What comes to your mind when you think of spiritual disciplines?
Some see a plate of guilt with a big old side of duty-topped boredom. Others relish the thought of new resolutions and checklists. Regardless of your personal tendency, the beginning of a new year is an ideal time to evaluate our progress in mission-critical practices like Bible reading, prayer, and evangelism. The Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 always provokes me in this regard:
“Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it hold promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Here’s a simple lesson I’ve learned when it comes to the spiritual discipline of Bible reading. If you don’t have a plan, it won’t happen. The flip-it-open-and-look-for-something-inspiring approach might feel free-spirited, but it rarely lays the same sort of strong, spiritual foundation that comes from a regimen of consistent meditation on the breadth of God’s word.
For the last couple years, I’ve followed a half-pace version of Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan recommended by D.A. Carson. M’Cheyne was a 19th century Scottish pastor who encouraged people to read from four different places in the Bible every day. If you keep it up, in 1 year you read through the New Testament and Psalms twice as well as the rest of the Bible once.
The first time I tried to follow M’Cheyne’s plan, I found it difficult to consistently get through four chapters a day. Churning through the scheduled readings just so I could check the box did little good for my soul. Before too long, I fell behind schedule, and after awhile, I got tired of checking February’s boxes in the middle of summer. I needed a slower, more manageable approach that would help me pay attention to the big-picture of God’s word by reading whole chapters, but still leave me enough time for unhurried meditation on a couple verses before breakfast.
That’s when I came across an article by D.A. Carson where he expressed the same trouble with M’Cheyene’s approach. Carson is one of the those brilliant, Bible-scholar types, and when a guy like that says slower is better, I pay attention. He likes the M’Cheyne plan for the same reason I do – exposure to a greater variety of Scripture over the course of a given week than other plans that have you read straight through from Genesis to Revelation. But he recommended working through it over two years instead of one year. If you take that approach, it’s only 2 chapters a day and over the course of two years, you still get through the NT and Psalms twice and the rest of the Bible once.
You can download Carson’s plan here, or if you prefer a mobile app, check out the free one I’m using right now. If you’ve grown to like another approach for working systematically through the whole Bible, let me know by commenting below. I’m always looking for ideas to recommend!