One Word

The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.
~ Isaiah 9:8

Terrible advice preachers give

It’s a new year and a great time to commit to reading the Bible every day. With a plan, you could read the entire Bible this year. But the Bible is such a big book. You’re likely to get started and then get discouraged and quit. That won’t do. Everybody is pressed for time. In our parents’ day, the preachers would suggest you read one verse and meditate on that, but we don’t have time in our modern day for such old fashioned advice. We need something much more instant.

What you need is your one word for the year. Find a word and let that be your meditation starter. Some people’s word might be grace, faith, or prayer. Those words might be a little ambitious. My word for the year is “and.” That’s right, “and.” Think about it. The word and is spread throughout the entire Bible. Open to any page and you will find it quickly. It’s versatile but also meaningful. Think about it. The word and is used to join things together, so that means adding. Each day I can be moved thinking about all the things God has added to me and my life. What a powerful word and is!

That’s my word. You need to find your word for the year. It would be counterproductive to have to spend a lot of time on it, so find something short and easy. You don’t want to pick a word you’re not sure how to spell and have to look up in a dictionary to know what it means, like propitiation or something. Pick a good word and the whole Bible is open before you. For instance, this morning I opened randomly to Acts 8:8: “And there was great joy in that city.” There’s my word. I meditated for forty-five seconds on how God is going to add joy to my life. It was rich. You should’ve been there.

Just One Verse

Yes, I’ve been exaggerating, perhaps being facetious, to make a point. I only say this because some of my esteemed colleagues occasionally remind me that many people “don’t get it.” So, let’s seriously address the matter at hand and see if I may warm to my subject.

It is common this time of year for preachers to talk about daily Bible reading, daily devotions, daily quiet time, or some other terms for daily practices. I am glad to add my voice to those encouragements, but I also want to warn you against terrible advice. I regularly hear preachers recommending that you read just one verse every day and then meditate on that verse to see what the Holy Spirit may give you from it. They usually suggest reading just one verse is better than reading by some plan or schedule where you read a few chapters and tick a box. That is just plain bad advice.

First, let’s deal with the obvious. The Bible has no command about the daily reading of the Bible. We are not commanded to read the entire Bible in one year or two years. We are not commanded to read just one verse every day. We are not commanded to read the Bible according to any particular plan. We should be able to agree that any attempt to set some rule about Bible reading that Christians must keep is legalistic. If that’s the case then, why would reading one verse to get something out of it be bad advice?

Let us Reason Together

Now let’s get to reasons reading just one verse is such terrible advice.

1) It consoles and encourages laziness in the Christian life and pursuit of holiness in sanctification. Yeah, I said it. All of the Bible is God’s breathed out word of revelation to us (2 Timothy 3:16), and all of it is profitable for us to bring us to completion for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). We are born again through that word (1 Peter 1:23) and sanctified through that word (John 17:17). Every word is true and faithful (Proverbs 30:5) and every word converts and gives wisdom (Psalm 19:7-11).

The idea of reading just one verse minimalizes the Bible’s self-testimony. If all of it is good, then 0.003% of it is good. That is the percentage of one verse out of the total number of verses in the Bible. If you think you are going to read the entire Bible by reading just one verse a day, then know that it will take you over 85 years to read the whole Bible. I’ve heard every excuse there is. You have 15 minutes. Read your Bible.

2) This advice sets a bad example for the congregation. I fear that many preachers who recommend reading just one verse to get something out of it are actually recommending their own practice of sermon preparation. They read a verse or two and rattle them around in their head to see what comes out. It’s how they come up with sermons and then blame the Holy Spirit for it, as if that is ever conveyed in the Bible. Read the Pastoral Epistles. Nowhere does Paul suggest such a scheme. Every word he gives Timothy and Titus informs them and charges them about the hard work they have to do to preach and teach (1 Timothy 1:3-4, 18-19; 3:1; 4:6-16; 5:17-18; 6:11-16; 2 Timothy 1:6, 13-14; 2:1-7, 14-18, 23-26; 3:14-17; 4:1-5; Titus 1:9-14; 2:1, 7-8, 15; 3:8-11).

