I’ve shared here before that I often find it difficult to find real joy and freedom in my personal devotions. At times things go very well, but then inevitably it seems that difficulties creep in and I find that I come to dread my time spent reading and praying. What is at some times delight is at other times the most difficult of duties.
Over the years I have often tried programs, structures to keep me in some kind of reading plan. I’ve tried the plans that take me through the Bible in a year (or two years or…) and always I’ve found them difficult. If I make it through the Pentateuch I fall apart in the prophets. I’ve never successfully completed one.
A while back I stumbled upon Professor Horner’s Bible-Reading System. Though something always disturbs me about getting involved in a Bible-reading system (Would I want to do a date night system? A play-with-your-kids system?) I decided to give it a go. It’s unique among the systems I’ve attempted in that it requires more reading and yet somehow makes all that reading seem so much easier, enjoyable and attainable.
The system is quite simple–every day you read ten chapters of the Bible. That seems like a lot, so stick with me as I explain it. Each of the ten chapters will be from different books, which is to say that at any given time you’ll be reading ten books of the Bible concurrently, one chapter per day. So on day one of the system you will reading the first chapter of Matthew, Genesis, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Joshua, Isaiah and Acts. You will read each of these books, one chapter per day, and then go on to other books before repeating it all again. This means that every year you’ll read through all the Gospels four times, the Pentateuch twice, Paul’s letters 4-5 times each, the Old Testament wisdom literature six times, all the Psalms at least twice, all the Proverbs as well as Acts a dozen times, and all the way through the Old Testament History and Prophetic books about 1 1⁄2 times.
From the outside it looks like this will be a massive amount of work, a huge commitment of time. But I have found that it is not. The beauty of the system is that you will be reading every day at a pretty good clip. The purpose is not to spend a great deal of time in pondering each word, but in reading the Bible so much and so often that Scripture begins to explain Scripture. I have found that it takes me between 30 and 40 minutes per day, either in one chunk in the morning or in two chunks, one in the morning and one in the evening.
Here is how Professor Horner explains the system :
Each day you will read one chapter from each of ten lists. That’s right — ten chapters per day!!! Use ten bookmarks or sticky notes with the individual lists on them to keep track of your locations. Or use the set of bookmarks provided on the last page of this document.
On day one, you read Matthew 1, Genesis 1, Romans 1, and so forth. On day 2, read Matthew 2, Genesis 2, etc. On day 29, you will have just finished Matthew, so go to Mark 1 on the Gospel list; you’ll also be almost to the end of 2nd Corinthians and Proverbs, you’ll be reading Psalm 29 and Genesis 29, and so forth. When you reach the last chapter of the last book in a list – start over again. Rotate all the way through all the Scriptures constantly.
Since the lists vary in length, the readings begin interweaving in constantly changing ways. You will NEVER read the same set of ten chapters together again! Every year you’ll read through all the Gospels four times, the Pentateuch twice, Paul’s letters 4-5 times each, the OT wisdom literature six times, all the Psalms at least twice, all the Proverbs as well as Acts a dozen times, and all the way through the OT History and Prophetic books about 1 1⁄2 times. Since the interweaving is constantly changing, you will experience the Bible commenting on itself in constantly changing ways — the Reformer’s principle of ‘scriptura interpretans scripturam’ — ‘scripture interpreting scripture’ IN ACTION!
After you’ve read any particular book once or twice, your speed in that book usually doubles or triples because you’re familiar with it and can move quickly and confidently — because you are no longer merely decoding the text but thinking it through in the context of all of the scripture!
Even an ‘average’ reader, if focusing on moving through the text, rather than trying to figure everything out, can usually do this in about an hour a day – 5-6 minutes per chapter. Many people report moving confidently through the ten chapters in 35-40 minutes. If it is taking you longer, then you are ‘reading wrong’ – stay relaxed, focus, and just keep it moving. Moderate but consistent speed is the key. This is “gross anatomy” — looking at the whole body; you’re not closely studying organs or systems or tissues or cells — it is not microbiology. BUT — microbiology and the study or organs makes more sense when you know what the whole structure of the human body is like, and how all the parts, large and small, relate in perfect interdependence.
After just a few days the reading gets much easier; in a month it will be a habit, and in six months you’ll wonder how you ever survived before on such a slim diet of the WORD. And then — you’ll tell others to start the system!
I began in 1983 as a new Christian and have now read (most of ) the Bible hundreds and hundreds of times. You also need to get ONE Bible, keep it, and do all your reading in it, so you learn where everything is. I’ve had the same Bible since 1983 and I know it intimately. If you keep switching Bibles, you ‘lose’ this intimacy with the text. Find a translation and format you like and stick with it. THIS IS CRUCIAL.
Your Bible is the only thing on Earth that, as you wear it out, will actually work better and better.
One way I have adapted the system just a little bit is by keeping a journal with me and jotting down a sentence or two about each of the chapters I read. I tend to find something in the text that I want to record as a prayer for myself or for someone else. This then naturally bridges all of this Bible-reading into prayer. I also keep a few little cards in my journal and every day try to jot down a Proverb that I want to reflect on throughout the day. I just keep the card with me and read it all day long.
As time goes on, I may do things like remove the daily Acts reading and focus instead on repeated readings of Romans or another book that I really want to understand better. The system offers flexibility for this kind of thing. I often cut back to 5 chapters on Saturday and Sunday. If I want I can bump up to 20 chapters a day.
Among the secret to success are:
- Stay somewhere between speed reading and deep meditation. Get through the text without dawdling, looking up cross-references and so on. Get to know the Bible and these things will explain themselves.
- Stick with one Bible, not just one translation, but one actual Bible. I would try to ensure it’s a printed Bible, not an electronic one.
- Read in the order he suggests, which means you’ll be moving from Old Testament to New and back again several times every day.
- Don’t be legalistic. If you miss a day, pick up and keep going. Don’t quit.
Let me close with just a few of the benefits I’ve found in this system.
- It does not leave me spending days or weeks in the books I struggle with the most. I will be reading one chapter of the prophets each day for as long as I do this plan, but I won’t have to spend day after day in them. This is often where I lose heart in other Bible-reading plans.
- It keeps up the pace. I like that the plan emphasizes moderate speed over deep meditation. Of course, I have to be willing to trust that in time the repeated readings will give the same benefit (or greater benefit) than slower, more thoughtful reading. I believe that reading in this way will help me come to a better understanding of the Bible’s big picture.
- It is a system. There are times that I struggle with systems and the very idea of systems, but in this case, I know that I need help. This plan gives me the structure I need if I am to read the Bible consistently and to read it well. Best of all, I find that I look forward to reading the Bible most days. Somehow this system has increased my delight in the Word.
All of this is to say, I commend this plan to you. You can begin any time–there is no reason to wait for a new calendar year. Simply download the document prepared by Professor Horner, grab a journal (if you want to do it that way) and get reading.