When my daughter was a preschooler, she announced in early January that she had made a New Year’s resolution. She was resolved to no longer “eat butter by itself”. I was both relieved that she had made this decision and a bit concerned that I was unaware of this habit beforehand. I can report with confidence that she followed through with this resolution and sticks to it today. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the few resolutions I’ve tried to make over the years, and this is the time of year we often end up realizing that our best laid goals and plans may be fizzling out, or forgotten completely.
A common (and worthwhile!) resolution among Christians is to read the Bible more. More specifically, many Christians set out to read through the whole Bible in a year. This is a great way to grasp its big picture, wrap your mind around the whole glorious story, and ensure you’ve read it cover-to-cover at least once. It’s a wonderful practice, and if you’ve started, take this as encouragement to keep going! If you’re fizzling, find someone to help keep you accountable—or even read along with you. But if you’re still finding it a struggle, or you’ve been through a Bible-reading plan before, perhaps a different approach would be refreshing.
Last year I was given the idea to select a book of the Bible and choose a commentary to read alongside it. It was an opportunity to change the pace of my Bible reading and focus on studying and understanding a smaller section more fully. I considered books of the Bible that I was less familiar with, and ones that I had read many times but still sought to understand better. I landed on Romans, together with John Stott’s commentary from The Bible Speaks Today series.
Making this change to my regular Bible readings has been like an energy boost for both my reading and understanding of familiar passages. From learning more about the perspective of the author, to the etymology and translation of a certain word, commentaries provide helpful, condensed information from years of research and study. Good commentaries also can provide insight regarding right and wrong applications of the passage. I found it similar to listening to a sermon series on the book, but at a daily pace and at my fingertips where it's easier to maintain momentum.
There’s a wide variety of resources available to make this idea work for you. You can read traditional commentaries along with the book they accompany. Depending on the length, you can pace your readings for a daily or weekly schedule to spend the year in just one book. For shorter books of the Bible, choose a couple of quality commentaries or cover a few related books in the same genre. There are also resources where much of the planning and organization is done for you. Alec Moyter’s Isaiah by the Day has the Scripture text printed in the book with commentary, cross references and other resources along the margins, and it's divided into days. The layout is appealing for those who prefer to read with pen in hand as there’s room for making notes and markings as you go through.
A fellow reader was recently telling me about his similar plan: reading through Spurgeon's Treasury of David along with the book of Psalms. The accompanying reading takes about an hour per psalm, so with two or three per week, it could be accomplished in a year. He has spread his out for longer than a year, and finds it a worthwhile way to enjoy reading both the Bible and a good book.
As with nearly any reading, another resource we can rely on is each other. With a fellow custodian, choose to read the same book of the Bible, but with different commentaries, and compare notes on what you've learned. Reading together can provide accountability, further understanding and discipleship opportunities that we wouldn't have on our own.
Surveys show the most common new year's resolutions every year are to eat healthy and exercise more (even my butter-eating preschooler picked up on that). Surveys also show that we’re usually not nearly as resolute in February as we were in January. Any nutritionist or trainer will tell you, start somewhere and set achievable goals. Same can be said for our Bible reading resolutions. Start somewhere. Choose something you can (and want to!) accomplish. And stick with it!