Strategies for Battle in the New Year
As January is set to begin and a new year is upon us, we have entered that season when folks will start to consider different changes they’d like to make to their lives for the new year. Some of us need to reconsider how we’re eating! Some of us need to reconsider other material aspects of our lives. But all of us need to use this opportunity to especially consider our souls. Introspection like this is good for us, when done in light of the cross. We don’t consider our souls in order to redeem or rescue ourselves. We don’t reflect on where we are out of slavish fear. Instead, because of Christ’s work we are motivated toward holiness because we love Christ and want to be conformed to his image and because Christ is our greatest comfort in life and in death.
The year 2017 will be a year of warfare for our souls, as we tangle once again with our old enemies: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Central to that warfare is the Word of God. The Word of God preached on Sundays, certainly, but also prayed, sung, and read. And this happens more than just once a week for believers. John Piper says, “Hearing the word of the cross, and preaching it to ourselves, is the central strategy for sinners in the fight for joy.”
I want to suggest one of the most effective strategies to help us in our battles against our great enemies and in our fight for joy in God this next year. These are suggestions, and not burdens I would fasten around the necks of God’s people. Maybe I wouldn’t necessarily tell a man going into battle that he had to carry a gun or wear some sort of armor. But I would, at the minimum, suggest that there is great wisdom in availing ourselves of these strategies and resources if they exist.
Even if you don’t read complicated theological texts or consume every written word in sight, God’s Word should be part of any well-equipped soldier’s spiritual arsenal. Spending the year 2017 reading completely through God’s Word is one goal that you may want to set for yourself. This is far more doable than you may think. Considering the reading speed of the average American, you can read through the Bible in 70 hours. This sounds like a lot until you consider that there are 365 days in the year. What the math tells us is that if we are willing to dedicate less than 15 minutes a day to reading Scripture, we can have all of the Bible read, cover to cover in one year. What most of us need more than anything is a strategy that we can realistically stick with, and I want to suggest a couple of resources that can help us make it.
If you have an iPhone, I would suggest getting the ESV Bible app. Once you’re using the app it has a section at the bottom with a calendar icon that is dedicated to finding a good plan to help you read the Bible in a year (they give many to pick from). Each day it tells you what you need to read, and it even lets you click on the text to read it immediately. No page turning. You can do this while you’re on the run, during a lunch break, or while you’re waiting for a friend in the car.
Last week we included a print-out of a Bible reading plan from Tabletalk magazine. If you don’t want to go the high-tech route, simply fold up that plan, stuff it in your Bible, and as you read each day, mark it off.
With either of these plans, it’s important that you not grow frustrated or give up if you fall behind. If you do fall behind (or get a late start), that doesn’t mean the plan needs to be abandoned – it just means you’ll be a little behind. Accept it, but don’t quit out of frustration. All of God’s Word is profitable, even if it takes you longer than a year to read. Related to that, there are also three-year Bible plans (http://tinyurl.com/jbex54z) that will ensure that even if you aren’t reading it quickly, you are nevertheless engaging with God’s Word in its totality. This may be a good option for you if you have tried doing a Bible reading plan and found your attempts foiled on an annual basis.
The important thing isn’t that you follow a rule or keep a man-made law, but that you are hearing from God on a regular basis. If you had been dropped behind enemy lines with no contact with command, you would begin to despair after a while and eventually just start following your own plans. Hearing from our Great Commander through his Word preached on Sundays is the greatest, most effective tool God has given to equip us to engage in the battle ahead of us. But very closely behind that is his Word read and prayed over by his people on a daily basis. It is there that we receive communiques from our great God and are equipped to engage with the enemy and fight for joy in God.