By Joel Dipert
It is officially March; the point where a lot of Christians find out if they are really going to make good on their New Year's resolution to read the Bible through in a year or not.
Genesis- "Awesome! God, you're so amazing."
Exodus- "Cool. God loves His people so much."
Leviticus- "Wow. That's a lot of dead animals."
Numbers- "OK, so the leader of the people of Zebulun is Eliab... and he's the son of Helon... no, wait, he's the son of Zuar and they're next to Nashon, the son of Amminadab and they had 75,600 men... or was it 76,500?...."
Deuteronomy- "... Squirrel?"
Aaaaaand that's pretty much been my experience with Bible-in-a-year reading programs, historically. I've always started of enthusiastic, excited, and alert, and by month 3 I'm reading out of obligation, confused, and exhausted. In fact, much to my shame, I've never actually read my Bible from cover to cover. After several failed attempts, I just decided I'd never be able to do it. I thought it was cool for some people- not for me. I decided I'd continue to try and read as often as possible, but not the 'hard' books.
Not to say that cover-to-cover is the only way to read the Bible. There are many other intensive reading plans that I've tried, and I've experienced great communion with God in those seasons. But as 2015 was coming to a close, I started thinking about what 2016 would look like in my devotions. How could I grow in spiritual discipline in 2016? How could I glorify and worship God with my life in 2016? How could I know God more in 2016? The answer was simple- 2016 would be the year I read through the Bible. Cover-to-cover.
In 2013, I attended the 'Act Like Men' conference in LA with a bunch of men from Harvest. One message I remember so vividly was from Matt Chandler on knowing God. He gave an example of how he could go home to his wife from the conference, and be as sweet as he possible, acknowledging the attributes he loved so much about her: "I missed your blond, curly hair, and those beautiful, blue eyes." And that would have sounded really sweet, except for one thing; his wife is a brunette, and has green eyes. That kind of thing might get a brother slapped! But at the very least, it would make anyone's wife feel like her husband does not know her very well and thus unable to fully love her. In the same way, if we don't truly know God, how can we fully love and worship Him the way he ought to be? If we aren't reading the Bible, His complete revelation of Himself to us, how can we say we 'know Him'? I may whole-heartedly worship God in a way that I see fit, but is it how God desires to be worshipped? Does it line up with the truth that is given to us in the scriptures? It cut deep.
Fast forward to the end of 2015... as I prayed about the coming year and reflected on what it means to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), I remembered Matt Chandler's message. I realized that I really can't worship God without the 'truth'. And I can't know the truth without hearing all that God has to say to me- by reading the entire Bible. So, I prayed that God would help me, through the power of the Spirit, to press on, and understand all that He has to say to me in His Word. I found a great reading plan, prioritized my calendar, and am happy to say I am currently on track still. And the books of the Torah that once tripped me up, have been a joy to read and meditate on. The reading plan I'm using is from The Bible Project, and it stresses the position of viewing the Bible as one complete narrative, from Genesis to Revelation. There are very well-produced videos to introduce each book and tie them into the whole narrative of scripture. They have helped to keep my focus on the fact that every book of the Bible is a part of the story of salvation and redemption that God accomplished through Jesus. There are still hard parts to read, even confusing at times, but I'm compelled to search for answers and continue reading to see how marvellous God's plan plays out.
Even now as I'm reading in Deuteronomy, and I read about the exhaustive process it was for Israel to atone for their sins and to be made clean through the sacrifice of animals, I can read it with hope and joy, knowing that Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice for my sins and I can stand before God because I'm covered by the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7). As I read of the commands to offer a an "ox or lamb without blemish" (Deuteronomy 17:1), I'm reminded that Paul tells us that we are to present our bodies as "living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1). And when I read about the "pleasing aroma" that god receives from the sacrifice (Leviticus 3:5), I'm reminded that the kind of sacrifice God will not despise is a "broken and contrite heart"(Psalm 51:17).
I went into this year seeking to worship God through reading my Bible and He is continually teaching me more about what worship is. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that I am able to hear what God wants to say to me and it is only by the blood of Jesus that I am made clean and can offer up to Him a "pleasing aroma".