‘If I read more, I get more out of it’

Year of Reading Biblically participants share their experiences with Scripture

August 13, 2014 | Young Voices
Aaron Epp | Young Voices Co-editor

A Year of Reading Biblically (YORB) continues, and if you are following the reading schedule, you’re somewhere in Jeremiah by now. The year is more than half over, and I thought it would be fun to speak with some fellow YORB participants to hear about their experience so far.

It’s difficult for me to know for sure how many Canadian Mennonite readers are participating in YORB, but I know there are a handful across the country. Some are on track, some are not; some started in January, some joined in later; some will finish the readings in December, and some have already finished them. Here are four stories: two from “young voices,” and two from some not-so-young voices.

If anything, these stories show that many people struggle with the same things when it comes to reading the Bible. They also show that there’s a lot you can get out of reading Scripture, and it’s not too late to join in if you haven’t already.

Lori Guenther Reesor

Lori Guenther Reesor, a self-employed fundraising consultant from Mississauga, Ont., has spent a lot of time with Scripture. She has a master of theological studies degree from Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ont., and this past April she graduated from Tyndale University College and Seminary, Toronto, with a doctor of ministry degree. Before YORB, however, the 47-year-old had never attempted to read the Bible from cover to cover.

Guenther Reesor says she has enjoyed coming across stories she was not familiar with before. For example, in I Chronicles 21, David asks Araunah for his threshing floor, so he can build an altar to the Lord. David tells Araunah that he will pay full price for it. When Araunah says that David can have it for free, along with oxen and wheat for the offering, David responds, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

For Guenther Reesor, whose graduate work involved researching why Mennonites give away their money, and who spends her time working with churches and charities to make fundraising a joy, the idea that David insisted on making an offering that cost him something stuck out for her.

“If you don’t read through the whole Bible, you’re not going to see all those things,” she says.

Kirsten Hamm

Kirsten Hamm, 24, is the area church youth minister for Mennonite Church Saskatchewan. She recalls being in Sunday school as a child and memorizing chunks of Scripture in exchange for chocolate. Now, as an adult, her YORB  participation isn’t motivated by sweets, but by a desire to become a better leader. To that end, she feels that being more familiar with her Bible will equip her in her work.

Hamm studied the Bible at the Christian high school she attended, so when YORB began she was worried that certain parts of the Bible would seem boring because she was familiar with them. That has not been the case.

She also felt that, because Christians base their faith in belief in Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings are recorded in the New Testament, the Old Testament would seem boring because it is less applicable to her life.

“[As I read] those first five books of the Bible, I was just reminding myself that this is part of my story too,” she says.

Hamm adds that part of what keeps her motivated is knowing that there are other YORB participants out there. That includes Ian, her fiancé. The two discuss what they are reading and sometimes text each other questions: “Did you read this?” “Does this make sense to you?”

What Hamm wonders most about is, why God would spend so much time and effort on the Israelites, working them through the growing pains of becoming God’s people, only to eventually make God’s salvation available to all through Jesus Christ?

“What was going on in God’s mind when he was putting in all this effort?” Hamm muses. “That’s something that’s consistently blown my mind a little bit. I’m hoping by the time I reach the end of Revelation, I will know.”

Alfred Penner

I wanted to talk to my mother’s brother for this story after his wife, my Aunt Vernelle, revealed to me that he had started reading the Bible in January and had already finished it before June was over.

This wasn’t his first time reading through the Bible, though. He estimates that he has read through the entire thing each year for the past decade.

“I like reading it and I know I get a lot out of it,” says Penner, 55, who works as the retail shipping supervisor at a Winnipeg company that manufactures hardwood mouldings. “If I read more, I get more out of it.”

He started reading through the Bible out of a need to stay more in touch with God.

“It was a discipline at first,” he says. “Like a lot of things, you know it’s good for you, so you keep going at it, but there’s a lot of benefits to it, [like] learning what it was like for all these people 4,000 years ago, what their relationship was with God and how that still is so much the same today.”

When he first read through the Bible, Penner grappled with how a loving God could condone so much violence in the Old Testament. That doesn’t bother him as much today.

“I came to terms with that, thinking, these were very simple people [in the Old Testament] . . . that, combined with the fact that I don’t know all of how God works. God is the big boss up there. I’m a little ant down here and I . . . will never know everything about him and how he works.”

Penner is now reading through the New Testament again, but at a slower pace than he read from January to June. Doing the readings each year has slowly kept him in touch with God, as he hoped it would 10 years ago.

“You’re never going to feel close to God all day long,” he says, “but this is one step in that direction of trying to be in tune with him in your daily walk with whatever you do.”

Full disclosure: Alfred Penner is the
author’s uncle.

Jonas Cornelsen

Jonas Cornelsen didn’t start the YORB reading plan in January, but joined in when the schedule got into books he hadn’t read before. He started in May with I Chronicles and has been keeping up ever since.

Personal daily Bible reading wasn’t a part of Cornelsen’s experience growing up. It was more important to take part in church and learn about the Bible in community with others. The Bible often seemed like a “mysterious and complex book,” he says, and when he did pick it up, parts of it would confuse him. That turned him off from Bible reading for a time.

As a result of classes he’s taken at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, the 20-year-old says he is now more comfortable with the unfamiliarity and strangeness of the Bible: the violent narratives that challenge him as a pacifist, and the mysterious language and metaphors that we don’t encounter in 2014.

“Now I see [that] more as part of the mystery of Scripture,” he says. “I think that’s part of the beauty—that unknown aspect.”

Cornelsen has also realized that not everything he reads needs to be immediately relevant to his life. Rather, he finds it’s more important to reflect on the overall arc of the story and where he sees himself fitting in. Reading the Bible is also a way to build familiarity with the text, so that he is better able to talk about the Bible with fellow believers.

“Having been more involved in the church in the last few years . . . knowing what’s [in the Bible], I can come to those conversations a little more equipped. I don’t have to have my opinions sorted out before I go to that interpretive community.”

Cornelsen says he is not typically ritual-oriented when it comes to making time for God in his day, so reading for the last three-and-a-half months has been a good way to allow that to happen.

“Sometimes just picking up the Bible and reading those pages for however long it takes is that time where I can invite the Spirit in,” he says. “The act of reading itself has become a spiritual discipline that often transcends the words that are there.”

--Posted August 14, 2014

This is Part 7 in the series A Year of Reading Biblically. See also:

Part 1- A Year of Reading Biblically starts now (Dec. 16, 2013) 

Part 2- Time for what’s important (Feb. 3, 2014) 

Part 3- It’s God’s story (March 17, 2014) 

Part 4- Important reminders (April 14, 2014) 

Part 5- Getting back on track (May 12, 2014) 

Part 6- Report shines light on Canadians’ Bible-reading habits (June 23, 2014) 

To join Aaron in reading through the Bible in 2014, see the scripture reference lists in "Daily Guide for A Year of Living Biblically":

Part 1 (Dec. 16, 2013) 

Part 2 (March 31, 2014) 

Part 3 (July 28, 2014) 

Follow on Twitter- @aaronepp  #yorb14 

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