When Bible Reading Doesn’t Go According to Plan

It’s the time of year when many Christians are preparing to start a new Bible reading plan. New Year’s resolutions come and go each year, giving us the opportunity to look back at what we committed to last year, and offering a fresh start for something new. Wanting to read the Bible more is a common Christian desire when looking ahead to the new year.

It’s not surprising Christians feel they should read the Bible more. We believe it is the Word of God. It reveals the story of redemption. It contains wisdom from God that, pressed deep into our hearts, helps us to live in ways that bring glory to him. We see Jesus in this book, and through these pages, we grow in our knowledge of the One who loved us and gave his life for us.

Unfortunately, many Christians approach next year’s big commitments for Bible reading with a little trepidation, and perhaps even some guilt. This may be the third or fourth year that they’ve said they want to do a Bible reading plan, an ambitious one that takes them through the Bible in a year, or even a plan with lighter expectations. And yet they’ve found they lapse inevitably after a few weeks or months. “This year will be different,” they say, and they get ready to start a new reading plan. They look at the different options out there (some of which I’ve described before), and settle on one that is going to help them through the year.

Why do so many Christians start with a strong commitment and yet lose their way when reading the Bible? One reason may be that we have too high of an expectation of what we will feel every day when we read. We know this is God’s Word and that he speaks to us through this Book, and yet so many times, when we’re reading the assigned portion of Scripture for the day, it all feels so, well, ordinary. We read a story, note a couple of interesting things, don’t see how it applies to our lives today, and then move on. By the time we near the end of the first books of the Bible, we’ve gone through extensive instructions on how to build the tabernacle, or how the sacrificial system is to be implemented, or a book of Numbers that is aptly titled. We read the daily portion of Scripture, put down our pencil or highlighter and wonder, “Why don’t I feel like my life is changing?”

I sympathize with Christians who feel this way. We’re right to approach the Bible with anticipation, to expect to hear from God in a powerful and personal way. But the way the Bible does its work on our hearts is often not through the lightning bolt, but through the gentle and quiet rhythms of daily submission, of opening up our lives before this open Book and asking God to change us. Change doesn’t always happen overnight. Growth doesn’t happen in an instant. Instead, it happens over time, as we eat and drink and exercise. The same is true of Scripture reading. Not every meal is at a steakhouse. Not every meal is memorable. Can you remember what you had for dinner, say, two weeks ago? Probably not. But that meal sustained you, didn’t it? In the same way, we come to feast on God’s Word, recognizing that it’s the daily rhythm of submitting ourselves to God and bringing our plans and hopes and fears to him that makes the difference.

There are times when God will speak to us like a thunderbolt from his Word, pressing something deep into our hearts. I read the psalms regularly as an act of prayer and worship, and in recent months, the last verse of Psalm 138 has been my confession of hope in times when I’ve questioned my purpose and have needed wisdom: The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Lord, your faithful love endures forever; do not abandon the work of your hands. I’ve read that psalm many times before, but in recent months, that verse has been like a life preserver thrown to me. I may have missed it if I hadn’t been in the Word daily.

Another thunderbolt for me recently has been the way Paul describes the Lord Jesus Christ in 1 Thessalonians 5. “He died for us, so that … we may live together with him.” He died for us, not only so that we would live for him, as servants relate to a Master, but so that we would live with him. He wanted us with. Jesus died so we would be with him. The glory of that thought—that my Savior loves me and wants me—has nourished me in recent weeks.

I could multiply these examples, but not as much as you might think. I can only think of a handful in the past few months of Bible reading. And that’s my point. It’s not every day that you find something extraordinary that stays with you. But every day, in the ordinary routine of reading your Bible, you’re still eating. You’re coming to the table, asking the Lord to sustain you and nourish you through his Word. You’re coming to the Gospels, looking to see the Savior again and again. This is an ordinary routine, yes, but ordinary routines can change your life.

This article originally appeared on LifeWayVoices.com.

Trevin Wax
Trevin Waxhttp://trevinwax.com

Trevin Wax is director for Bibles and Reference at LifeWay Christian Resources and a visiting professor at Wheaton College. He is the general editor of The Gospel Project, and serves as a teaching pastor in Middle Tennessee.