Three things happened back-to-back that changed the trajectory of my bible-reading life (and my whole life, actually).
It first started with a post I wrote last year about morning devotional books I liked. I am not a morning person and yet I saw the value in starting the day with truth, so I did what I’ve always done and chose a morning devotion to start the day. There is nothing wrong with this, per se. Quick readings with scripture and truth and application have their place. And for us busy moms (especially you moms of littles where it feels like you never have a minute to yourself!) those devotional resources are priceless. But then a reader left a comment that made me pause. She said something along the lines of “is this really all we’re willing to give Jesus? All we have is just an obligatory 5 minutes to read and then just move on with our day?“. It could have come off as critical and I could have responded defensively. But instead, it totally convicted me. She was right. Is a quick get-it-done reading all I was willing to give? And was it working to grow me deeper into the knowledge and trust in who God is and who I am and how then I should live in this world?
Another thing happened around the same time: I felt the Lord asking me to quiet the noise. There are endless resources for amazing teaching and inspiration and I was consuming a lot of it. My desire to grow and learn was at an all time high and I was responding by drinking it all in. These things, again, are SO good. Podcasts and books and instagram and blog posts with testimonies of how God has worked and what He is like are invaluable. But I felt like I was just hearing second hand about who God is and what He does and not experiencing it for myself.
I longed to know what He wanted to say to ME!
The third moment happened in passing on a Sunday at church. I was chatting with a friend and she told me about something she had read that morning in the book of Nehemiah. I commented, “hmm I’ve never studied Nehemiah.” And her reply caught me off guard: “oh, I’m not studying, I’m just reading.” I realized then and there that my approach to the Bible was off. I saw it as something to study, to dig through, to come to academically and in a group. It was for smarter theologians or well-practiced readers who understood original Greek and Hebrew and ancient culture. I was consuming teaching ON the bible, craving knowledge about God, seeking out wise teachers – all good things – but it was like a watered-down, second-hand kind of experience with God and He was asking me to quiet all that noise to just be with Him.
At the same time as all of this was going on, my spiritual director suggested a new way of understanding who Jesus is through daily reading through the gospels.
She introduced me to Project 89.
The practice was developed by an organization for church leaders called Centered. My spiritual director’s husband leads the team and we have good friends who work with them so it felt like a trustworthy place to start.
Here’s the premise of Project 89:
Each day, you read one chapter of a gospel, starting with Matthew, then moving through Mark, Luke and John. There are 89 chapters total (hence the Project 89 title).
The best part, though, is that you do not just read. You also journal in a guided way.
This is the journal I used and it is now one of my most beloved possessions.
Here’s how it works:
With a blank notebook (at least 90 pages, lined, unlined, spiral bound, stitched, whatever you like), create a table of contents with the chapter, date and room for a title you will give the chapter after reading it.
So at the very beginning, you’ll have a running list of all the chapters for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It took me four pages in my notebook.
Once you complete a reading, you’ll add in the title and date.
Here’s how my title pages look:
I didn’t give my pages numbers, but you could if it helps you keep better track.
You’ll notice a few asterisks next to particular chapters. Those were my own little way to mark particular days when I felt like the Lord spoke special things to me.
On each day of reading, you’ll title a new page with the chapter and date. Then read and take notes and journal as you feel led.
At the end of the reading and journaling, give the day a title. It could be a concept that sticks out from a verse or a plot line or what the Lord taught you.
Here are a few sample pages of my daily notes as an example:
Some days were less journal-y than others. Sometimes the chapter didn’t totally connect, and honestly, sometimes I was less engaged and just rushed through.
But as long as my heart and mind were present and I invited the Holy Spirit into the practice, He was so faithful to speak and show and bring up questions and offer answers.
I started Project 89 on June 1, 2018 and finished on January 3, 2019.
In theory, it would only take 89 days, but it took me 7 months. And honestly, I feel totally okay with it. In fact, I am so sad it is over. It became a way for me to slow down, to speak to God, to hear from God, to get to know His character, to find myself in parables and recognize my inability to measure up and Jesus’ incredible, upside-down ways that set us free.
As I look back through the journal, I can see so clearly the messages I needed to hear directly from God.
