There have been a variety of adjectives used to describe the past year. Most of them have been a bit on the hyperbolic side. For example, the adjective I’ve heard used most when describing 2020 is “unprecedented”. Really? You mean the events that occurred in the past year were completely without precedent? There’s never before been a global pandemic? There’s never been civil unrest in our country until last year? etc. Of course 2020 had precedents! To say it was unprecedented is daft.
Perhaps a better adjective to use would be “difficult”. It may be that this is understating things; if so, feel free to add a reasonable adverb – “very” comes to mind.
But, if we were to be honest with ourselves, isn’t life, generally-speaking, difficult? Do we think there will be no heartaches in 2021? Of course there will! We’re only six days into a new year and I’ve already buried one of the kindest, most loving women in our congregation filled with kind, loving people! Did coronavirus hear about the dropping of the New Year’s Ball and decide to pack up and leave? Not according to the data. Will there continue to be broken relationships, bad news, sickness, death, and many other symptoms of a sin-broken world in this year? We would be naive to think otherwise.
Life, no matter the year in which you’re living, is difficult.
Perhaps here you’re expecting me to say something along the lines of “But if you read the Bible, all your circumstances will change.” That’s not true. I read the Bible every day, and many of the circumstances of my life are still difficult. In fact, the Bible shows me that the reason life is so difficult is sin – generally (as in the brokenness of the creation because of the introduction of sin into it at the Fall) and personally (as in the eternal and temporal consequences of my own and others’ sins).
What difference does it make, then, to engage with Scripture daily? To read it, study it, meditate upon it? Surely, learning I’m a sinner under God’s judgment just adds to the bad news of an already difficult life, right?
Well, yes. But this isn’t the only thing that the Bible tells us. God has revealed to us that the reason the world – ourselves included – are so messed up is because of sin; that is bad news, especially when you learn that you don’t just commit sins, but that you are born with a sin nature, completely inclined away from the only Source of life. God has also given us very good news! There’s nothing we can personally do about our sin problem; by nature, we are enemies of God, loving that which He hates, and hating the good. But the good news is that though we can’t do anything about our sin problem, God has in sending His Son to save us from our sins and reconcile us to God through Jesus’ death on the cross. The good news is that He Who died for our sins has risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will one day come again to set all things right. The good news is that those who are united to Jesus through faith are new creatures and are being conformed to Jesus’ image by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit – a work that is often painful, but necessary. The good news gives us solid hope in a future where life will be without pain and sorrow and sickness and the other million and one difficulties that we face in the current age; these things will be gone because sin will be gone and the new heavens and new earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord Who has come to dwell with His people.
The Bible isn’t given us to rid us of all difficulties in life. It’s given us to point us to the only real hope we have in this life and the next – Jesus Christ. These 66 books – Genesis to Revelation – all point us to Him. In Him we have forgiveness and reconciliation with God; in Him we have a hope for the future; in Him we have newness of life and are being remade from the broken things we are; in Him we have Him – all He is and is for us.
Reading the Bible is not going to be a magic pill that will change all your circumstances. However, actively, prayerfully, meditatively, studiously engaging with God’s Word will change you. Your greatest need in these and all difficult times is not for your difficult times to end; your greatest need is to know Jesus Christ and to become His being-sanctified disciple. That will never happen unless you are engaging with God’s Word regularly; God sanctifies us by His Spirit working through His Word. (see John 17:17; 1 Corinthians 6:11).
Are you engaging with the Word daily? Last year, many in our congregation worked through the M’Cheyne Reading Plan which took us through the OT once, and the NT and Psalms twice in the year. A reading plan is an excellent way to be sure you’re regularly reading the Scriptures. Multiple reading plans can be found for free online. Check out this list from Ligonier: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWm1abFlUUTFZamxpTkRZeCIsInQiOiJnQlwveTRiVlFNMFdKR3NibDgzVVFwdjBUbHR6SEpSYUEybjV6UWZBRlRuNVhNdit4bEQxNDgzQXZYaGNQK2haMzl2bzJRSURhOTRPdDJ1TGFqV0MyZWZ3OTVkdjFrR0Jxa0d3YnU4NjZNdlJhUVZHdVdkTU1GVDVlQ0NNeTZTSFwvIn0%3D
But, as I’ve told our Catechism Class, you don’t have to read through the Bible in a year. In fact, it may be that reading several chapters a day is too difficult for you to digest. If so, take it slower. Even if you are reading through the Bible in a set period of time – SLOW DOWN! Pray before you even open your Bible that God, by His Holy Spirit, will open His Word to you! Read slowly and thoughtfully. Pay attention to the context – both immediate and canonical. Get helps in the form of commentaries, atlases, sermons, etc. And don’t leave your Bible behind when you close it; memorize passages and meditate on what you’ve read throughout your day, week, month, lifetime. Without intentional, prayer-saturated thinking about what you’ve read, you’re not going to benefit from your time in the Word as much as you otherwise would.
Remember, as you engage the Scriptures this year, the goal is not to read for reading’s sake or to check off a religious box. Read for transformation. As Calvin writes, “The Scriptures are to be read with the purpose of finding Christ there.” Go to the Word prayerfully seeking to behold His glory and to be transformed by seeing Him in the Scriptures! (2 Corinthians 3:18).