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How To Turn A Retired Bible Into A Precious Family Heirloom

Leave in Peace

I do not often run guest articles on this site. But every now and again I do make an exception—usually for my friend Paul Carter. In this case, he is going to suggest a great way to turn a retired Bible into a precious family heirloom. What follows is from Paul…

If you are a Bible reader, a note taker and a highlighter then you have probably asked the question at some point in your life: what do I do with my retired Bible?

I first encountered this dilemma back in 2010. I had a couple of Bibles that I was using simultaneously and they were both nearing the end of their term of service. I didn’t want to throw them out but I wasn’t sure what future use there might be for such things. Who wants to read another person’s Bible?

And then it occurred to me that perhaps my children might one day be very interested, and perhaps even helped by reading through my various thoughts, praises and observations. The two Bibles I had already filled were not the best candidates for the particular project that I now had in mind. For one thing, the margins were so narrow and therefore my writing so compacted that the notes contained within them would only ever be intelligible to the person who had written them. In addition, the notes were written particularly for me. Some of them are in Greek. A few are in Hebrew. All of them reflect my personal interests and pastoral concerns.

I wanted my next Bibles to be written and annotated specifically so that they could be usefully and strategically given away.

My goal was to fully prepare 1 Bible every 4-5 years over the course of 25 years. That would give me one heirloom Bible for each of my 5 children. I have now completed 1 and am part way through a second.

Long projects are a feature of my personality; I am currently over 300 chapters and two years into my 10 year goal of podcasting my way through all 1189 chapters of the Bible. (You can check it out here) I am firmly committed to the notion that almost nothing of value can be done in 6 months – but by the grace of God you can change the world over a decade or two. Reading the Bible has convinced me that slow and steady wins the race.

God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

He does his thing over multiple generations spanning hundreds of years at a time.

So this is not a microwave project – it is full on crock pot. It is something only to be undertaken by people who are deeply invested in their children, their grandchildren and beyond.

But if that sounds like you – then this is what I’ve learned so far about how to turn a retired Bible into a precious and strategic family heirloom.

1. ​Choose the right Bible

As mentioned above the first few Bibles that I retired were not in any way suitable for this project. I wrote notes that only I would be able to read – in part because of the limited margin space in the Bibles that I was using. Once I decided to embark on this project I knew that I would need to choose a more appropriate version of the Bible. For my first two attempts I have been using the ESV Journaling Bible produced by Crossway. This Bible features 2 inch ruled margins on either side. This allows me to easily record a variety of thoughts, reflections, notations and prayers associated with the featured text. This Bible also uses a thicker paper than most which makes it easier to highlight and also allows you to use medium weight ink which should last longer and is generally easier to use.

2. ​Read it with someone particular in mind

I created my first Bible in this project with my oldest daughter Madison in mind. To be clear, when I am doing my morning devotions, I am thinking primarily about Jesus, not Madison. But as I make my notes, I am trying to answer questions that I imagine she might have. Not having been to seminary I doubt very much whether she is wondering whether this particular Greek verb should be understood in the indicative or imperative sense. My earlier Bibles are filled with notes on the underlying Greek or Hebrew text – but Madison doesn’t care about those things. Her questions will likely run in a different direction.

I imagine this exercise has made me a better preacher. It is helpful to read a text and to attempt to discern where it will connect – or not connect – with another person. I have not found this to be an intrusion on my devotional experience. Rather I think that it is a helpful expansion of my approach to Bible reading. I want to know what is there. I want to rejoice in what I see. And I want to think about how I can share these truths usefully and winsomely with another person.

3. ​Fill it with notes, encouragements, prayers and personal reflections

Having moved to the ESV Journaling Bible format I now have space for a variety of annotations. Some of these annotations would be similar to what you might find in a standard Study Bible. “The destruction of Jerusalem here mentioned took place in 587 BC”. Most of them however are more personal. I might say something like: “The darker this world gets the more I long for the return of Jesus! Don’t put too much hope in leaders and influencers. Give them enough time and they will all show their feet of clay. Jesus really is the hope of the world!”

In the second Bible in my project, which I am preparing for my son, I have started adding longer reflections and prayers. Rather than filling a column with 8 short notes on a chapter of text I might write a 200 word reflection or a 200 word prayer inspired by the associated text.

