How are your spiritual muscles? Strong and healthy or weak and flabby?
Regardless of how you personally answered that question, I think it's fair to say that overall today's church is pretty flabby. Clearly Christians are being increasingly marginalized in America, rather than gaining greater moral influence, and a lot of it is due to our overall spiritual weakness.
While we at PRACTICAL HOMESCHOOLING can't solve all the world's problems, we want to do what we can. We are dedicating ourselves in the year of our Lord 2000 to providing practical, easy-to-use solutions that can make your family stronger in every way.
Such solutions are available. In fact, they have worked every time in the past that individuals, families, churches, and nations have employed them.
Method & Discipline
The last really great revival the Western world has seen was the Great Awakening. A handful of young college men developed a deep longing for a closer, more real relationship with God. Just as athletes work systematically at training their bodies, these young men worked systematically at building up their spiritual muscles. They were so intent on spiritual discipline that their enemies nicknamed them "Methodists." And this handful of men - George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, Howell Harris, and a few others - literally changed the world.
Before the Great Awakening one out of four houses in London was a "gin house" selling hard booze. After the Great Awakening, huge numbers of these houses had closed down. Before the Great Awakening, factory owners treated their workers like brute beasts. After the Great Awakening, followers of the Methodists passed laws requiring safe and healthy conditions for workers. Before the Great Awakening, it was socially worse for a man or woman to be considered "enthusiastic" (e.g., deeply committed to Christ) than to be a rake (promiscuous, a gambler, a boozer, etc.). After the Great Awakening, society developed a sense of shame about flagrant open sin, and character was considered important for those in prominent social positions.
You have likely heard little about the very practical methods used by Christians such as the original Methodists (and the early Christians, and the medieval Christians, and the great missionaries). I know, because I haunted Christian bookstores for years searching for practical teaching on subjects such as prayer, fasting, Bible study, and good deeds. Many books say you should do these things, but are vague about how to do them, or how to overcome the obvious problems facing those who wish to do them.
Why a Bible Reading Plan?
That is why this new column will provide you with practical tools for building up your family's spiritual muscles. I am not a Methodist, but I have come to believe in the godly use of methods - systematic techniques of spiritual discipline. If we are to successfully face and overcome the spiritually trying times that lie ahead, this is where we need to start.
For the past several years, I have been using the daily Bible reading schedule provided by Operation Rescue. This particular reading plan beats all others I have tried. First, it assigns a manageable portion each day. Second, each weekday's reading includes something from both the Old and New Testament - and the portions often reinforce each other. Third, Sunday readings are always in the Psalms and Christian holidays have readings related to that holiday. This is a nice break when you're going through long sections of prophetic woes, and makes Sunday a day to look forward to.
Flip Benham of Operation Rescue graciously gave us permission to create a slightly modified PHS edition of their Year 2000 Bible reading plan. You will find yours bound into your issue opposite this column. If you have already been successfully using another Bible reading plan, please pass this one on to a friend. If, like the vast majority of Christians, your Bible reading is sporadic and whimsical ("when I feel like it and where I feel like it"), please give this one a try. You can freely photocopy it for each member of your family who can read, making it easy for all of you to systematically read through the entire Bible in a year.
Tips for Bible Reading Success
- Read it in the first lull of the day. Commitments to read first thing in the morning or last thing at night often fall by the wayside as the day jumps up and grabs you by the throat. But when you find yourself waiting for someone to pick you up to go somewhere, or while eating a snack, or during some other downtown, keep your Bible handy with the reading plan tucked inside.
- I like to keep the reading plan tucked into the page for the New Testament reading, and use my Bible's ribbon to keep the place for the Old Testament reading. No time wasted looking for your place!
- If you know tomorrow is going to be a beast of a day, try reading two days' worth today.
- If you miss a day, or even a bunch of days, don't reproach yourself. Just catch up. You aren't trying to win the prize for Perfect Attendance; you are trying to read this book all the way through. Sunday is a great day to catch up if it has been a particularly bad week.
- Children should read their Bibles to themselves, and one older child should read the Bible portion to the non-readers. If you always read the Bible portions aloud, it takes much longer, and the children will not develop the habit of reading the Bible systematically on their own.
- Keep a blank notebook nearby for writing down any striking thoughts, insight, or answers to prayer that pop out of your Bible reading, but do not feel any obligation to write in that notebook. Outlining, inductive and deductive studies, word studies, and the like are all valuable Bible study tools - but you are not studying. You are reading. I sometimes go for weeks without writing anything in my notebook, then have a couple of days where I have lots to write. The rule of thumb is: if you can remember it without writing it down, or if you already know it well, don't bother to write it down.
- Don't struggle to find personal applications that aren't there. Not every single Bible verse has an immediate personal application (without torturing the verse, that is!).
- Talk to God while you read. Share your feelings about what you are reading. Try to become aware of your worries and joys. Passages about what happens to evil empires may cause some worries about the future state of our country, for example, as it is becoming more evil. Ask Him to help you understand whatever puzzles you, but be aware the answers sometimes take years to arrive!
Please take this in the spirit it was intended, as a helping hand from someone who has had her share of failures in this area. That's how I learned what works and what doesn't!
It is my strong desire for all of us to become the kind of people who God loves to bless. When better to start than now?
EDITOR'S NOTE: You can download this year's Bible Reading Plan for free from our web site. See the link on our homepage.