3) This advice teaches you to misread, misinterpret, and overall mishandle the word of God. The Bible was not written for you to read one verse to get something out of it. The Bible was written as one book that is made up of sixty-six books. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses. The Bible began to be written down over 1,400 years before Jesus was born and was completed around 70 years after he died. It was another twelve centuries before the Bible books were divided into chapters and another three centuries before those chapters were divided into verses. That means the verse divisions have only been around a little longer than the original King James translation, which is a little over 400 years old.

Chapters and verses do provide a good reference and convenience for study, but they have also done much harm. I have to agree with Charles Spurgeon about the trouble with such divisions:

I feel vexed with the fellow who chopped the Bible up into chapters; I forget his name just now, and I am sure it is not worth recollecting. I have heard that he did the most of his carving of the new Testament, between London and Paris, and rough work he made of it. Surely he was chaptering the Gospel of Matthew while he was crossing the Channel, for he has divided it in such queer places.

(From the sermon, “Harvest Men Wanted,” preached August 17, 1873, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.)

When Paul wrote the letter to the Church at Colosse, he never intended them to read one verse and see what they could come up with. He intended the entire letter to be read in that church and other churches as well (Colossians 4:16). The Bible was given in a progressive revelation over time (Hebrews 1:1). That progression means continuity and also movement toward completion, which has come with the first advent of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2). God has given us a complete revelation and he means for us to read it all, but more than this, one cannot interpret the Bible correctly without reading all of it.

For example: how are we to understand Daniel 9:2? There Daniel is praying for understanding of the seventy years prophecy in Jeremiah. Daniel did not read one verse and then meditate on it. He read, considered, studied, and understood the scrolls, which were the extant Old Testament Scriptures. He particularly understood the duration of the promised desolations as seventy years from Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah specifically mentions the seventy years in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and Jeremiah 29:10, but these “verses” are not all that’s being considered. He referred to the “desolations” of Jerusalem, which Jeremiah also spoke of in Jeremiah 7:34; 22:5; 25:9, 11, 18; 44:2, 6, 22; et al.

But that’s not all. Jeremiah did not originate the prophecy of desolation. When Jeremiah wrote of desolations of Israel, he was tapping into a judgment motif that runs through the Scriptures. Over 100 years before, Isaiah wrote of these desolations (Isaiah 49:19; 51:3; 52:9; 58:12; 61:4; 64:11). This motif occurs in other Prophets’ writings and in the Psalms. It actually originates in the covenant curses at Sinai in Leviticus 26:31-33 and is repeated in the covenant rehearsal with the second generation of Israel in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

You can’t just pick up and read Daniel 9:2 and get something out of it, at least not something accurate. Daniel is connected to the books before it and after it. Everyone of those “verses” have an original context that must be understood. It is simply not possible to correctly handle the word of God without handling all of it.

Another Word

Reading one verse to get something out of it is exactly the approach and practice of Bible reading that has us in the mess of biblical illiteracy we are in today. It ought to be obvious in books like Hebrews and Romans that they are filled with Old Testament references and you cannot read just one verse and properly understand the book’s message, but that’s true of the rest of the Bible as well.

It’s a new year and a great time to commit to reading the Bible daily. Don’t take bad advice. Read the whole Bible. You can do it. You won’t regret it.

The Wild Turkey Trot

And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth. 
~ Jeremiah 36:23

Reading is not safe … but it is good.

Campbells Creek is a near twenty-mile long tributary of the Kanawha River, running from above Putney to empty into the river near Port Amherst, east of Charleston, West Virginia. Campbells Creek is also the name of the hard road that runs along the creek through the holler for most of the water’s course. Holler is the proper colloquial pronunciation of the term, hollow, which is a narrow valley between the mountains having a head and a mouth. This is common geography throughout West Virginia.

