Political divisions. Racial tensions. A pandemic that didn’t even blink when we hit the new year. Throw that on top of all the “what else’s” in life–the toddler who won’t sleep through the night, the job offer that didn’t come through, the news that the cancer is back–and you may sit back and wonder (as I have, more than once lately): Is there any good news in the world?
And chances are, all we have to do is roll over to find it.
I’m talking about the Bible, of course. Whether you have an old-fashioned print version on your nightstand or you prefer some newfangled app on your phone, the Good News is there every morning, ready to color your world. And if you find yourself reaching for God’s Word more now than you used to, you’re not alone. In the pandemic’s early days, Bible sales spiked; more recently, a Bible study podcast took over Apple’s top slot, beating out shows by perennial giants like NPR and The New York Times.
It’s as if we know, almost instinctively, that the biggest threat to our peace or our sense of security isn’t the “out there” stuff in the headlines but the “in here” way that we process it. We long for a voice that transcends the noise of the world and speaks to our soul, a voice that (Isaiah 30:21) is ever behind us, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
We know we need God.
That’s the (small “g”) good news.
The bad news is that, according to some researchers, actual engagement with Scripture–as in, the percentage of people who read the (capital “g”) Good News every day–is on the decline. John Farquhar Plake, the American Bible Society’s director of ministry intelligence (how’s that for a cool-sounding job?), links the drop in Bible reading to church closures and the ill-effects of our quarantine time. “When relational church engagement goes up,” Plake says, “so does Scripture engagement, but when it goes down, Scripture engagement drops with it.”
We like our Scripture, it seems, served with a hug or a smile. No wonder the Bible tells us not to give up meeting together.
So what do we do, since hugging is out and our smiles remain tucked in our masks?
We press in. We tune our ears to that voice. We scour the Scriptures to find the good news every day.
We press in: Fifteen minutes a day
This past week, Tony Dungy and Benjamin Watson addressed the weariness we’re all facing and challenged Christians to read the whole Bible, cover-to-cover, this year–a tough-sounding job that, they say, actually takes only about fifteen minutes a day.
I’m all for this plan. I believe Psalm 112 when it says that those who delight in God’s Word will “have no fear of bad news.” I’ve personally experienced the Psalm 1 feeling of being planted by streams of water, allowing the Bible to produce fruit in my life instead of leaving me withered and dry.
Again, I like Dungy’s plan. But having had some Bible-in-a-Year years that felt like flossing my teeth (which my dentist will tell you I don’t do all that well) and some where it felt like sailing with the wind, I’d like to offer a few strategies for success, should you decide to try this at home.
First, start with prayer. Nobody is born knowing the Bible or wanting to read it, but God works in us, Scripture says, giving us the eagerness and the power to do it. As we open our Bibles, we can ask God to shape our desires, using prayers like the one I shared this month on my Instagram stories: “May I take great delight in your law, meditating on it day and night so whatever I do will prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)
Next, make a plan. Type “Bible Reading Plans” into your Google search bar and you get more than 80 million (!) results. Two of my favorites, if you just want to cut to the chase, are the Bible in One Year plan that comes with commentary by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you can get the readings via email or on the app) and the NIV One-Year Bible, which has the whole book pre-divided, with excerpts from the Old and New Testaments every day.
(And pssst on the plan. If you miss a day–or a week–don’t beat yourself up. Treat it like flossing and get back in the game.)
Finally, get some help. Invite a friend to do your plan with you and talk through your insights together. Get a study tool like Max Anders’ bestselling 30 Days to Understanding the Bible. And (most important) count on the Holy Spirit, our Helper, to do the job he does best: Teach you all things and remind you of everything Jesus said.
As you read, remember that the goal isn’t so much to get to know the written word as it is to encounter the Living Word, to read the book to discover the Author. And it never gets old.
As Charles Spurgeon put it, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”
Good news, indeed.