My regular reading of Scripture has morphed a lot over time. Early on in my life as a convert, I read out of a sense of duty. It was an obligation. There was occasionally the joy of discovery and the not-infrequent encounter with the Living God that made the practice worthwhile, but my heart wasn’t always in it. Mostly there were long seasons of little regular reading, punctuated with brief bursts of intense reading and study, usually during periods of crisis or transition in my life.
That was pretty much the norm until a few years ago, when I learned to take Jesus at his word and started living my life as if I actually believed the veracity of the things he proclaimed to be true. Since then, the obligatory aspect of all spiritual discipline has fallen away (see the letter to the Galatians), while not negating the power and helpfulness of those classical spiritual practices (see the letter penned by James). Entering into Scripture became one more element of my interaction with my Good Friend, a way to hear his voice clearly day in and day out, a way to center myself back on the foundational truths and correct the inevitable drift that occurs from being “in the world”.
I am an organized fellow, so I like to have a game plan for any task that occurs on a regular schedule. I like to be thoughtful and intentional with any activity that is a meaningful priority to me. For reading Scripture, this has meant having some sort of study plan or reading list to follow. And this has meant falling into the trap over and over again of rendering this important time of relationship and communing into little more than a checklist.
So, that has been my challenge for the last few years: How to keep the reading of Scripture fresh while also giving it enough structure to be intentional and keep it from getting repetitive? Here is a (partial) list of the things I have tried, just off the top of my head:
- Just winging it – Read whatever I feel like on no set schedule. Inevitable pitfall: With no scheduled time, I never or rarely ended up reading Scripture.
- Winging it on a schedule – Read whatever I feel like at a certain time each day. Inevitable pitfall: The reading each day becomes a checklist OR I get bogged down in Leviticus or Isaiah and ready infrequently.
- Don’t worry about it – Read when I feel like, don’t read when I don’t, and don’t worry about it so much. Inevitable pitfall: My time in Scripture fell to almost zero and, even if reading other “good” books, the inevitable “truth drift” began to occur.
- Reading whole books at a time in chronological order – A suggestion from Frank Viola which was wonderful! Inevitable pitfall: I don’t always have blocks of reading time sufficient to not lose the thread of the narrative. (When the kids are grown, this will be one practice I return to more often, as I enjoyed these seasons quite a lot.)
- Reading a little bit from different sections of Scripture each day – This is my current practice. The first reading list I used to help with this was from my friend, Chris Suitt. Potential pitfalls: Trying to stick to a rigorous schedule led to a “checklist” mentality. Since I am a homeschooling stay-at-home father to school-age boys, there are inevitably days that I missed and then I was “behind” and then further and further behind, to the point where I got frustrated and quit altogether for a while. So I went looking for something along the same lines but with a bit more flexibility built in and found Sam Williamson’s Scripture Meditation Plan. For me, for now, this is the right mix of keeping it fresh, giving it structure, and surrounding it all in grace. Potential pitfall: With such a forgiving schedule (no penalty for getting “behind”!), engaging with Scripture may not happen all that often.
So after a lot of looking and more than a little trial-and-error, I have found a routine and a rhythm that works for this stage of life. It is doable, it is an encouragement to me and not an obligation, it invites being engaged, and is forgiving when life happens and I can’t read every day.
And yet the enemy and life seem to conspire to keep me from this life-giving practice, from connecting with Jesus, the source of life, in this meaningful way. And I have found over my years-long quest that no matter the “system”, no matter how good my intentions are, no matter how firm my resolve — the time on my schedule for sitting still and reading Scripture and praying through it and meditating on it almost inevitably gets crowded out.
To counteract this tendency, I am part of a weekly Bible Impact Group (BIG). During this weekly time together, I am held consistently accountable by a fellow disciple or two in an environment that is both firm and gracious. I have found that this practice of intentional community is the only effective counter to my own tendency to drift away from the helpful practice of meditating on Scripture.
As an additional help to me in this practice, I have made the commitment to start posting somewhat regularly my notes from my times of Scripture meditation. These will be available under the “Scripture Meditation” category.
This pursuit has been quite a journey, and it ain’t over yet. Further up and further in!