For most of the time I have been a Christian, talking about personal Bible reading has made me uneasy.
I usually regarded people who talked about their deep quiet times (often early in the morning) as spiritual skites. That was simply jealousy, because most of my attempts at quiet times could be likened to the Wright brothers' experiments with flight. A lot of effort, airborne for a short time, then a crash.
Weirdly enough, it was a combination of the pandemic and technology that came to my rescue. We have a number of smart speakers throughout the house and, during the pandemic, we used them to listen to podcasts.
I came across a podcast from Crossway, publishers of the ESV Bible, called Through the Bible in a Year. At the same time, I got a phone app designed to help build habits by not “breaking the chain”. Tick off the task every day and eventually you won't need the app. It will become, well, a habit.
I thought, if I combine the app with the podcast, for the first time I might get a Bible reading plan that stuck. The big difference was that I was not reading it. The Bible was being read to me.
Two things worked against getting going. First, the Bible in a Year program takes about 20 minutes a day. Could I find that time every day? In lockdown, yes I could. Second, I always preferred the NIV 1984 version to the ESV. It always seemed less awkward and more readable. I was proved wrong yet again – the narrator on this podcast does a great job of making the ESV clear and more flowing in style.
Providentially, even more things were working for me. I had smart speakers everywhere, a smartphone always with me and shortcuts to summon my daily reading with just my voice. The level of difficulty to start was zero so I was left without any excuse. My wife Robyn and I could listen together and discuss afterward – another level of accountability.
Also, the app kept me honest if I missed a day. You don't want to get behind in a rolling reading program or you will end up having to do an hour of listening to catch up. So, as I write this, our daily Bible reading and prayer habit has stretched unbroken for 612 days. Soon, we will have heard the Old Testament twice and the New Testament and Psalms four times in a row.
You’re not alone!
Please forgive me for starting this with a confession of my incompetence and laziness but I figure there is someone out there like me who doesn't want to read a super-spiritual lecture on how you should be reading your Bible.
Awkwardness aside, I can now move on to the joyful experience that this has been for me and for Robyn. It has filled us with God's word like nothing else ever did. By listening to the Bible being read, we pick up things we missed or skipped over when our eyes were on the page. This happens at least once or twice a week and leads to good discussion. We often dive into a commentary to research the meaning of what we just heard.
Listening in large chunks (the podcast reads several chapters of the Old Testament, a psalm and some New Testament chapters every day) also helps you to see the patterns and the themes of God's word more clearly. I am remembering more and it is encouraging me much more. In addition, because we always pray after listening it has revolutionised our prayer life as well.
I felt motivated to write this around the time many people will be making resolutions for 2023, because this is the only resolution I have ever made that has really stuck beyond January 31.
Can I share one of the main things I’ve learned? As I have listened, I have heard God's “steadfast love” mentioned over and over. When I searched, I found that it is declared 195 times in the whole of Scripture. It hit me that in response to God's constant, unswerving love for me, I should at least be consistent in listening to his word.
Who knew a man reading the Bible on a podcast would be the thing that helped me do it?
ESV Through the Bible in a year podcast or search in your podcast app
Habit apps Streaks for iPhone, iPad and Mac