Even though I grew up in the Church, I didn’t read through the entire Bible until I was 26. My biggest hang-ups had been in the Old Testament and I would get bogged down in Leviticus, or the minor prophets. or 1 and 2 Kings. Finally my church was doing a biblical literacy campaign and I committed to reading the Bible cover-to-cover in a year. I would like to say that I stayed on track with the highly reasonable daily assignments, but I quickly fell behind. Occasionally I would catch up, and then I would hit a busy stretch and would be weeks behind. Then I tried something that would revolutionize my life: I started listening to the Bible read aloud.
For most of history, believers did not own personal printed copies of God’s Word. It was far too expensive to reproduce, so they would rely on hearing it read aloud in their synagogue or church. Moses did not hand out copies of the Law when he came down from Sinai, nor did Paul send his letters with pamphlet versions to give out to everyone in the church. God’s Word was given to an entire community of faith and they would come together to hear it proclaimed. The majority of our brothers and sisters throughout time only ever received the Bible in its spoken form, and it was written with this in mind. It was meant to be heard.
Two primary things happened when I started listening to the Bible on my phone app. First, I was able to cover more ground more quickly. I could listen to several chapters while I was doing chores or cooking. This was particularly helpful with parts of the Bible that can feel more clunky and “boring”, it kept me moving through them to take in the whole thing. I didn’t finish the Bible in a year, but I did finish it!
As I went along, I was able to make connections between passages and books. The Bible is not a collection of isolated short stories and essays, it is a cohesive narrative about God and His relationship to the world. I love how Bartholomew and Goheen describe it with the title of their book, “The True Story of the Whole World.” All of it points to God’s love for the world He created and to Christ’s redeeming work to bring all things into reconciliation (Col. 1:15-20).
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8) and all of scripture is written by the same God who agrees with Himself. The OT and NT are not in opposition to one another, there is no “God of the Old Testament” that is different from Jesus the Savior and Friend. Reading all of what God has written is the quickest way to resolve perceived contradictions or inconsistencies in the Bible. It is an incredibly intricate book that must be taken as a whole. Reading it through helped me understand this and gave me a desire to keep reading and keep learning more about how God reveals Himself through the Word.
The second thing that happened was the Bible became part of me. After I had been primarily listening to the Bible for four years, I realized that it was a voice in my head. Not a literal voice that sounded like the reader on my app, but the voice of a close loved one where you can anticipate what they’ll say about a given thing. I could look at the world and immediately think, “I bet I know what God would say about that.” I learned to hear the voice of God more distinctly by first learning what His voice sounded like through his written Word. As that happened I could much more readily apply scripture to my life and to the people around me. It wasn’t abstract ideas or memory verses, they were living and personal messages from the Creator. I think this is what David means when he says in Ps 119 that he meditates on God’s law all day long. I don’t think he’s sitting in his room all day every day just thinking about the Bible. He had spent so much time making God’s Word part of his mind and heart that it’s always with him and always guiding him.
Do whatever you have to do to read more of the Bible. I recommend trying a listening method, but that may or may not work as well for you. However it happens, knowing God’s Word more can only result in wisdom and flourishing for you and the world around you.
97 Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
101 I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
102 I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.