The Creek has many different communities and adjoining hollers, such as Putney, Blount, Cinco, Fivemile, Tad, Point Lick, Coal Fork, and Springfork. It has a rich history with coal mining going back to the early part of the 1800s and was the site of one of the last known Jesse James style train robberies east of the Mississippi, which happened in the first half of the twentieth century. I’ve often told people it is the home of many notable characters.

I grew up at the head of Springfork Holler, was married at the mouth of Big Bottom Holler in Tad, and went to school from kindergarten to twelfth grade at Point Lick. Fair Haven Christian School at Point Lick was founded in the early 70s as a result of the textbook protest by the visionary leadership of Dave Kilburn. It was a small school with somewhere around one hundred students from K4 to 12th grade during my time there.

If you went to a Christian school, you are familiar with weekly chapel services at such places. We had them, and I have to say they were often interesting. One day we filed in as expected, boys to the right and girls to the left. The preacher was already there, sitting quietly in one of the deacon’s chairs in the pulpit. He was reading a magazine. It was something like Field and Stream, I think. We had no forewarning of the monodrama we would witness that day. He appeared to be reading articles and turning pages slowly.

He neither looked up when we came in, nor acknowledged our presence in any way. We sat down, confused, and glanced at one another. Suddenly, he howled, ripped a page out of the magazine, crumpled it up, and threw it on the floor muttering something about wild turkeys messing up his magazine. He went back to silent reading. Suddenly, he shrieked and jumped up. He ripped another page out, threw it on the floor, and stomped it. This time it was the Marlboro Man that marred his magazine and incited his rage. He sat down and went back to reading. He repeated his action a couple more times before finally throwing the whole magazine down and stomping it. He went on to preach his sermon, the point of which he had just illustrated in dramatic fashion.

Some would say his illustrative sermon was powerful because I still remember it 20+ years later. I reply that I don’t remember the substance of the sermon at all, only the antics. I think that was the sermon where he instructed us impressionable youths to go home that afternoon, take our television sets out into the yard, and shoot them up with a 12 gauge. He wasn’t specific whether he preferred pump action or polk stock. I guess that was up to our individual tastes and teenage discretion. Those were different times.

The Problem is Not With the Footwork

Many people read the way of that preacher’s exaggerated theatrics. They may not shriek and stomp on their reading material, but as soon as they encounter anything the least bit objectionable to them, they can’t think of anything else. It ruins the whole book and the entire experience for them. Granted there are some books we should not read, whether that is because they are a complete waste of time or reading them is equivalent to pumping raw sewage into our living room. Certain books are helpful, others are not helpful, and still others are harmful. Books can fit in those categories cleanly sometimes, while at other times they are more like the sweet spot of a Venn diagram.

When we commence to stompin’ on our books like we just discovered we’re standing on a fire ant hill, we think we’ve done something. A cold sweat formed on our forehead and we were out of breath. We feel as though we strenuously refuted whatever error it was that started our fit to begin with. In short, we think this is discernment. It isn’t discernment. A monkey could be taught to Wild Turkey Trot every time it saw the Marlboro Man. Lest anyone think this a sign of discerning wisdom in the primate, the monkey’s flinging of feces directly after should disabuse you of the thought.

The problem for us here is not with the footwork. We are not trying to work out whether it should be a jump stomp, standing stomp, or a stomp and a kick. We need to develop real discernment and to grow in our understanding. We know we need resistance and challenge if we are to grow in a skill or physical strength. If you can play the piano with any proficiency, you have had to practice. You did not play proficiently the first time you pounded the keys. Our minds are similar and need challenge to grow and sharpen.

Beam me up, Folly

I’ve written before about different areas of reading for preachers to consider. With this post, I’m adding another category: Reading what you don’t agree with. Some books are garbage and aren’t worth reading even if some hidden morsel floats with banana peels in the dumpster juice. Proverbs says that fools gobble up folly with no thought (Proverbs 15:14), so I’m not advocating that kind of reading. Reading wisely means reading thoughtfully and considering the end of what you read (Proverbs 4:26; 14:8; 22:3).

