As the new year rolls in, we would be wise to plan for the coming year. We accomplish few things of lasting value without having planned for them in advance. This is true for our spiritual journey. Now, at the start of the year, is the time to plan for how we will encounter God in his Word for the next twelve months. Below are several excellent Bible-reading plans available to download from different ministries. Before getting to them, though, I want to discuss why a yearly Bible-reading plan is a wise idea.
Why Read through the Bible in a Year?
Reading through the whole of Scripture regularly is an absolute necessity of the Christian life. I can think of at least three reasons why we should undertake this endeavor every year.
- We are to receive strength for each day. Just as our bodies need food every day, so our souls need the nourishment of God’s Word. In the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And yet, doesn’t he say elsewhere, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)? The bread we should hunger for most is the Word of God, of which we must daily partake.
- We are to delight ourselves in his Word. A yearly Bible-reading plan is not a chore to be checked off our to-do lists, but an expression of our desire for intimacy with God. We long to hear his voice, as a wife longs for conversation with her husband. The psalmist expresses it thus: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119: 15-16). Is this the cry of your heart?
- We are to understand the whole counsel of God. It is imperative that we know the whole of God’s Word thoroughly. Too often we settle for a few scattered verses known well and applied willy-nilly to every circumstance. This has dangerous consequences. I know of no heresy—ancient or modern—that does not spring from a right understanding of part of God’s Word only. Most moral error stems from the same neglect. The writer to the Hebrews felt this frustration with his wayward flock: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (5:11-12). To know God’s Word fully ensures that we know all that he has to say on any given subject, and can rightly apply it to whatever vicissitudes we face.
The Dangers and Surpassing Benefits of a Bible-Reading Plan
Of course, this is not to say that Bible-reading plans do not come with pitfalls. The Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne listed some in a letter to his congregation, before giving his reading plan (included below). These dangers include mere formality, in which reading becomes a lifeless duty; self-righteousness, when we impress ourselves with our outward piety; overhasty reading, when we read to finish reading and not to encounter God; and having the plan become a burden rather than a joy. And yet, M’Cheyne felt the benefits outweighed the potential dangers, which we might guard against. I agree.
What are the benefits? First, a Bible-reading plan guarantees that we read the entire Bible over the course of a year (or two). Without a plan in place, this is unlikely to happen. As few of us remember what Nahum has to say, though all of us would agree we should, we must ensure we read systematically through Scripture. Second, a guided tour of the Bible keeps us from having to choose what to read each day. If left to our own devices, we would likely choose beloved passages only (neglecting the whole counsel of God) or a shorter portion than is necessary. How often do we sit thumbing through the pages of our Bibles, waiting for some inspiration to stop us in our tracks? A Bible-reading plan provides the direction we need. Third, especially among families or groups of friends who are following the same plan, we enjoy greater spiritual conversation, as we are all equipped to discuss the same passages that day.
Some Excellent Plans
We are all different, and every year we will find ourselves in different places. Choose a plan that works for you—and that you believe you can handle for the coming year. Here are some excellent plans to consider.
- Discipleship Journal’s 5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan: For those who are just beginning, this plan will take you through the New Testament only—in just five minutes, five days a week. A helpful tool (even if you are doing another plan) is the 5 Ways to Dig Deeper, ensuring that your reading is neither too hasty nor mindless.
- Discipleship Journal’s Bible Reading Plan: My personal preference, this plan takes you through the whole Bible in one year, starting in four different places. The Old Testament readings tend to be longer, allowing you to spend more time in meditation on the shorter New Testament passages. For those who might fall behind, this plan rather helpfully has readings on only twenty-five days each month.
- The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Plan: Following Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan—once through the Old Testament, twice through the New Testament and Psalms each year, starting in four places—this plan also includes a wonderful, short devotional by D.A. Carson on the day’s readings. I highly recommend this plan, especially for veteran readers.
- Heart Light’s Daily Light Reading Plan—New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs: Another shorter plan, this will guide you through the New Testament during the week, with readings in Psalms and Proverbs on the weekend. An excellent starter plan.
- Heart Light’s Straight through the Bible Reading Plan: This plan takes you through the whole of the Bible in canonical order—Genesis to Revelation. While it has drawbacks—such as reading through laws and genealogies all at once—there is tremendous benefit to seeing the plan of God’s redemption unfold in history.
- ESV’s Chronological Bible Reading Plan: An interesting approach, perfect for those who have been through the Bible a few times already, this plan takes you through Scripture chronologically rather than canonically. In other words, the prophets, psalms, letters, etc. are inserted at the correct moment into the narrative flow of God’s redemptive history.
Whatever plan you choose, I hope and pray it will be a great blessing to you, as you devote yourself to knowing God—and his Word—more completely this coming year.