Chronological plan

What We Water Will Grow (part 2)

Because the grass is greener where we water it. So, water your soul in the well that never runs out-

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That is what dwelling in God’s Word has taught me. With these two posts my goal is to encourage you to seek God in Scripture, it’ll change your life!

In part 1 I shared how reading the whole Bible impacted my life. If you haven’t read it yet, or want a refresher, you can read it here. For part 2, I want to share a few of my favourite books and some tips to encourage you. At the end I will list some tools I found helpful to navigate the text.

Without a doubt, the most valuable aspect was to see the overarching theme of Scripture throughout all sixty-six books and the history they cover. While the books include hundreds of years spread across cultures and various territories, the story remains one and the same. It is God’s interaction with humanity. His creation, our fall, the necessary rescue, and the new life and hope He provides.

Indeed, God’s Word is piercing, it confronts, it holds us, comforts us. It can save and change a person’s heart. To read Scripture with a humble heart that desires to draw near to Him, is to have an encounter with the very God who commanded waters to quiet. It is an awe-striking experience from which you do not come back the same.  

My favourite book by far is Deuteronomy, which I shared in part 1 . Prior to reading the whole Bible, my favourite books were Psalms, Proverbs, and the Gospel of John. Although those are still among my favourites, my selection has widened to include some surprises.

In the Old Testament, for example, Ecclesiastes was a book I found dry and depressive in my 20’s though I could see value in its lessons. Reading it in my 40’s with different life experience and worldview, I found the same words freeing. Because everything is meaningless I can enjoy things without having to serve them. And then they are meaningful as gifts the Lord grants us for a time.

Proverbs has always been and will remain, a solid favourite. Its teachings often taken for promises are great observations for Christian living. They grab me by the heart today as they did twenty years back.

Hosea was among the minor prophets, the one I enjoyed most. How God uses the very names of Hosea’s children to illuminate His redemption story for His people, brought me to tears. Isaiah went from a book with a handful of chapters I had read and lovely quotes sung in Handel’s Messiah every Christmas, to a pivotal link between both testaments, and a gateway to a deeper understanding of Jesus’s pain, sacrifice, and Lordship. To see Jesus so clearly throughout the Old Testament narratives was a most compelling experience.

In the New Testament, to cover the gospels chronologically meant reading all four simultaneously. I loved the insight it provided into the writing voices of the different authors. John remains today, as twenty years back, my favourite book in the New Testament, and John 15 my favourite chapter.

Luke is now a favourite gospel too. I could appreciate his Greek heritage and medical training in his attention to detail. I often felt his words placed me quietly in the scene and showed me small moments of humanity in the face of the divine.  

It was exciting to read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew as I recognized the names listed because I had read all the Old Testament! He wrote as a Jew for a Jewish audience to share that Jesus was the Messiah, and the text is rich and beautiful.

Both letters to the Corinthians and 1 Peter felt personal. Hebrews is a gem to understand the gospel. If I had to pick a favourite epistle, it would be Galatians. Finally, the book of Revelation was a phenomenal read. Purely from a reading standpoint, the book captures the imagination, frightens, and convicts. Regarding faith, it seals a precious Truth for the believer – God is in control, and His justice will prevail.

When I finally got to the New Testament, I read relieved and hopeful! Jesus is God confirming His intentional love and care for humanity. He is the promise in Genesis 3:15 delivered to fulfill what all the prophets foretold. Jesus embodies the ideals that wisdom literature points to.  He comes to show in human form the holiness and power and justice and love of God displayed throughout the Old Testament.

He is King and present in creation, yet also intercepts human history and binds Himself to the laws of space and time He fashioned. He came to fulfill the sacrifice that up to then could only be fulfilled by ritual through the law. He filled the gap of our inadequacy, which the law pointed to all along – our incapacity to attain holiness on our own. I wish I were a better writer to convey what my words fail to express!

I loved the experience of reading the whole Bible in chronological order and hope to do it again. But it is the reading of God’s Word that I want to encourage you to do. You don’t need to read it in chronological order to yield meaningful fruit.

All you need is to open your schedule, your Bible, and your hand to receive what He will give you through it. Establish a conversation with God today. He speaks through His Word, we respond by praying.

If you struggle, pray for a teachable heart and show up. That’s all. It doesn’t have to be fancy, complicated, or look a certain way. Ask a friend to do it with you or build accountability by sharing what you are learning. Put one foot in front of the other in the direction of His Word. Don’t let the tyranny of perfection get in the way.

