If I became aware that a person I knew was in a “daily Bible reading” program but was not growing from it, I might write something like this to him.
I pick up that you want and need more than you are getting. Maybe you have the impression that “reading the Bible through” alone will offer you the best-quality picture of things, but I want to encourage you instead to apply your energies to reading and working on understanding single biblical documents. I realize it can feel good to see a “daily Bible reading” project through to the end, but maybe next year you would consider something different.
You could read Galatians first, engaging with the details of its book-level context; then investigate the sharply focused design of Mark; then immerse yourself in the narrative of Genesis or one of the prophets. In Galatians, you would gain new insight into what Paul said to one audience about freedom, and about justification, and about faith. (Is “faith” in Galatians about trust, or about allegiant, faithful living for the Christ, or a combination, or sometimes one and sometimes the other?) What connecting lines can be drawn from the core of Mark (8:22-10:52) to its bookends in chapters 1 and 16? Whether it’s a gospel or a Pauline letter or a work of Hebrew history or prophecy, impressive themes and motifs can become apparent when one remains within a single book for an extended period of time! And Galatians and Mark and Genesis or Zechariah seems like plenty for a year! In slowing down and reading thoroughly, carefully, and investigatively, you will without a doubt end up getting more of the intended message of each unique book.
Although “daily Bible” or lectionary reading plans can offer seemingly good devotional experiences, those kinds of programs might also skew one’s sense of what’s been written. Readers might whiz through and miss much, or they might get beef tips and gems but not a sense of the original cow or diamond mine as a whole. For instance, the meaning of “keep in step with the Spirit” (or any other familiar snippet) can run deeper and richer when taken within its whole literary context. A hand-picked verse might initially impress one as nicely inspiring, and it will have been cheap and easy to pick it, but often, a more expensive reading awaits.
Are beef tips tasty? Yes, but you might find out they actually came from elk or bison, and that changes the perception and cost!
Is a gemstone valuable in itself, quite apart from the mine from which it came? Yes, but if one encounters an unknown gem, he might think it was a diamond when it was really cubic zirconia. Moreover, he might not even notice the gold and silver around the zirconia!
Perhaps even more to the point, the perceived value of an isolated thing—whether meat, a diamond, or a Bible verses—can be arbitrary. This is especially the case, it seems to me, when the valuation has been based on forces outside the thing itself, e.g., the economy of the jewelry trade or a given theological dogma.
An individual reader’s biases morph into a lens through which he reads and interprets, coloring his or her perceptions considerably. He might not only exaggerate or underestimate the value of a thing; he might not see it at all or might imagine elements that aren’t even present. This can also happen when one does abide in deep study of a single document, but it’s less likely that one will stray from the original intent of the author/document if one is swimming in the waters of that one document.
All this matters a lot to me, and I know it does to you, too, so I want to take care to say communicate as well as I can—and also give you time to digest it. I’ll write more in a couple days.