"....... for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" Psalm 103:14

I'm not the same reader as before

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A few years ago, for the first time ever in my life - and first time ever in more than 30 years of my up and down, faltering Christian walk - I started a one-year bible plan. My relationship with the bible had, up until this time, been awkward, to put it mildly. I had never really learned how to read God's word, and had a long history of picking it up, uncertain of where to start, completely ignorant of the big picture, unaware of the overall biblical narrative, and then, feeling lost and overwhelmed, I would put it down again. And there it would stay. For a long time.

Oh I had a few favourite verses that I'd come across, or been taught, or memorised over the years. But if you'd ever asked me about the context of each of these, I would have been completely unable to answer. I just held onto them because they were comforting, or encouraging, or in some way realigning.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, this is how I'd stumbled along, for years.

Listening to "read"
It wasn't actually a reading plan, per se, that was the agent of change for me. Rather it was a listening plan. Something that was recommended to me as a manageable way to get into a new rhythm of imbibing and absorbing biblical truth every day. Every. Single. Day. A pretty big deal for me.

Over the next 3 or 4 years, I listened to daily bible readings most days. There were occasions when I missed, for whatever reason, and would have to catch up the next day. But they were rare. Sometimes, on the morning commute, I would find that I'd "missed" a few minutes as I concentrated more on traffic, and initially that would bother me, and I'd think I should go back and listen again. But I realised that sort of legalism would crush me, and I knew that the enemy wanted nothing more than for me to become discouraged, falter, and then fade away and give up.

So I learned to let it go. I figured the audio was going in at some subliminal level anyway, and God would not let His word go out and return void. He was more than able to use it in whatever way was best at the time.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10 - 11, ESV)

Finding a new rhythm
I quickly came to love this new daily rhythm - a section from the Old Testament, a section from the New, a Psalm and a few verses from Proverbs. I didn't even mind that the first year I started in October, almost 10 months into the listening plan, because I simply didn't want to wait until January to get going with this new habit. It didn't matter, when the following year came I got to start at Genesis and Matthew anyway.

The listening plan was perfect for me at that time of my life. Each segment would be 20 or 25 minutes, and fitted perfectly into my morning commute. Sometimes the reader would add a short commentary on one section, and I really appreciated this additional exegesis that helped me to connect the dots. I would often come home and tell my husband about the day's readings. He was (not at all secretly) delighted that I was learning to love God's word, rather than being overwhelmed as I'd been for so many years in my past.

Moving forward again
Then, a year or so ago, I felt God prompting me to move on from my annual listening plan. It was time to actually read the bible from start to finish. I looked for and found a reading plan that seemed like it would be pretty manageable - through the bible in 8 months. Some days the sections were quite hefty, but I persisted.

I realised, with joy, that God was making me new. After years of being a woman whose bible sat on her bedside table, untouched for weeks - probably months at a time, if I'm honest - I was no longer that person. I loved God's word. It was changing me. I was seeing life through new eyes, through the lens of scripture.

Being changed and renewed
A couple of years after I started my listening plan, my husband and I introduced a new habit into our new marriage - we committed to reading one chapter of the bible each morning before we read anything else. No social media, no emails, no messages, not until we'd read God's word together. We deliberately chose a very bite-sized target (one chapter), aware of the busyness of life, the limited time available to us especially on work mornings, and the temptation to let this habit slide, so small portions seemed like a wise decision. It quickly became a joyful habit that we established together, in addition to our individual reading plans.

Recently we read the single chapter book of Jude. Not for the first time. We've slowly worked our way through various books over the past few years, one chapter at a time, and we've lost track of which ones we've read and how many times. But it's not the first time we'd read the little book of Jude.

The funny thing was, it was as if I was reading it for the first time. There were sections of the book that I'd never "noticed" before. They had never impacted me in the same way. But because of my ever-increasing familiarity with the rest of the biblical narrative - the exodus from Egypt, the immorality and ensuing judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah, the way of Cain, the error of Balaam, the rebellion of Korah - I found I was reading Jude with new understanding. For the first time, I "got" what these references meant.

I'm not the same
As I thought more about this, it dawned on me - "I'm not the same person I was the last time I read Jude."

And the next time I read it, I will be a different person again.

And I realised - that's why it makes no sense to say "I've read the bible", as if once is enough. The truth is I can never get enough of God's word, because each time I read it, I'm not the person I was the last time I read it. God will reveal new things to me each time. And because His word is living and active, it impacts me differently each time I read it, and it will accomplish that for which God purposed it.

How wonderful is that!! I'm not the same reader as before.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Reading with gratitude
So, whatever it was that prompted me all those years ago to start the bible at the beginning - and work through it until the end, and not to give up when the going got rough (and incomprehensible), and then to do it all over again, and again, and again - I'm grateful. And reading with a grateful, open, eager heart is surely the best way to read.

NOTE: If you find reading the bible difficult, as I did for so many years, you might find listening is easier. I encouraged my teenage stepdaughter to take up listening with the same bible app a couple of years ago, and she has also now made it a habit, which is awesome. So here's a link to the app that God used to change my life (and hers).

No comments

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post. Please feel free to leave a comment!