If any given day all you have time to read is a couple of paragraphs or a handful of verses, read that and make it count. Chew on it, ask God to meet you there. Look for what the story or passage informs of His character, and how that changes you. Dig deeper; I promise you no endeavour is worth more your time and effort.

There were times when I felt that a few paragraphs were plenty because the book I was reading was so dense. If you fall behind in the reading plan you chose, or the goal you set out for yourself, don’t let that detract you. Invest what time you have, not the amount you think you should have. God wants the real you and will meet you right where you are. Read the next paragraph from where you left off.  The goal is not to have a perfectly completed plan. The goal is to create a habit of abiding in His written Word.

Whether that means to set an alarm, reserve thirty minutes of your lunch hour, or listen to the audio while you run or do laundry; whatever works during your season, bring a teachable heart. His Word will not return empty. What matters is not what it looks like, but what it does to you.

To build engagement and continuity, pick a book and read it through. The gospel of John is a good option, so are Genesis, or any of the epistles. You can do a paragraph of a chapter each day. If you are a mom of littles, or a busy student, you probably don’t have a lot of margin. It’s ok if all you have is 15 minutes between naps or 20 before class. Obedience is in the attitude, not the quantity. And faithfulness is built little by little, consistently, amidst the imperfections of life.  

To quote Jen Wilkin, the Bible is not about you, but it is for you. Time spent getting to know God in His Word is time not only well spent, but it’s also a lifeline. I found my thoughts changing as I kept reading intentionally, meditating the words and storing them in my mind. They’ve help me to grab hold of Truth when my emotions want to take me elsewhere.

Scripture is living water because the Spirit of God divinely inspired it. You and I thirst for that water, all the time, whether we can articulate it or not. Because it’s living, it will interact with the deepest part of our being and break the soil that is dry to make it soft and fertile to bear fruit that brings new life.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. (Hosea 10:12 ESV)

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Tools that helped me:

·         A Study Bible was essential. Study Bibles contain a detailed introduction to each book, outlining its purpose, author, intended audience, historical context and date when it was written. I chose the ESV (English Standard Version) as the main translation because my intent to dig in and study, and for that, a word for word translation is best.

·         Reading different translations helped me grasp some texts that were harder and where my brain slowed down too much because the writing felt dense. Although I did all my reading in the ESV, I complimented with NIV (New International Version – a thought for thought translations) and CSB (Christian Standard Version) for some of the historical narrative books in the Old Testament. The NIV is very readable, and I found it particularly useful for devotional reading.

·         I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, as I have before, Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word. That book forever changed how I approach my reading of the Bible ever since I read it a few years ago through a small group study at my local church. I can’t recommend it enough! It reads quickly. If you haven’t, get a copy and read it, you won’t regret it.

·         There are good online resources that can make some basic tasks quicker. If I wanted to compare a short exert in other translations, I would use BibleGateway and click on the option to see several on one screen.

·         For commentaries and other tools, Bibletools and BlueletterBible are useful to dig deeper. These also exist in app form that you can download on your phone.

·         Youversion was great for times I left early in the morning and didn’t have time to read. I would listen to the audio while on the subway on my way to an early meeting. It helped me to cultivate my time in the Word, no matter what.  

·         Often, when I’d finish a book, I would watch the corresponding video from the Bible Project. It is short, beautifully done, creative, and a great way to review what I had studied.

 

What We Water Will Grow (part 1)

I learned this truth in a personal way as I wrapped up a difficult endeavor that proved worth every moment, mental effort, and sacrifice it required to be completed.  This is the first of a two-part post on my experience reading the whole Bible in chronological order.

As 2017 approached a few days away I was looking back and pondering on goals for the coming year. What needed to look different in 2017? I wanted my faith to take precedence over any other plan. It was clear that if anything else was to be planned and carried out, it would need to spring from a place of quiet mature faith. My mind was noisy, and my soul felt dry and spent. So, my first goal was to nurture my relationship with God.

In the 20+ years I’d been a believer, much of my knowledge of the Bible came from sermon notes and Bible studies. I had read a few of the books in their entirety and was acquainted with most through the instruction of pastors and respected writers. I was generally familiar with the overarching theme of the Word through these teachings but realized I did not have a personal grasp of the story. I had bits and pieces floating about in my heart, which I tried to grasp for comfort or counsel in moments of need. I wanted to have an anchor of understanding rather than ideas floating. It was time for me to go deeper in my relationship with God by way of His Word.

