An Undated Bible Reading Plan

An Undated Bible Reading Plan
Paul Donison

Since we are now into the second week of 2016 statistically many people have already abandoned their new Bible reading plans (or they are already so backlogged on missed readings that they are considering giving up). So, it seems like the right time to suggest an alternative approach to Bible reading. An Undated Bible Reading Plan.

Now, if you have spent any time shopping for paper journals you already know that there is one major choice you need to make (beyond choosing your style of moleskin): dated or undated. I always choose undated, for the same reason that I have designed a Bible reading plan that is undated: because I will on occasion miss a day or two.

Before you give up on this blog post as a poorly veiled excuse for my lack of discipline in journalling and Bible reading, my wife and friends can report that I am comparatively quite strong in the discipline department (fear not, I fall down in many other ways that you likely excel in). But disciplined or not, we are all human -- which means we get sick, we get tired, we get distracted, and we cannot control what may come our way in the next 24 hours. Those with young children or those in pastoral ministry know exactly what I’m talking about. We miss days in our Bible reading plans.

But here is my main concern with dated Bible reading plans — what do I do when I miss a day or two or more? There are two typical answers offered: carry it forward or leave it behind.

For those who say “carry it forward” they are telling us to find a bit of extra time to catch up. Extra time?!? Unfortunately, this was my approach for many years. Yet I found that the backlog, like some people’s email inboxes, can quickly get out of control. I remember once going on a desperately needed 24 retreat at the same time as I was severely backlogged in my reading plan. I started into my backlogged readings immediately and by lunch I was caught up. But this frantic catchup exercise left me exhausted, and I ended up sleeping off a migraine for the rest of the retreat. As I drove home, rather annoyed at myself and certainly not refreshed, I felt the Lord saying to me, “Paul, today was supposed to be about you and me talking together leisurely, and instead you chose to catch up on your self-imposed reading plan.” Epic fail.

For those who say “leave it” in the face of missed days, they are telling us to just skip that day and those chapters and move ahead to the next entry. I admit that this is a much more sensible approach to missed days. However, if the goal of a reading plan is to read the whole Bible (all of which is "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" -2 Timothy 3:16), then this strategy undercuts the original intent. So, if I really want to make sure I read each and every chapter, do I have to return to backlogging? Thankfully, no.

Instead, I commend this undated plan daily plan (and yes, friends, this is truly intended to be a daily plan — just a daily plan that recognizes that life happens).

Here’s what you need:
-a Bible (I’m a big fan of finding a good translation and sticking with it for a long time as this assists in Bible memory);
-three bookmarks (I use little love notes and pictures my daughters have written me — so if you steal my Bible I am coming after you);
-a place where you like reading (this plan is as mobile as your Bible, but I am a fan of building habits/rituals by reading at the same place and ideally at the same time).

Here’s what you do each day (once per day):
-on the first day, start by putting in your bookmarks at Psalm 1, Genesis 1, and Matthew 1;
-read ONE Psalm to focus your reading (nothing compares to the Psalter in centering our hearts and minds on the Lord);
-pause here and pray briefly (or longer if the Spirit moves you) in response to this psalm;
-read the next THREE chapters in the Old Testament (Day One will be Genesis 1-3, the Creation to the Fall);
-read the next TWO chapters in the New Testament (Day One will be Matthew 1-2, Genealogy to the return to Nazareth);
-now move into prayer in response to what you have read (and don’t forget to put your bookmarks back in).

A few FAQs:
Q. Why this particular number of readings each day?
A. Though this is undated the goal is still to read daily and to accomplish at least one full reading of the whole Bible each year. As there are 150 Psalms, 779 Old Testament chapters, and 260 New Testament chapters. With 1 Psalm, 3 chapters of Old Testament, and 2 chapters of New Testament per day, in one year you will read though the Psalter 2.5 times (2.4 for those of you checking my math), the Old Testament 1.5 times (1.4 to be exact) and the New Testament almost three full times (precisely 2.8). Again, the point is that with the inevitability of missed readings (unless you miss the equivalent of 3 months) you will more than achieve your Bible-in-a-Year goal.

Q. How long will this take?
A. Each person reads at a different speed and each book reads at a different speed (Leviticus!), but in general the full set of readings will take approximately 30 minutes. And by the way, my suggestion is when you come to Psalm 119 that you read it as a whole — it was written as a whole and it is amazing to behold it as a whole.

Q. How does this fit with the Anglican Daily Office?
A. Anglicans read The Daily Office (Morning & Evening Prayer), as the title indicates, daily. And though the Anglican Prayer Book provides a lectionary, another lectionary (like this one) can certainly be used when praying The Offices privately. I know that some will be prepping a pyre for me for saying so, but I believe this position is reasonable for several reasons:
1) The intention of the Daily Office is to get the reader through the whole Bible in a year. But, the provided lectionaries (and yes they are legion - BCP 1662, Canadian BCP 1962, American BCP 1979, etc, etc, etc.) do not completely achieve this goal. Some texts get skipped — sometimes for reasons of repetition, sometimes to avoid long genealogies, sometimes because a Saint Day will trump the flow of readings, but sometimes in recent years to avoid hard passages. Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s lectionary was my first crack at using a plan that would have me read everything, and I know Anglican Archbishops who use his for their daily devotions!
2) I recognize that this Undated Bible Reading Plan has no connection with the liturgical calendar. Therefore, for those who wish to do so, I suggest supplementing your reading on High Feast days (or skipping this Undated Bible Reading Plan for that one day) with the seasonal lections the Prayer Book suggests.
3) I am only suggesting this for private use with the Daily Office, and when leading it with others I will use the provided Prayer Book lectionary.
4) For those who care (I know not everyone reading will, and if that is you, I suggest you skip to the next question if you are confused by the “Anglican-Speak” that follows) I use this Undated Bible Reading Plan with The Daily Offices as follows: at Morning Prayer the Psalm goes in its usual place after the Venite, followed by the three OT chapters, followed by the Te Deum, followed by the two NT chapters, followed by the Benedictus. At Evening Prayer, I will either skip the psalm (or just read the next in order), and then read one of the short lessons printed in the Compline liturgy, then the Magnificat, then the Comfortable Words from the Communion Liturgy, and then the Nunc Dimittis. Phew! Now that I’ve made my apologia that this Undated Bible Reading Plan doesn’t undo my Anglicanism, one final question.

Q. What if I like this idea, but this is simply too much to read in one sitting for me right now?
A. Daily Bible Reading is like exercise, the more you do it, the more you grow in your daily reading capacity. But also like exercise, if you go too hard too soon, you’ll hurt yourself and give up (thus the yearly millions that gyms make from unused memberships). If this is too much to start, try this: one Psalm, two OT chapters, and one NT chapter. You’ll still get the OT done in one year (at least almost) and you’ll get through the Psalter 2.4 times and the NT 1.4 times.

Let me close by encouraging us all with a fabulous Anglican prayer:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

(c) Paul Donison 2016

Comments for this post have been disabled