Why Reading-the-Bible-through-in-a-Year Plans Never Worked for me

Jan 17, 2022

At the start of each new year, many Christians throughout the globe set an intention to read the Bible through in a year. Several Christian organizations and ministries even offer “read-the-bible-through-in-a-year plans” to guide believers through the process. Indeed, reading the Bible in a year is a worthy goal, and I believe it is one each Christian should undertake at least once in their lifetime. But despite its undeniable value, plans like these have never quite worked for me.

In my hurry to check off the boxes and complete my assignment for the day, I often missed the deeper meaning and application of what I was reading. My thoughts jumping ahead to whether I could finish all of the assigned reading before heading off to work, I found myself focusing more on completing the day’s assignments than encountering the living Word of God–Jesus–through the scriptures. For me, it felt more legalistic than life-giving. 

What’s more, I often missed experiencing the reality of John:16:13:

“However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and He will declare to you what is to come.”

After reading scripture in multiple ways over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the importance, and necessity, of coming to the Word for both information and transformation.

Informational and Formational Reading

Author and spiritual director Alice Fryling highlights the difference between “informational” and “formational” reading in her book The Art of Spiritual Listening[1]:

“In his book, Shaped by the Word, author Robert Mulholland Jr. identifies two ways of reading the Bible: informational and formational. The informational way of reading scripture is to read to gain new facts, news systems, new ways of living. The formational way is to read scripture to be transformed by God through our reading and our interaction with the Spirit of God. Informational reading is essential to grasp the content of scripture, but we always need to allow for interplay between the informational and formational ways of reading.”

She adds, “Mulholland says that the purpose of formational reading is ‘that we might be transformed from what we are to what God purposes for us to be,’”[2].

Formational Reading of Scripture

Lectio Divina, which I will address in a future post, is one such practice of reading scripture that invites transformation. For now, let me leave you with these words as an introduction.

“At the heart of Lectio Divina is the acknowledgment that our relationship with God the father is primarily through a person—the Word—not words written in a book,” Fryling writes. “We are encountering the Word—Jesus—through the words [of Scripture].

When we engage with the scriptures using Lectio Divina, we often “hear” more than we “read.”

We will unpack this further in the days ahead. For now, know that Lectio Divina is a helpful tool for the formational reading of Scripture.

Sacred Ordinary Days Day Planner

An additional tool I’ve found helpful over the last several years is the Sacred Ordinary Days Day Planner. Rooted in the contemplative tradition, the planner includes many helpful resources. The daily scripture readings, drawn from the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer, include bite-size portions of scripture, allowing  time for reflection and meditation. The planner also includes a weekly, seasonal, and annual examen, a weekly rhythm of Sabbath rest, and an invitation to create a “rule of life,”all of which we will talk about in the days ahead.

For now, I highly recommend the Sacred Ordinary Days Day Planner as a great starting point for formational reading and an introduction to spiritual disciplines that my be new to you. You can check it out here.

What forms of formational Bible reading do you enjoy? What tools have you found helpful to your spiritual journey? Let me know by responding in the comments section below.

[1] Alice Fryling, The Art of Spiritual Listening: Responding to God’s Voice Amid the Noise of Life, (New York: WaterBrook, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC), p. 34

[2] Fryling, The Art of Spiritual Listening, p. 35.