Alex Noel challenged herself to read every part of the Bible – and found her life changed as a result
Last year I embarked on a project: to read the whole Bible. I’ve been reading it in various forms as long as I’ve known Jesus, which goes back to early childhood. However, my engagement with it has lacked dedication, and the sustained discipline I aspired to eluded me.
Until last year, reading the whole thing had remained firmly on my bucket list but, with midlife approaching, it was definitely the right moment. I’m not sure what galvanised me to the point of commitment, but everything seemed to align this time.
I was getting so fed up with bitty soundbites, second-hand knowledge and holes in my understanding. I wanted to grasp the whole ‘gamut of scripture’, not just take someone else’s word for it. I wanted to challenge myself and read all of it.
Aided immeasurably by a reading plan that was bite-sized enough to seem achievable, and meaty enough to feel like the challenge I wanted, I set off. I found having a plan that was laid out with daily readings from both the Old and New Testament really helpful, providing a great balance.
I could keep track as I went along, which created a sense of accomplishment. I definitely like to feel that I’m making progress, and ticking things off adds to the psychological satisfaction of getting things done.
I’m now only six weeks away from the end of the plan, so I’ve almost finished reading the whole Bible. I can hardly believe it – it’s so exciting to be here. I think back to the moment I started when, thanks to that firm decision, the inertia finally evaporated.
I had cleared the initial hurdle and was finally moving towards my goal. I remember experiencing a clear sense of trepidation as I sat down on day one to start reading. It was like standing on the edge of a desert, looking out over a vast landscape.
I had no idea what lay in store, but I did have a distinct feeling of excitement and anticipation; of the discoveries to be made within its pages, and of being drawn deeper into my relationship with God. On the surface, the Bible can seem pretty intimidating – there are just so many pages. Was I equal to the task? I was about to find out.
What the experience has been like
Firstly, I’ve kept it up and managed to read almost every day. I formed a routine and found a momentum. I look forward to reading it; now my day feels incomplete without it. It’s been varied, like any journey.
At times reading the Bible has felt like an absolute breeze, and at times it has felt like hard work. Sometimes I’ve needed to skip a day and catch up two at a time – I gave myself grace for that. Sometimes I wanted a change from just reading so I listened to an audio version instead.
As I’ve read, I’ve had moments of revelation – a sense of joining the dots in my understanding. I’ve had moments of emotion as I’ve been both confronted by the words I’m reading, and released from things that have been nagging at me for a while.
To capture this, I’ve kept notes in my journal, writing down my thoughts, reflections and what I’m learning. Sometimes I’ve experienced a deep sense of connection with God, and then for days I’ve read with a sense of discipline – fulfilling the task, rather than feeling motivated or inspired.
Even then I’ve felt reassured that if I show up regularly it’s as if I’m ‘sowing seeds’. In fact, that principle has been at the heart of my approach; by reading the Bible everyday I’m sowing a seed, and I’ll trust that as it’s planted I’m sure to reap the benefit later. It’s turned out to be a good strategy with the right level of expectation.
I’ve travelled a long way in a year. Through the Old Testament: the history books, the prophetic books, the wisdom books and more. I was reading about the story of humanity and God’s people, the rise and fall of kingdoms, Israel’s leaders, laws and culture.
The innermost thoughts and prayers of an actual king; timeless wisdom and insights into human nature and human affairs, visionary prophecies about Israel and the future of the world, and its longed-for saviour.
Through the New Testament: the accounts of Jesus, his birth fulfilling those ancient hopes. His teachings and miracles, his closest circle and followers, his death and resurrection. The movement he began – the Church – ignited and multiplied by the Holy Spirit. And, finally, a revelatory vision of times and places we haven’t yet encountered.
Alex Noel reading her Bible
How it has changed me
Far from tiring of it, my hunger to understand the Bible has deepened, as has my respect for it. There are countless passages and chapters that I had never read before, and numerous areas of life and experience that I never imagined the Bible would touch on or have any relevance for.
I’ve become much more certain about what it says about particular topics, and how cohesive it is. I’ve noticed that it mirrors and reinforces itself throughout its books across the Old and New Testaments. I’ve got to know the cast of characters and people of faith so much better, and my understanding of God and how he relates to us has broadened immensely.
I’ve been surprised by how clear the Bible is and, while I might struggle sometimes with what it says and how to apply it to my life, it’s not nearly as confusing as people have suggested. When I get stuck, I ask God for help and soon enough things make better sense to me.
I’ve discovered that its understanding doesn’t only belong to theologians and church leaders, and that they don’t hold any sort of monopoly on unlocking its wisdom, despite studying it and preaching it for a living.
There is no secret code: the Bible is a book for everyone after all. While their learning and insight can help me, there is no aspect of understanding the Bible that is off-limits to me as I read it for myself – I’m meant to; we all are. I might even find that I contribute something valuable to their understanding.
My perception of the Bible being like a vast impenetrable desert has proved largely inaccurate. What I found as I stepped out and started reading daily was a firm trail dotted with unexpected surprises, realisations and riches. Far from feeling that my Bible project is over, my adventure has only just begun.
Alex used the UCB Word for Today booklet for her reading plan: ucb.co.uk/word-for-today