28 February 2013

Eat This Book!

I was six when my mom started teaching me the importance of reading the Bible for myself every day. At first she gave me specific passages to read along with content and application questions to answer. Then she taught me to read through whole books and keep a notebook handy to write down what I learned. By age eight, I was using a Bible reading plan to read through the whole Bible, although I skipped over large sections of the prophets!

In high school I read the Bible through several more times, but somewhere along the line my reason for reading the Bible became simply to give myself a daily check mark on a mental list called "Things I Do to Please God" that made me a better Christian than others around me.

Bible college radically changed my thinking. I realized that Christ had already accomplished on the cross all that was required to please God. Nothing I could do would change my standing before God, and nothing I left undone would change his love for me.

Since I no longer read my Bible out of duty, I felt less motivated to do it regularly. I graduated from college, moved out on my own, started dating, got married, worked full time, had a baby. All of these things made my life busy, and reading God's Word fell by the wayside. I knew I didn't need to feel guilty for not reading, but my spiritual life felt lacking.

At the beginning of 2013, our pastor, Charlie Boyd, issued a challenge for all of us in the congregation to read through our Bibles this year. Citing research that shows only about a third of Evangelical Christians read the Bible every day, he urged us to make the opening of God's Word a daily thing. This isn't about checking something off a list of steps that will make us more spiritual, it's about having a relationship with our God. He's given us his Word as the primary way to know him! The more we know him, the more we trust him; and the more we trust him, the more able we are to go through the ups and downs of life.

Charlie recommended a plan called Eat this Book for all the congregation to go through together. It's basically reading through the Books of the Bible in order, but also reading a Psalm a day.

My husband and I took the challenge, and after a little over a month, I can say that there are three things I have really appreciated about this Bible reading plan.

First, it's a "no guilt" plan. Recently, we had family come to town, and we were busy with them from morning till late at night. So we missed several days. Every other time I've done a Bible reading plan and missed days, I've tried to play catch-up. This involved speed-reading through several days' worth of sections. I wasn't learning about God or developing my relationship with him, I was trying to complete an assignment. Usually, I would get so far behind that catching up seemed a hopeless prospect. So I would quit.

This time it's different. Charlie encouraged us that, rather than trying to catch up when we missed a day, we should just pick up where we left off. This idea has changed my attitude toward reading the Bible. Now when I miss a day, I don't dread the huge amount of reading I'll have to do to get back into it. Instead, reading the next day produces joy and feeling of "Ah! I've been missing this!"

Second, I've enjoyed the community aspect of reading together with my husband and my church family. My husband and I do our devotions separately, but because we are both reading the same thing we can talk about what we are learning about God and how the truths of God's Word apply to our lives. I've also been a part of some amazing discussions in community group, in women's Bible study, and on Facebook with fellow members of my church family that are reading the same passages. It's so exciting to hear how God is speaking to different people through his Word.

Finally, I've appreciated our pastor's admonition that in some parts of the Bible it is okay to "read for distance." We're entering Leviticus, where it's easy to get bogged down by all the different sacrifices and the laws for ceremonial cleanliness. In the past, I've felt guilty for not digesting and trying to apply every word of a genealogy, for example. But Charlie encouraged us to keep in mind the main point of these passages (that God keeps his promises to each generation) and not feel like we must study every word. It's also been a great help to end each reading with a Psalm. That way, if the chapters were a little hard to digest, I can usually find truths to ponder in the Psalms!

I'm so grateful for how God has used this Bible reading challenge in my life, and I look forward to how he's going to work in the months to come.

If you would like more information about this Bible reading plan, check out our church's website, southsidefellowship.org There you can find Charlie's messages about the importance of Bible reading, the plan itself, helpful videos that explain the big picture of each section of the Bible, and even activities for kids that correlate to the readings for each week.

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