New Year offers new start for Bible reading
For many, these goals include dedications to Bible reading and thus, specific Bible reading plans.
But choosing a Bible reading plan can be intimidating and some wonder, why even bother being specific about the way in which the Bible is read? Are Bible reading plans even being followed?
YouVersion, a popular Bible reading app, reported that in 2019 1.1 Billion Bible plan days were completed in the app. This is a reported increase of 25 percent, in comparison to 2018.
In 2019 the app offered more than 10,000 unique plans to users. Of those 1,500 are in languages other than English.
According to these statistics, Bible reading plans are being utilized and in fact are growing in number and popularity. But even if Bible reading plans are being completed around the world, what really makes them important?
Bobby Gruenewald, founder of YouVersion, said that the plans offered in the app are part of an effort to make it easier for the community to read the Bible more. The plans are oriented in a way that helps individuals develop habits of engaging with the Bible every day.
"Bible plans are one of the most popular ways in the app for people to develop a daily rhythm of reading the Bible, which we know leads to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God," Gruenewald said.
Michelle Hicks, manager of Adult Ministry-Short Term Bible Studies at LifeWay Christian Resources, said that Bible reading plans help remind us what the Bible is really about -- God -- rather than reading our preferences into its words.
"A Bible reading plan helps one open the Bible to know God. And even more than knowing His Word, a Bible reading plan reminds us of God's character, His promises, and His plans and purposes," Hicks said.
The point of having a predetermined plan when reading the Bible, is to dive deeper into knowing the author -- God.
Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, said that spending time in the Bible on a daily basis is the most effective way to stimulate spiritual growth.
"Nothing impacts your spiritual growth like your engagement with God's Word on a daily basis," Litton said.
Plans for reading the Bible do not have to look the same way each year, or even necessarily follow a certain pattern that others may be using.
Litton says that he is consistently changing the way he approaches Bible reading.
"Each year I will change something about my engagement with God's Word," Litton said. "I may use a different translation or paraphrase or a chronological Bible reading plan. After years of reading the Bible through each year it still amazes me how a simple change can transform a text you thought you knew and understood."
Gruenewald says the beginning of the new year is a great time to use the momentum of resolutions and goals as a way to get started in a new Bible reading plan.
"It's a great time of the year to find friends who have similar goals and commit to cheering one another on throughout the year," Gruenewald said.
Many resources exist, such as YouVersion, to encourage and facilitate inventive Bible engagement.
Hicks noted that LifeWay women's goals with developing Bible reading plans, some of which are featured on the YouVersion app, is to drive women to have a hunger for God's Word and live in obedience to Scripture.
"The reading plans we develop are to encourage and guide women in that relationship," Hicks said.
Litton also said that the effectiveness of the plan to help develop a relationship with God depends on the willingness of the individual to engage in the Bible on a daily basis.
Hicks gave four suggestions for individuals looking to start a Bible reading plan for the next year.
Consider the length of the plan, the time committed to engaging in the plan, the place in which the individual will read the plan and the goals for the plan for maximum impact, recommended Hicks.
"If someone is just starting out, do a five to seven day reading plan first," Hicks suggests. "Then do another, then another. Or start with a month-long reading plan, then move to the longer plans."
Hicks also said that setting aside 10-15 minutes in the day for the plan is a great way to make sure the daily engagement actually happens.
For those 10-15 minutes, having a designated place where individuals can read could prove helpful, but Hicks said that the most important part is that the reading happens.
"A designated place is always good, but sometimes you do what you need to do to make it happen," Hicks said. "The goal is to read God's Word daily. He created us to need Him and to have our needs met by Him. He is the one who can restore our souls daily regardless of our circumstances."
Keeping that goal in mind will help fuel motivation to stay committed to daily engagement with God's Word, Hicks said.
Litton noted that personally, his life is consistently changed by the Word of God.
"My life is daily enriched by my time in God's presence. It never ceases to amaze me how living and active God's Word is in the hands of the Holy Spirit to help understand God's Word," Litton said. "The great joy of reading God's word is that it never fails to speak to my circumstances."
Hicks said that Bible reading plans at their core, take care of an individual's soul.
"We may attend worship services, be part of a small group and even serve our church and community, but [sometimes we] skip the daily nourishment that we can only get by spending time with God," Hicks said. "That one-on-one time with God, hearing from Him through the Scriptures, can be overlooked or put aside due to other demands that seem more urgent."
But nothing is more urgent that one's relationship with God, according to Hicks.
And that relationship is nourished by the daily bread of the Word of God.
As the new year dawns, so does the opportunity to commit to the most important nourishment an individual can receive.
Taking the time to plan engagement with the Bible is vital for growth, health and overall true life and joy.