the Bible offers forgiveness as something both possible and accessible by revealing to us the Christ who took our place and bore our judgement. Here, again, the Bible transmits its virtue: those who have found within its pages good news of forgiveness for themselves are those who find themselves able to forgive others.
The Bible is a book that is living, giving and forgiving and I urge you to read it in 2019.
Now you may say that this is a big commitment and you are a busy person. Let me point out that we do not live in a neutral world; we are constantly bombarded by the media, the Internet, our family, and our friends, with an endless succession of messages telling us how we should live.
The choice we face is whether to let the Bible influence our life, or let everyone and everything else do it.
But how to read the Bible? The most obvious way, of starting at Genesis 1 and just keeping going, is not always the most helpful, but I have done that many times. To mix and match Old and New Testaments is not only more interesting and engaging, it allows us to see how, in many ways, the New Testament completes and fulfils the message of the Old Testament.
To be realistic we need a plan or programme to guide us in our reading. There are many Bible reading plans and a list of them can be found at https://www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans/. This year Killy and I will be following Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan which, over a year, takes you through the Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice. You can find more about it here http://www.edginet.org/mcheyne/index.html including a downloadable PDF version.
Let’s read the Bible humbly, confidently and prayerfully and, in particular, expectantly. May we find within its pages God’s living, giving and forgiving message and be refreshed, renewed and re-visioned for the year ahead.