By Jillian Nemecek
This year is going to be the year that I read all the books of the Bible. It’s almost my 30th year of being a Christian, and I’m way overdue for reading the Bible on my own. Let me confess something about why I haven’t read all the books of the Bible yet: because I see a lot of the books of the Bible as I see the “flyover states.” I know the East Coast and West Coast really well. And I know for a fact that Canada is north of Louisiana and Texas. Even though I can name all 50 states, 17 of their Capitals, and I know some big cities and even some odd facts about several states, everything else is pretty hazy. That basically parallels my trivial knowledge of the flyover books of the Bible.
You know the ones I’m referring to. They don’t have a verse stenciled on a church youth group wall or framed in Hobby Lobby. They are the books that your friend’s kid is named after, but you only have a vague idea of what that guy went through. Not all books inspire emotions like Psalms and Proverbs, or get the honor of being the bookends like Genesis and Revelation, or have the major curb appeal like the Gospels of the New Testament. Plus, reading only a few chapters of Numbers can convince you that not every verse in the Bible is going to make your soul swell with nearness to God.
Someone once told me, “Most people only end up knowing about 200 verses of the Bible, because those are the quotable ones.” I always figured that we’ve had so many generations to comb through it and determine that those are the best verses, the most noteworthy verses for a good Christian life! But tweetable verses aren’t what reading the whole Bible is about, and THAT is what I’m currently discovering in my walk with the Lord. Having grown up in the church, I know I’ve been told I need to be in His Word everyday, which has always sounded like the spiritual equivalent of “eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables everyday.” My unopened bottle of daily multivitamins, unused floss container, and untouched jogging shoes will tell you how committed I am to my healthy daily regimen! I feel like by attending all the big church things so often that I should have already absorbed the Bible by default! But I haven’t!
My natural response is to be annoyed with all the leaders whose teaching I have sat under. Why hasn’t anyone spoon-fed me Obadiah, Nahum, Haggai, or Philemon?! Why should I have to read those dusty, old, unquotable books? I mean, who deemed these books important enough to be in the Bible, despite the fact that no sermon in 30 years has made me absorb them? Then again, I’m a 36 year old Christian who should be understanding her faith like an adult and not waiting for someone else to come by with bite size bits of these whole of Scripture, convincing me to open my mouth for the choo-choo train. Isn’t that a typical American Christian? I want these books to have flair, to lure me in before I’m willing to sacrifice my time to read them. That’s not how Christianity works. And that’s not how the Church works. So about 6 weeks ago I made the decision to start listening to the books of the Bible that I’d never gone through on my own. Most people try to start in Genesis and book by book until they finish in Revelation, but I figured I’d failed at that at least 5 times in my life already so diving straight into the books I’d never read before would be easier. I started with 1 Samuel and I’m currently in Ezra now. All I can say is WOW! The books of 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles are all about the great Kings we grew up hearing about in Sunday School, but listening to them in order, on my own for the first time, is really dramatic. Understanding the linear timeline of the lives of these rulers and the story of the people of Israel has helped me to understand and put into perspective how God operates over large chunks of time.
What has struck me the most is watching God work with and through all of the horrible kings. Not to get political, but you can probably think of a leader you thought would cause America to implode. Some of these kings were straight up evil in the eyes of the Lord, but he didn’t simply remove them from the equation because of his faithfulness to a promise and his much bigger end game. These are real lessons for us today sewn into these flyover books. There aren’t many quotable one liners, but having heard hundreds of years of politics through these books has put our current political climate in perspective for me. Sometimes evil leaders are meant to lead because God is working on something even bigger than the next few years or even my lifetime. Even when America seems to be going in an insane direction, I know from reading and meditating on these books that God knows exactly what He is doing. And THAT is why reading the Bible on our own is so important. Even a general sermon about the ups and downs of the ruling class through the Old Testament wouldn’t have given me the grand understanding that my own study of these books has helped lead me to. The scandals, the despair, the upset, the wars, the battles, the hope, and the love of God are all present, playing out like a soap opera!
Let me encourage you by saying that you owe it to yourself to grow your faith in this very basic, easy way. Easy in the sense that you probably own a Bible, can download a Bible app to read yourself or listen to as someone else reads to you. We need to be taking responsibility for our own faith and not waiting for someone else to bedazzle the entirety of the Gospel narrative into curated chunks. Not reading the Bible ourselves leaves us living out our faith like toddlers who struggle to walk but are mouthy enough to demand someone carry us the rest of the way! I can assure you that it’s a challenge worth taking up. If you haven’t read your entire Bible, I would encourage you to join me in growing out of our toddler stage.
Side note: I love audiobooks. I’m using the app “Bible.is” and it is FANTASTIC! Download it and listen to a chapter to get a quick taste of how committed these voice actors are to their reenactment of these passages! It has made some bone dry stories of the Bible into dramatic portrayals of real people and real events, which has been a huge help in my time making my way through these books that I’ve struggled to read on my own before.