Humans are fallible and the books we write are fallible. God has created us with creative and imaginative capacities we don’t fully understand. Humans are capable of simultaneously holding thoughts of truth and error, real and impossible. Do you remember the old television show, Star Trek? I can remember seeing reruns when I was a kid. I was never a big fan. Do you remember how they used to teleport members of the crew from the ship to various planets? I think they had the phrase, “Beam me up.” Is teleporting a human being from a spaceship to a planet a reality? Does that exist as a possibility? No it does not, but we have no trouble imagining it. Human beings can have a good grasp of one subject while being ignorant or completely wrong about another at the same time. A book can be the same way: simultaneously edifying and wrong.

Growing in discernment means distinguishing between what is good and what is not. Solomon warned his son to give no consent to sinful enticement, but rather to give heed to the instruction of wisdom (Proverbs 1:10; 2:1-5). Reading books is one way of seeking a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14), and walking with wise companions (Proverbs 13:20).

Some men boast they do not read or listen to men. I suppose this sounds noble to some, but such a man is saying he listens only to himself. It reminds you of the old saying about the lawyer who has a fool for a client. Proverbs teaches us that fools will neither seek nor receive counsel from others (Proverbs 1:7; 10:8; 12:15; 15:5). Such a man is not living by bread alone, but rather by his own mental regurgitations (Proverbs 26:11).

Reading the Whole Bible

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. ~ Romans 15:4

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. ~ Romans 15:4

Have you ever read the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation?

If you haven’t approached the reading of all the Bible with an intentional plan and regular effort, then you probably haven’t read the whole Bible. I’ve seen some surveys in the last few years that report a little less than two-thirds of evangelical Christians have read the whole Bible at least once in their life.

For several years now I have been encouraging people to read the Bible through every year using some sort of plan for daily reading. At an average reading speed, it takes about 70 hours to read the whole bible. 70 hours works out to about 10-15 minutes per day in a year’s time. All that averages to around three or more chapters a day of reading to read the whole Bible in a year. The point here is that reading the whole Bible in a year’s time is very doable.

For the last several years I have also been surprised by the objections to the aforementioned reading. Honestly, it baffles me how anyone could be opposed to reading the Bible, but there it is. I want to deal with the most common objections I have heard, but first let’s ask: Should a Christian read the whole Bible? The Bible is typically printed in a little over one thousand pages. One thousand pages? How many one thousand page books have you ever read? I have heard that about 70% of adults in America read one book per year. If you’re only reading one book per year, I doubt it’s a thousand page tome.

Yes, Christians should read the whole Bible. No, there is not a command: Thou shalt read the whole Bible. Consider just a couple of verses about the Scripture.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
– 2 Timothy 3:16

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
– Proverbs 30:5

If all scripture is inspired and profitable, then we should get around to reading all scripture at some point. If every word of God is pure, then we should get around to reading every word of God at some point. If God bothered to give us one thousand pages of words that are for our instruction and good, then we should bother to read them all.

Three common objections to reading the Bible in a year

Out of a sense of fairness, which comports with my mountain-bred roots, no one I’ve talked with has actually objected to reading the Bible at all, only to reading the whole Bible in a year by a plan. I’ve heard various reasons expressed variously, but I’ve collected them here into the three most common.

  1. I don’t have enough time. I broke it down earlier that this can be done in about 10-15 minutes per day. With the mobile devices we have today, we can always have the Bible with us making it even easier to find this time. Besides, if you seriously don’t have 10-15 minutes in a day to read the Bible, your’re seriously overbooked and cardiac arrest is in your near future. I understand that everyone is busy. I have seven children. The oldest is starting college next week and the youngest isn’t yet two-years-old. I have my own business where I regularly work 50+ hours a week, which at times can be significantly higher. I pastor a church and regularly preach three messages a week. Despite all that, I am currently reading through the Bible in a year. I could go on, but the point is that we are all busy. I don’t think I’m special or any busier than anybody else. If you seriously do not have 10-15 minutes a day to read the Bible, then your priorities are out of order.
  2. I think it’s better to read just a verse or two and get something out of them than to read three chapters and get nothing out of it. I question how you could read three chapters of the Bible and get nothing out of it, but I do have two main answers to this objection. First, reading and studying are not the same things. I think this objections confuses the difference between the two. I’m not suggesting that you should read the Bible in a year and not study the Bible. I am suggesting you do both. They are not the same thing. I live by the idea that you should read broadly and study deeply.

