The life of an Old Testament prophet was pretty miserable. Prophesying during the time of spiritual famine, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were marked by hardship and sadness. In the face of turmoil, however, the revelation of God became their sole source of comfort, strength, and joy.
The prophet Jeremiah spent his entire life battling with stiff-necked and hardened people. In fact, his ministry became so disheartening that he mourned the fact that he had even been born. However, in the midst of his sadness, Jeremiah took comfort in the Lord’s ministry to him—the ministry of the Word of God:
Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy
and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts. (Jer. 15:16)
Despite his despair and utter depression over the state of his own country, he had learned to love the Word of God and take great comfort in it, confessing that Scripture had become “a joy” and a “delight” to him. Regardless of what was happening around him, his spiritual appetite was satiated by devouring God’s Word.
Ezekiel had a companion ministry to that of Jeremiah: Jeremiah was prophesying in the spiritual wasteland in Jerusalem while Ezekiel ministered to the exiles in Babylon. The primary job of a prophet was to speak God’s word to God’s people. In order to accomplish this calling, the prophet needed to know the word so intimately that it was seeping through his pores. Ezekiel reflects upon the time the Lord called him:
Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this scroll. He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.” Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth.
. . . Moreover, He said to me, “Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely.” (Ezek. 3:1–3, 10)
While we know that God doesn’t literally shove pieces of parchment into Ezekiel’s mouth, Ezekiel describes vividly the act of receiving the Scriptures from the Lord and ingesting their content so intimately that he can describe the act only as eating. What was his response to such an intense experience with the Word of God? He describes their effect as being “sweet as honey in my mouth” (v. 3). This is not unlike David’s experience with Scripture, declaring, “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103).
I find it hard to read verses like these and not stand amazed at the testimonies of people like David, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah—those who devour Scripture and delight so richly in it. It makes me wonder whether our current approaches to the Word of God are geared toward helping us learn to love it so. Are we truly being trained and encouraged to love God’s Word, or are we falling into the trap of becoming, as David Nienhuis warns, “merely informed quoters of the Word”—those who are prone “to memorize a select set of Bible verses” over helping believers become truly transformed by the Word? While memorizing Bible verses should no doubt become part of our study (as we’ll see later), our real focus should be on developing a long-term understanding and love for the Bible.
For years, one of the more popular approaches to daily devotions has been built on reading through the whole Bible once a year. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with reading through the Bible once a year consistently, but we’re living in unprecedented times. We simply do not have the luxury of assuming that most modern-day believers have the baseline of Bible knowledge that their parents or grandparents had. Generally speaking, churches are doing less and less Bible teaching, few parents catechize their children, and culture is overwhelmingly Scripture averse. I recently heard the story of a Sunday school teacher who asked her class if anyone knew what Palm Sunday was. To her dismay, after a few awkward moments, one child raised his hand, spread his fingers and pointed to his palm. He wasn’t joking.
And so, we’re simply not exposed to the Bible. More than this, as Christians, we generally feel ashamed about it. So what do we do?
Without kicking anyone’s reading plans to the curb, I’m suggesting that we alter our focus a bit. Because here’s how it generally goes: Like other New Year’s resolutions, you start your reading plan in January with the best of intentions, and as you work through Genesis and Exodus, you’re sailing! Then you hit Leviticus and start to lose some steam, but you press on. A few jaunts in the genealogies of Chronicles and you’re starting to question yourself: Why isn’t this interesting to me? Did I miss something? Whereas many people seem to fall off around the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel), you grit your teeth and power through, eyes skimming over whole paragraphs of content. A late summer cold and a throbbing sinus headache make it impossible to read, so you lose half the Minor Prophets. By the time you get to Jesus in the Gospels, you’ve forgotten nearly everything from the Old Testament, but you’re relieved to finally be in the New Testament. The stories and parables are sweetly familiar, and the missionary journeys of Acts are exciting. But then you hit nineteen letters of doctrine, followed by the head-scratching symbolism of Revelation. And while all your church friends fell off their reading plans months ago, at least you finished—but you retained so little that you secretly wonder why you even attempted it in the first place.
This may not resemble your experience, but I’ve talked to countless Christians who have made such confessions to me. Now, if “Bible-in-a-Year” is working for you, no one is telling you to stop. But I’m guessing that you didn’t pick up this book because you feel like you’re knocking it out of the park.
So let me encourage you.
Instead of plowing through a few verses and then speeding off to work, slow it down. Instead of laboring through the whole Bible in a year, go a little deeper. Instead of reading your Bible simply to check it off the chore list, change your mental approach—change your philosophy. Instead, take a longer view of learning your Bible—two, three, five, or even seven years. Make your end goal not merely to read the Bible but to know and understand it—to love and treasure it as God’s holy, sufficient, transforming Word.
I distinctly remember being in a place of utter desperation and needing some fresh air. It was at that place that I discovered this paradigm shift.
 I recognize that I am hardly the first person to suggest a paradigm shift in personal Bible study. As I was developing the Seven Year Bible Plan, I stumbled onto a helpful article full of great insights and practical tips by Jim Elliff, “My Preferred Way to Read the Bible,” Christian Communicators Worldwide, December 5, 2013, https://www.ccwtoday.org/2013/12/ my-preferred-way-to-read-the-bible/.
by Nate Pickowicz
Loving God means loving His Word. If you’re feeling distant from God, could it be because you’re ignoring His Word? But maybe you...
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