Not too long ago I took one of my grandsons out for a bagel and asked him a question. “What’s the most important thing in the world?” I told him it had to be a person or an object.
After a long pause, he responded, “The Bible?” “That’s right,” I said.
I went on to say that apart from God’s Word, we would have no way of knowing God’s thoughts, commands, warnings, or promises. We’d be limited to general revelation, which gloriously declares aspects of God’s character and deeds, but is silent when it comes to our separation from God and his plan to reconcile us to himself through Christ.
The Bible is an unspeakably precious gift that men and women have given their lives to protect, proclaim, and publish. So it makes all the sense in the world to spend as much time getting to know God through his Word as we can.
A Plan for Reading
As 2020 comes to a close, a lot of us are thinking about a Bible reading plan for 2021. I’ve spent numerous years since 2001 reading through the Bible. It’s always a rich, rewarding practice, whether I’m reading through a study Bible, using the McCheyne Bible reading plan, or benefiting from the Prof. Grant Horner plan.
I discovered early on that I do better reading the Bible in a year when I seek to finish early, rather than always trying to catch up. So I aimed to read 25 pages each time I sat down. I didn’t always achieve that, but I succeeded often enough to enable me to finish by the end of September.
As I read, I wrote comments in the columns and then transferred those thoughts to a single note in Evernote. At the end I had a record of everything I learned last year. Later I reviewed all the Scriptures I had written notes next to and again saw things I hadn’t noticed before.
I’ve become a huge fan of the ESV Reader’s Bible. Here are three reasons why.
Entering the Story
Chapter and verse numbers weren’t common until the mid-1500s. They’re great for memorization and knowing exactly where a verse is. But most of us have never read our Bibles without them. It’s a different experience.
History feels like history, poems like poetry, and letters like letters. I found, especially in the longer history and prophetic books, I was more deeply engaged with the plot.
I didn’t always know what was coming next, which made familiar chapters like Exodus 32, Isaiah 53, and Jeremiah 31 fresh. The flow of thought was never interrupted. I had no idea how long or short chapters were, which enabled me to more fully enter in to what I was reading.
Overall, I was able to enter God’s story with more consistency, depth, and delight.
Kindness in Commands
One of the biggest takeaways in reading the Reader’s Version was realizing how God’s requiring our obedience is an expression of his kindness.
In the garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve everything they needed to be completely content and satisfied. “It was very good.” And what made their existence so idyllic was the fact that everything and everyone submitted to God’s gracious rule.
Once Adam and Eve rejected God’s authority and declared themselves “lord,” they experienced life apart from the blessing of God’s presence and God’s kingship. When I got to Exodus I started noticing how often God declares, “I am the Lord.” Seventeen times. In Leviticus, “I am the Lord” occurs 49 times. Rather merely stating who’s in charge, God was reminding his people that when he doesn’t reign as Lord life leads to confusion, chaos, and destruction. There is no goodness outside his reign.
Further on, I saw how the prophets’ cries to repent, the victories of Israel’s enemies, and the repeated listing of Israel’s sins were God wooing his people back to the protection of his rule.
To those who refuse to bow the knee, “I am the Lord” is a terrifying promise that God will ultimately have his way. But to those who respond in glad obedience, “I am the Lord” is a gracious call back to the peace, joy, and safety of the garden, and a foretaste of the new heavens and earth.
In all the times I’ve read through the Bible previously, I never saw so clearly what the Psalmist saw: “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Ps. 119:72).
Hearing God’s Heart
When I get an email or letter, no one ever numbers their sentences. At least not yet. That would make the communication feel more formal.
Reading Scripture with numbered verses and chapters can have a similar effect. It can come across as something other than Spirit-breathed words of a personal and present God.
That certainly doesn’t have to be the case. But reading the ESV Reader’s Version through the year gave me new eyes and ears. I was surprised how much easier it was for me to receive what I was reading as coming from the heart of God, intended for my good and growth.
Since reading the Reader’s Version, I’ve also read through the ESV Reader’s Bible that has the chapter and verse numbers. Even though the numbers were in a lighter print, it was still a different experience.
Having it Both Ways
Reading through the ESV Reader’s Bible has caused me to read numbered Bibles with a fresh perspective. I find myself paying less attention to the numbers and breaks. Still, I’m grateful that when I want to access a phrase, sentence, or verse, I can identify its address.
Whatever way you choose to read your Bible, whatever plan you use, however many times you’ve started to read through the Bible and failed, there is always grace to start again. And the rewards are incalculable.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV)
You might be reading this post and thinking, “This six-volume set would be so great to have.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “I would love to give this to someone for Christmas this year.”
Well, after writing this post I contacted Justin Taylor at Crossway and asked if Crossway would be willing to donate a free set of the Six-volume ESV Reader’s Bible for someone to win. Not surprisingly he said yes.
Here’s how it will work. Leave a comment (only one per person please!) with a favorite Bible verse (written out, not just the reference). That’s all. If you want to say how God has spoken to you through that verse, that would be great. This coming Tuesday, I’ll pick one name at random and contact the winner by email. You have to live in the continental U.S. to win, but you can leave a Bible verse in the comments no matter where you reside!
If you don’t win, I’d encourage you to check out the multitude of Bibles you can buy for yourself or someone else for Christmas.
And always remember what Charles Spurgeon said:
“A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”