After a tumultuous first half of the year, at the end of the summer, I found myself craving Scripture like I hadn't in a long time. So I strong-armed my husband into joining me in participating in Margaret Feinberg's Wonderstruck by Scripture challenge. Though this 40-day Bible challenge was meant for Lent, we began it in August. We also made a few changes to it.
- We followed the plan only five days a week, opting to take both Saturday and Sunday off each week.
- We refused to be legalistic. Not bound by the 40-days of Lent, we acknowledged that if there were days or even weeks when life got the better of us, we weren't going to beat ourselves up for not having read. That said, we didn't stretch a day's worth of readings into a week of smaller readings. Instead, when we read, we read large chunks of Scripture.
- Even though our church uses the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, for this challenge, we, like Margaret, read The Message.
At the end of our Wonderstruck by Scripture challenge, here's what I've learned:
1. Reading a different translation – even a paraphrase – adds to the Bible's richness. I am, without a doubt, a fan of Eugene Peterson. Still, I was surprised by how often his paraphrase left me breathless, struck by the beauty of Scripture. What's more, when I read the same translation of the Bible again and again, I sometimes become immune to it's words, skimming them because I already know them. However, reading a different translation of the Bible drew my attention to things I'd never before noticed and enabled me to see Scripture through fresh eyes.
2. The Bible was written for communities of believers. Sure, we in the American church have made quiet times into personal pursuits, but as I immersed myself in Scripture this time around it seemed clear that's the opposite of it's intent. For this reason, I was so thankful to do this challenge with my husband, to be able to reflect on our readings at the end of a day and bounce ideas and revelations off of one another. These were, for us, sacred moments.
3. Repetition matters. Repeatedly dissecting the Bible into small, manageable chunks left me largely unaware of just how connected all of Scripture really is. However, reading the Bible in larger chunks, in a relatively short amount of time, drew my attention to things I'd previously missed; To people and places that were significant because of how frequently they were mentioned.
4. All of Scripture points to Christ. As so many have said, the Bible is “The cradle of Christ.” At no point to me was this more apparent than in the midst of the prophets, which though they never mention Jesus by name, clearly point to him. When I got to the prophets, I wept, imagining what these words must have meant to God's chosen people, a people still expectantly waiting for the Promised One.
5. The New Testament does not actually account for much of the Bible. Though we in the church spend an understandably disproportionate amount of time teaching and preaching about the Gospels and the Epistles, in actuality, according to Kindle, the New Testament only accounts for about 22 percent of the Bible. This was clear in this challenge. We spent weeks reading the Old Testament and mere days reading the New Testament.
6. John differs from the other Gospels. After reading the Gospels in four consecutive days, the depth of intimacy John experienced with Jesus was clear. It's obvious John was one of Jesus' closest friends, someone who knew Jesus, deeply and personally, and who loved him greatly.
7. Paul's not so bad after all. After finishing Acts, my Bible sat untouched for about two weeks. In reflecting on this, I finally realized that because I'd enjoyed this read through of the Bible so much, I'd been reluctant to get to the “doctrine” of Paul; To the parts of Scripture I'd heard used as weapons far too many times. Much to my surprise, in this pass through Scripture, I loved Paul's writing. In reading through his letters quickly, it seemed clear his words were meant as encouragement and guidance to specific communities of believers rather than the end all, be all we've made them out to be. I saw in Paul's words, not the arrogance I expected, but rather continual evidence of the grace he himself experienced and a love for Jesus that radiated from every page.
8. Revelation's weird but not scary. There's no way around it – there's some crazy stuff in the book of Revelation. Even so, reading it in it's entirety made it somehow less scary. It made it feel like the point of this book is not the details of the eschatology but rather the fact that Jesus wins. Having read the Bible fairly quickly, this book felt to me like an appropriate and riveting end to a Good Book where, despite countless trials and hardships, eventually, the hero wins.
9. The Bible really is one story. Though written by different authors over several hundred years, it contains one central story, with themes that recur throughout it's entirety.
10. There's value in reading the Bible as a story. Stories captivate, draw us in, and fill us with wonder – all things I experienced in this cover-to-cover read of the Bible. While the evangelicals first taught me to love Scripture, they also taught me to dissect it into small chunks, mine every word for additional meaning, and draw out countless life applications. All of these things are valuable and yet, all of these things often detract from the ultimate story. Reading the Bible quickly, in large chunks, drew me into the story of God - A riveting story of creation, loss, and redemption; Of a people chosen by God to be his Kingdom workers; Of love and loss; Of a living, active, God who really is, as Peterson says, “The God who is, the God who was, and the God about to arrive”; And of an unfolding story in which we have an important part.