    Second, does the reading of a verse or two to get something out of them result in reading the whole Bible? Using that approach, how many times have you read the whole Bible? You don’t have to answer out loud. Without an intentional plan and consistent effort over time, most of us will not read the whole Bible. I set out many times to read the whole Bible, but I never accomplished it without a reading plan and a daily commitment.

    Besides these, did Paul write a whole letter and send it to a church with the intention that they would read the letter or just a sentence or two every now and then? Obviously, the letter was intended to be read start to finish. There is no other way to grasp the context and, therefore, the meaning of the letter.

  3. I don’t think it would be right to read the Bible out of a sense of obligation rather than desire. The objection is that reading the Bible by a plan results in you reading out of obligation to check off the day’s duty rather than reading because you want to. I’ve never experienced that myself. I’ve never experienced reading the Bible grudgingly out of obligation. I’ve found the more I read the Bible by plan daily, the more I want to do it.

    Let’s assume you have a spouse and afore posited spouse has a birthday, which you must admit is extremely plausible. Let’s also assume that your recall of said annual events is not impeccable, which you must also admit is plausible. So, in order not to be the heel of the century, you mark your beloved’s birthday on a calendar so that you’re amply prepared on the appropriate day to shower your beloved with attention and jovial celebration. A wise thing to do and a free marital tip. Is it better to mark the date in advance and plan to remember the birthday, or to only celebrate that day when you happen to remember it at the right time? Did the fact that you planned beforehand to remember mean that you acted sheerly out of obligation in whatever affections you directed to your spouse on the day of?

    One way to look at planned reading is obligation and another way to look at it is discipline. I have my suspicions that this is the real heart of most objections. We are not very disciplined and chafe at the thought of discipline. The Bible does teach that we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:6-8; 1 Corinthians 9:23-27). In every good thing we endeavor to do, we must wrestle against the flesh that opposes us (Romans 7:14-25; James 4:13-17). Finally, as long as we are in this flesh, we are not sanctified enough to only and always want to do good. If you’re waiting to read the Bible until you feel like it, you won’t read it much.

Benefits to reading the Bible in a year

If you read the whole Bible regularly, you will be benefited. You will grow in grace and knowledge. You will be better prepared to hear sermons well and get more out of them. You will be better able to fight and overcome sin by taking heed to the Word and hiding it in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Your mind will be renewed through the Word (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 1:17-18; Colossians 3:10, 15-16). You will be better prepared to speak a word in season to edify, encourage, and comfort the afflicted. If you think about, what could possibly be beneficial about not knowing more of the Bible?

Maybe there is another reason why we’re not reading the Bible every year

The thought of obligation, duty, and discipline is so odious to us. While I understand the substance of that objection, I ask: What is the alternative? Seriously, what is the alternative to a disciplined approach to reading the Bible. The alternative to discipline is a picture that looks alarmingly similar to the picture of the sluggard in Proverbs.

  • The sluggard is indecisive and will not get started to work though he may talk about it (Proverbs 6:9; 26:14).
  • The sluggard makes excuses or rationalizes his inactivity and lack of accomplishment (Proverbs 20:4; 22:13; 26:16).
  • The sluggard puts responsibility off until later (Proverbs 6:10).
  • The sluggard does not plan ahead and suffers for it (Proverbs 6:8).
  • The sluggard has no self-discipline but must have an overseer to make him do something (Proverbs 6:7).
  • The sluggard does not have a hard-work ethic (Proverbs 6:8).
  • The sluggard does not have the follow-through to finish what he does start (Proverbs 12:27; 19:24; 26:15).

More could be said, but I will leave you with a serious question. Do you really have a good reason not to read the whole Bible, or is it just an excuse for laziness? Let each of us examine our own heart before the Lord.