I literally don’t remember not reading the Bible every day. Here’s how it happened.
I’m told I started reading fairly early, reading Dick and Jane books sometime before my fifth birthday. But while I remember reading the books, I have no recollection of starting to read them.
I do remember learning words and phrases by watching TV commercials that consisted of nothing more than an announcer reading exactly what was on the black-and-white screen. In particular I recall a long-running commercial for a Memphis-area car dealer. It was just black words on a white background, like broadcasting a 60-second video of a poster, advertising a Volkswagen Beetle. Eventually I realized that the voice-over corresponded exactly to what I was seeing, and I learned to read along. On small-market stations—such as the four channels we could receive from Memphis television in the late 1950s—local advertising was a very low-budget enterprise.
So by sometime early in elementary school—though I don’t remember exactly when—I was able to start reading the narrative passages of Scripture.
The Influence of the Home
I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the greatest blessings in my life was not just learning to read at an early age, but being trained at that age to read the Bible every day. My dad modeled daily Bible reading, and lovingly encouraged me in the practice. My mother made sure I had adequate lighting above my bed, the place where I did most of my childhood reading.
The Influence of the Church
We attended a church where my Sunday School teachers asked every week if each of us boys had read the Bible every day. In fact, this was a churchwide practice. Each Sunday School class, from the school-age children on up, kept records of how many in each class brought a Bible that morning, had read it every day the previous week, had read the printed Sunday School lesson, were staying for the worship service, and more. Each class reported its results to the church Sunday School superintendent who compiled them as a weekly snapshot of some measurable aspects of the church’s discipleship. In those days, this was done in virtually all of the thousands of churches in the denomination.
For most of my boyhood and teenage years, two men—first one, then later the other—taught my Sunday School class. Both were deacons in the church, and I respected them. I never thought of either of them as particularly holy men, at least not in the sense that I did of a couple of the elderly men in the church. Yet Sunday after Sunday, at the beginning of class my teacher would ask each boy in the class who had read his Bible every day that week to raise his hand. There was no pressure or shame. It’s just what we did. Everyone who came to church was expected as a normal part of life to read his or her Bible every day. It was in the air we breathed.
The Influence of a Plan
But this was more than a mere expectation, for the church provided practical, if simple, help for daily Bible reading. Every person who attended Sunday School was given an age-graded publication called a “quarterly.” This was a booklet of about fifty pages which contained the “lesson” for each Sunday in a quarter of a year, thus the term “quarterly.” This was published by the denomination, purchased by the church, and distributed with the hope that each person who attended Sunday School would read the week’s lesson before it was discussed in class on Sunday morning,
But the quarterly also served another purpose. Inside the back cover was a list of the suggested Bible readings for each day in the quarter. I don’t recall the scheme of the schedule used in my childhood. I seem to remember that most of the time the readings were not sequential in terms of reading through complete books of the Bible. But eventually, I think that at least for older readers, the plan was modified to one that took you through the entire Bible in a three-year cycle.
Legalistic? Well, any sort of structure in the Christian life can contribute to legalism if one is inclined that way. And any who thought (and I’m sure some did) that reading the Bible every day (or doing any other good deed) would earn them a ticket to Heaven were gravely mistaken. In my church, Ephesians 2:8-9 (we’re saved by grace through faith, and not by works) was a constant theme.
But I was a child, and we all—but especially children—need some structure when beginning to learn something as big and important as the Bible. Without guidance and a plan, children will flounder when trying to read and understand the Bible on their own.
So I was encouraged at home and at church to read the Bible every day, and I was given a simple plan for doing so. And it worked. It served me well. It helped me begin a practice that became second nature and has continued for a lifetime. Every day, for almost sixty years, I’ve not had to stop and think about whether I’m going to read the Bible, at least not think about it any more than I’ve had to decide whether to put on clothes or to eat that day. And by grace, the Word of God has done it’s work in my soul. My earthly and eternal life are immeasurably different because of the simple practice of reading the Bible every day and what has resulted from it.
Well, that’s my story. I believe the same simple factors, that is, Godly influences and reading plan, with the specifics adjusted for your own context, can work for you and your family, too.
P.S. I was prompted to write this story as a result of being asked to consider writing an endorsement for a forthcoming Crossway book by David Murray called Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids (Crossway, 2017). Writing the endorsement reminded me of the beginnings of my own Bible reading. That expanded the endorsement into a foreword for the book. The foreword expanded into this blog post.
Simple resources like David Murray’s book are so important. I don’t even want to imagine what my Christian life and my ministry would have been without the encouragement and structure for daily Bible reading I received as a child. But if I’d had something like Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids. I think my scriptural foundations would have been even stronger. Blessed beyond their knowing is the boy or girl who receives a workbook like Murray’s and the loving help to complete it.
P.P.S — A few years ago, Justin Taylor did the church a great service when he complied a long list of links to various Bible reading plans.
Photo from Inquisitr.