The same way we deliberately spend time with others when we want to get to know them better, I felt the need to be intentional in my reading and studying of Scripture. The goal was not to gain knowledge, but to get closer to God, to draw near to Him and let Him draw near to me. I wanted to take Scripture on face value and let it be the light unto my path it says it is.

I decided I would read the Bible in its entirety in chronological order. I wanted to look for the overarching theme of Scripture in the sequence of the events. This meant I would not be reading it in the order in which the books were printed. I looked online and found a plan that had the passages in chronological order.

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Being a slow reader by nature I chose not to have a set deadline. The point wasn’t the time it would take, but the learning it would yield. The goal was to read Scripture and soak my mind in its message, one book and story at a time. Last week I finally finished reading all 66 books, cover to cover. The experience took my breath away.

A surprising thing happened, although I should not be surprised at all. I’m not the person I was when I started almost two years ago. The endeavor called for stick-to-it-ness I didn’t have when I started back in January of 2017.  Often it looked like this: me showing up, tired, distracted, humble, broken, and prayerful. In that place God met me. And what wasn’t there at first would develop little by little, throughout the past year, nine months, and thirteen days.

I remember the first time I noticed this subtle change in my heart. My soul felt raw and my body tired during a particularly hard month. It was busier than foreseen and burdened by hard conversations with friends. One day I the midst of it all I found myself thinking out loud these words in front of my husband: “I just want to stay home by myself with my Bible and my journal!” After I said it, I realized amidst the whiny tone a real longing to just be with God in His Word. I was taken aback. My time with Him had become a place of comfort and safety. I sought it when tired and upset by others.

Interestingly, when I ran to Him for comfort, it was also the Lord who showed me through His Word, that I needed to embrace the hard in the season and the rough edges in others. Trusting He was as present there as He was in my private moments at home with my Bible and journal. This was an important lesson.

No, I am not the same person today. Reading the Bible with intention, expecting and praying to meet Him in those pages, changed me to the core. It deepened my dependence on God, my awe of His work, and gave me a taste and a lens for eternal perspective.

What we make room for, treat as important, and show up for open-handed and humbled, He will receive. Closing the last pages of Scripture’s last book, Revelation, my soul felt small and so whole. Deep sense of awe fills me even now typing these words. Without a doubt, God’s Word is the most worthwhile investment of my time, intellectual effort, and heart. Indeed, dwelling in His Word, wrestling with it, digging deep, praying through it, learning from it, abiding in the Truths uncovered; is a discipline worth cultivating.

Reading the Bible consistently has shown me that God works in the unseen quiet moments more often than the spectacular ones. This was understanding I did not have going in and now cherish looking back on the last year and half.

Reading the entire library that is the Bible took a lot of effort. At times the narrative was fast paced and fascinating as it took me through the sequence of events. Around the middle, at any given time, the text would take me through a psalm, a battle field, and a king’s court, all in one reading. But it also felt disruptive. There were parts that often meant jumping from one book to another, back and forth. I prayed through it all, asking for focus, discernment, and most of all a heart for His Word.

My favourite book, bar none, is Deuteronomy. It became my favourite when I completed the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). As I made my way through the rest of Scripture, it remained so. Its content, which most of us associate it with laws and regulations, reveal the heart of God and what is important to Him. I understood His tender care for His people in a way I hadn’t before. Those laws and rules were there to provide safety and Life for them. No wonder it is along with Psalms, the book most quoted by Jesus.

I do not have a natural bend for those things, like obedience and holiness, concepts that at best feel lofty and even cumbersome. But the more I read, the more I dug, the more the words changed my preference. I still don’t have a natural bend per se, but I have tasted how personal the beauty of God’s Word touches my soul, my life. I now have a taste for it that makes me long for it and go back to it.

I loved the practice and hope to take it up again in the future. For the next few weeks I am reading a devotional to reset and rest my brain. Afterwards I plan on choosing a book of the Bible to read. If you want to get to know God better, show up with your need, and a naked heart before Him. Open His Word and prayerfully dig in. Read and look for Him. I assure you the quest will be infinitely worth it.

In part 2 I share what were some of my favorite books of the Old Testament, my takeaway after reading the New Testament considering the Bible as a whole, and some resources that I found helpful to learn and to stay on track.

Till then, a lovely verse and some words I prayed over myself when I first read it last year-

He is your praise. He is your God...
— Deuteronomy 10:21a ESV
 

Dear soul, take note. He is my praise, my song, my gratitude, my salvation. Boast in the cross!

 

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