I needed to know His character – that He is good, kind, compassionate, responsive. I needed to be honest about my shortcomings – that as much as I try not to, I still get very tangled up in the worries of the world. I needed to spend time with Him and prioritize this practice in my busy life. I needed to remember His promises. I needed to slow down and talk to Him and listen.
Because just as I had so hoped, He did have things to say to me.
At the end of it all, I can honestly say that this one spiritual practice has transformed my life.
I have done a lot of work over the past year to grow and heal and understand my identity in Christ. There has been incredible freedom and healing which I’m more than excited to share as the time comes. But at the center of it all, I deeply believe that spending time in the Gospels in this very intentional way has been the biggest difference-maker.
If this is something you’d like to do, may I share a few things that I think are imperative:
Find a quiet place
I’m not great at getting up way ahead of the kids, so instead I found a crack of time in between sending my middle schooler off to school and starting the morning routine with the elementary kids. I crawled back in to bed in my quiet bedroom with my journal and bible app to do the daily practice.
Some days I would bring my journal along with me and do the reading in my car if I had some time before barre class or as I was waiting during a kid’s sports practice.
The essential part – at least for me – was being alone, without noisy distractions or interruptions.
Begin with an open, mindful posture
This sounds sort of woo-woo, but stick with me.
It’s super tempting to just run through the motions and treat it like an item on your checklist. Sure, you’ll get something out of it, but what if there’s more?!
Begin each time by getting quiet and still, close you eyes, open your hands and exhale.
When I meet with my spiritual director, we begin each session like this. We sit in silence with our eyes closed and hands open for a minute to let the pressures and to-do list roll into the background and be present and open in the moment.
We also light a candle to represent the presence of the Holy Spirit during our monthly meetings. I didn’t add the candle portion to my daily reading, but you certainly could if it helps you get into the mental and spiritual place where you will be most open.
Acknowledge the presence of Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is with us always, so I don’t know how I feel about saying we need to invite him in, but acknowledging His presence is vital.
My prayer each time I began might sound something like this:
Holy Spirit, you are here. I am here. I am thankful for this time to be with you. Quiet my heart, open my eyes and ears. Show me through the Word what you want me to know. Show me what you want me to do. Show me who you are and what that means about who I am.
Read in a translation that is not super familiar to you
I love my NIV study bible. But for this practice, I read each day in The Passion Translation version. IT WAS INCREDIBLY IMPACTFUL.
Even though the stories might be familiar, reading them in a version that is not your regular go-to makes you read the words and not just skim over them. It puts new words and maybe slightly different perspective that makes you stop and think and pay attention and reflect on familiar scriptures in new ways.
I read using the BibleGateway app on my phone. I started each day with The Passion Translation and then would switch to the Amplified version (another favorite) or The Message or The New Living for added clarity and perspective. I love reading the same story in different translations to help me understand and comprehend better.
Write down whatever makes you pause
If I read a line in the chapter and it caught my attention for whatever reason, I wrote it down. Sometimes I would elaborate with added thoughts or questions, sometimes I would stop and look it up in a different version, sometimes I just continued on.
The point of journaling is to mark down what is speaking to your soul and interact with it. You might ask for deeper understanding. You might see a thread running through where the same things keep popping up. Now that I’m done, I love having this journal to go back through and see the repeating themes.
The journaling and titling each chapter acts as a way for you to think and comprehend instead of just reading but not really letting the words sink in.
Like I said up there, I didn’t finish in 89 days. But I didn’t quit or feel defeated when I missed a few days. The longer I stuck with it, the more I craved it. I anticipated meeting with God and growing in my faith.
It really is a relationship, you know? The more time you spend together, the deeper and purer it becomes. And when you skip being together, the more you miss it.
Well, there it is. The single most impactful spiritual practice I’ve ever done.
I’m so sad it’s done. I know that’s weird because I could just start again. But it’s just this sweet, special one-time thing that I know can’t be replicated and I hold it so dear. I am so grateful for the ways it has grown my faith and trust in God.
I pray, more than anything, whether you do this Project 89 practice or any other scripture reading, that you will more fully understand who God is, who you are and what that means as you walk out your daily life.
I’m on the journey with you, friend, and so thankful that we have a loving, good God who promises this: