For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Joycelyn and I’m a part of Praxis, the young adult fellowship at Lighthouse. Now that we’re approaching the end of 2020, I wanted to share a story of how God has been gracious to me through the means of COVID and the Praxis Bible Reading Groups.
Last December, Praxis staff announced that we were going to do a year-long Bible Reading Plan together. Up until that point, I’ve never read through the entire Bible. I was one of them, who started and stopped countless times through many different Bible Reading plans but always gave up somewhere in the middle of Genesis. I think once, I made it to Leviticus, but after reading about all the laws and getting confused, I called it quits. Reading the Old Testament scared me and I low-key thought it was “boring and irrelevant.” For many years, I depended on the Psalms and much of the New Testament for spiritual nourishment. Sometimes, it was humiliating to know that there were unbelievers out there who probably have read more of the Bible than I had.
Well! In January, I thought, “Alright, new year, new me. Let’s do this Bible Reading Plan cause who knows, maybe if I know other friends are also reading with me, I’ll make it through the Pentateuch.” January and February came and went. I was still on the train but slowly falling off. Each day we were to read 2 chapters of the OT, 1 chapter of the NT, and on the weekend we would read 2 chapters of Psalms. I think at some point in February, I was some 6 days behind on the plan. 6 days behind meant a lot of chapters to have to catch up on, like 18! I was starting to get discouraged and wanted to give up. But God, rich in mercy haha knew how the rest of this year would play out.
March 2020. March, the month where COVID changed our lives and the month where many of us last stepped foot into church! March was the month where I suddenly had a lot of free time. March was also the month where I was frustrated, anxious, and annoyed at COVID. Like many of you, COVID took away many of my idols and comforts, one of them was being busy. Busyness allowed me to run from one place to another, juggle multiple things simultaneously, and never sit still for too long to think and work through sins that I struggled with. During the early days of quarantine, to create a facade of “busyness” and make myself feel productive, I would continue to make to-do lists and busied myself with tasks I wanted to accomplish. Each to-do list had read the Bible on it. I felt stressed about how many chapters I needed to catch up on, felt anxious about COVID, and felt antsy with no people to see and no place to go. What a perfect combo, God!
The first couple of days and weeks of COVID blurred together, every day felt like Saturdays. Each morning started off slow and felt like I had endless hours each day to do whatever I wanted. With my endless amounts of spare time, I found myself slowly catching up reading my Bible. In my head, it felt like I was just completing a task on my to-do list, but in my heart, God was slowing me down so that I would be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). One song and one verse that was prominent during that time were “I Will Wait for You Psalm 130” by Keith and Kristyn Getty. “I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”(Psalm 130:5). God was teaching me to wait for Him, not for the pandemic to end quickly, not for us to be able to go back to church again but to wait on Him and have hope only in Him.
As I continued to read, God’s Word grew my anxious heart to have greater trust in Him. When the world was losing their minds over toilet paper and Clorox wipes, I read about how God provided manna each day for the Israelites. When it seemed like the world was on the brink of falling apart, I read about my sovereign God, who is still in control and reigns as King forevermore. Before this year, my preconceived notion of Leviticus was that it was irrelevant and boring because the whole book was filled with very particular laws for the Israelites. I found Leviticus to be relevant this year. I read about clean and unclean animals, purification after childbirth, and cleansing houses. Hmm…sounds like much of the world in March 2020. We, too, were busy washing our hands, sanitizing our phones, and keeping ourselves as “clean” as possible. Leviticus was humbling to read because I saw myself through the Israelites. Despite all their desperate efforts to abide by the laws and stay as clean as possible, they still could never be clean enough. The Israelites and I faced the same problem, our sins in light of a holy God. Through reading Leviticus, I learned more of God’s holiness, yet his love for us through His beautiful redemption plan that would come later through Jesus.
Besides reading on my own, I was also a part of the Bible Reading Groups that had formed within Praxis. Bible Reading Groups were a way for us to encourage one another to stay consistent and accountable. These groups met either weekly or daily. At Bible Reading, we came together to read a couple of chapters out loud, discuss, and ask questions. Since we were reading aloud together each time, it made meetings less intimidating for others to join and helped take away the pressure of needing to prepare or read beforehand. This was also a way for people to catch up if they were a couple of chapters behind.
To have made it this far through reading the Bible, I have God and my faithful friends to thank. I am so, so thankful for the Bible Reading Group. At first, I was not sure what I was signing myself up for. But soon, it became a joy, especially when COVID hit. Can’t read together at church anymore? Not a problem! We can read together on Zoom! Sundays soon became my favorite day of the week because there was church and Bible Reading to look forward to. I always looked forward to Reading Group because it was always a tangible reminder of God’s grace to us. Every week, we found ourselves still happy, joyful, and laughed a lot. What a joy!
After we read, we would spend time sharing what stood out to us from each passage and why it still matters to us today. A favorite was reading through the Pauline epistles. The early churches were living in crazy times, kinda similar to what we are currently living in. To the Galatians, Paul wrote to “bear one another’s burdens”(Gal. 6:2). To the Ephesians, he encouraged them to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us”(Eph. 5:1). To the Philippians, he encouraged them “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”(Phil.1:6). As we read the exhortations and encouragements Paul wrote to these churches, it encouraged us to do the same. Paul wrote time and time again that he longed to see them. I, too long to be able to return back to in-person church. We learned to bear one another’s burdens by sharing stories of difficult circumstances and praying for one another. We shared what it meant to live a life that imitated Christ and encouraged one another to persevere until Christ returns and our faith is turned to sight.
One of my favorite parts of Bible reading was asking questions. A running joke we have is, “It’s not Bible Reading unless Joycelyn has questions!” I somehow always had questions to ask and many were hard. Sorry, friends! (i.e. who hardened Pharoah’s heart? was it God or was it Pharoah himself?) I am thankful for how patient and kind my friends were in sharing their knowledge by answering or helping me think through my questions. I always came away humbled by how little I knew and excited by how much I had learned that day. It may seem that there are more things to complain and dislike about this year, but I will look back upon 2020 with gratefulness, remembering that this was the year where I spent a lot of the time reading the Bible and reading it with my brothers and sisters.
We’re finally approaching the end of 2020 and I am only a couple of books away from reading through the entire Bible. Even with the extra time to read, some days I still struggle to read, and some days I still fall behind in the plan. But I have learned that the end goal is not to say that I finally read through the Bible. The end goal is to know and love my Savior more today than I did yesterday. John Piper once said, “We become what we behold.” What a crazy, crazy year and what better ways are there than to try and process the crazy world around us through the lens of Scripture.
Reading the Bible is hard, it takes time, but press on, friend, it’s worth it!
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18