From time to time I also leave personal notes – completely unrelated to the text. The note might say something like this: “Last night you graduated from High School. I am so incredibly proud of you. I am worried about the world you are stepping out into, but I believe in you and I believe in a God who loves you. I am cheering for you and I will always have your back. I think about you every morning and I am praying right now as I bring this sentence to a close.” A sentence like that may be a real encouragement to your child at a time when you can’t be physically present with them.

4.​ Pray over it every day

If you have children you probably don’t need a reminder to pray for your kids every day. Parenting and praying seem to go together. When I became a parent I discovered a whole new level of prayer and a whole new urgency and I imagine that you had a similar experience. However, while you know that and I know that, your child may not know that. Use the space in the margins to let them know. Tell them what you were praying and if possible relate that to the featured text. You might say something like this: “This morning I was reading about the fruit of the Spirit. I am praying today that you would be growing in the character that God desires. I pray for you to grow in love. I pray for you to grow in joy. I pray that you would have peace. I pray that you would develop patience – but I pray that you would develop it the easy way and not the hard way. I pray that you would grow in kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I am praying that you would become the person God created and saved you to be. Cheering for you!”

Who knows how – or when – the Lord will use such a prayer?

Hide these prayers in the pages of your Bible and you will be preparing a lifetime of ministry to your children and grandchildren that may extend even beyond your death.

5.​ Add colour and creativity

After about 4 years of using the first journaling Bible in this project it was almost completely full. There were a few places left and rather than pack them full of written text as well I decided to engage the services of a Christian artist friend of mine in Montreal. My oldest daughter is an artist herself and so I wanted her Bible to reflect that. I wanted there to be colour, joy, reflection and creativity.

I sent the Bible to my friend along with a fairly detailed introduction to my daughter. I wanted her to know Madison, to the extent that it is possible to “know” anyone that you’ve never actually met. I wanted her to have enough information to create personal amplifications and illustrations.

I was extremely pleased with the results!

Here are a few of my favourite pages:

Here you can see that the best place to add artwork is at the end of a book or letter. There is usually a decent sized blank space that will allow for a fully developed expression.

Leave in Peace

The picture below shows the sort of smaller illustrations that are possible in the bottom portion of a journal column:


I had room for about 75 colour illustrations of various sizes in this Bible. My artist friend charged me a very reasonable fee for the amount of time and effort that it appears she put it into the process. If you would like to connect with her for any future work on your Bibles you can find her website here.

6. ​Present it on a special occasion

Milestones matter. The Bible is filled with special occasions and memorial markers. One thinks of the stone that Samuel erected in 1 Samuel 7 after an important victory over the Philistines: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”” (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV)

I decided to present my first completed Bible to my oldest daughter on the occasion of her graduation from college. There was a particular weekend during which we both attended her graduation and helped her move into her first apartment in Toronto. This felt like a momentous occasion and it seemed appropriate to mark it with a precious and personal gift.

My hope is that each time she sees this Bible or reads it she will remember that mom and dad have been there at every step and stage of her life. I hope she will be reminded that we are who we are because of the grace and kindness of the Lord to us. If this Bible brings to mind that connection it will have begun to do the work that I envisioned.

7.​ Begin the process all over again

As soon as the Bible I had filled for my oldest daughter went into the mail to my artist friend in Montreal I began working on the next Bible that I was intending to present to my son. I have been using the Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan since 2012. It takes you through the entire Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice every calendar year. Using that plan means that I will usually fill up the Psalms and New Testament pages after 2 years – which of course means after 4 readings. The other pages tend to fill in more slowly and over a longer period of time.

Using a Bible Reading Plan will be absolutely essential in this process. It doesn’t have to be the RMM Plan, but if you aren’t using some kind of plan, you will likely never get out of the New Testament and Psalms and if you don’t do that then you will never be able to produce the sort of heirloom Bible that you would want to pass on to your children and grandchildren.

So pick a plan and use it.

Do it for yourself and do it for your loved ones.

Meditating and mentoring are supposed to go hand in hand:

“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” (Psalm 145:4–5 ESV)

And God alone be glorified!

Wishing you all the best in 2020 and beyond.

Pastor Paul Carter

For the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast going verse by verse and chapter by chapter through whole books of the Bible visit the TGC Canada website. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can also find it on iTunes.

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