Bible reading plan devotees will likely sympathize with Hannibal Smith’s most famous line from The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Absolutely. For the Type-A Bible readers, isn’t it super-satisfying to read that last “Amen” of the book of Revelation on December 31? It’s awesome when a year’s worth of discipline and effort reaches its goal.
But it is equally dissatisfying to fail at it. I know this by experience; as of December 21, I was in Ecclesiastes. With ten days to finish, it was obvious I wouldn’t make it.
Three Words of Encouragement
Missing the Bible-reading mark is a common experience among believers, and it’s usually a deflating, discouraging experience. We might feel guilty, or we might decide not to try a plan next year. Worse still, we might give up on regular Bible reading altogether. In response, I’d like to offer a brief word of encouragement to all my brothers and sisters who are in Ecclesiastes right now when they’re supposed to be in Revelation.
1. Remember, some Bible reading is better than no Bible reading. Every serious student of God’s Word has an instinct to be in the Word every day. For many of us, however, every day is an elusive goal. Don’ t be discouraged! Communing with God through His Word for 200 out of 365 days ought to profoundly enrich our lives, shouldn’t it? If you’ve not been perfect in your plan, don’t wallow in what you didn’t do. Thank God for the time you’ve been with Him! Be grateful you didn’t waste another year absent of the enlightening, enriching, empowering voice of God in your life.
2. Remember, the ultimate goal of reading Scripture isn’t to read Scripture. The goal of reading Scripture is worship. It’s entirely possible to complete a Bible-reading plan and to be a Christian failure. And it’s entirely possible to come up short in Bible-reading plans and be a Christian success. It’s not always best to measure our Christian fruitfulness by how many words we read per year. We’re aiming at the fruit of the Spirit, and, quite frankly, reading isn’t one of those. So, be encouraged! God has not demoted you in His heavenly kingdom due to your “incomplete” in yearly Bible reading. If you’ve read some of the Bible this year rightly, it’s very likely that the Spirit has worked in you through His Word, transforming you from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
3. Resolve, to get back on the horse in 2018. We don’t give up on eating just because we missed a few meals. It’s too critical to our health! Neither are we going to give up on Scripture reading; it’s too important for our spiritual survival. Now, earlier I mentioned that Bible-reading isn’t necessarily a fruit of the Spirit, and that’s certainly true. But self-control is (Galatians 5.23). So we must, by the Spirit’s power, govern our lives to include regular Bible intake. That requires thoughtfulness, purposefulness, and planning. There are a gillion tools and plans available for the believer with access to a bookstore or the internet. Pick one; stay the course; finish. Be diligent and determined to see it through. But if it doesn’t happen in 2018, don’t be discouraged. You’ve got the Holy Spirit, and He’ll finish what He started in order to present you perfect on the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
So, while you’re reading Ecclesiastes in December, instead of feeling so defeated or guilty that you want to leave Bible reading plans by the wayside, listen to God’s Word and see if His Spirit doesn’t prompt you with the old adage tolle lege (take up and read). Your plans may fail to come together, but the Lord has a bigger plan for you. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Ben Stubblefield is the senior pastor at FBC Jackson in Jackson, Alabama. He also serves multiple Christian colleges as an adjunct faculty member in New Testament and Theology.