Reading goals: a help or hindrance?

At the beginning of every year, millions of men and women make their resolutions for the new year—drop ten pounds, stop smoking, read the Bible in a year, that sort of thing. I tend to have fun with resolutions, typically making ones that I can immediately declare completed (“My goal is to take up smoking and immediately quit. Done!”).

But something I’ve done for the last few years on Goodreads is the annual reading challenge. This is an opportunity for users to set a goal and see how they’re coming along. Typically, I wind up reading about 10-15 percent beyond my goal. However, last week I was *gasp!* a bit behind (don’t worry, I’ve since caught up).

What’s funny, though, is I had a moment where I was kind of freaked out. What if I don’t meet my goal? What if I stay behind all year?

Somehow I’d managed to turn reading into a competition that I had to win.

(How does one win at reading, anyway? And who exactly am I competing against? “Oh no, past-me is going to defeat present-me! What will future-me think?”)

Realizing this forced me to ask myself a question:

Are reading goals helping me enjoy reading more? If I’m getting bent out of shape about an arbitrary goal, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

I love reading lots and lots and lots, and being intentional about reading is essential. But there’s something unhealthy about the mindset of having to “win” at it that I came upon earlier this week—it sucks all the fun right out of it.

I wonder if some of our goals are like that, especially when it comes to reading our Bibles.

We talk a lot in the personal accountability time in our small groups about whether or not we’re reading our Bibles—how much did we read, are we using a plan, are we memorizing anything—and I’ve seen people start to really freak out about their plans, especially if they get behind.

They’ll start off well, but have a bad day or two or ten, lose their minds and do a massive amount of catch-up, and then start the process over again.

All the while failing in one of the principal purposes of reading the Bible in the first place: enjoyment!

God’s Word is meant to be enjoyed, in the same way that any good piece of literature is to be enjoyed. And it’s better to read one chapter a day, every day, and really enjoy it than it is to read five to seven a day every so often and feel burdened by it.

The point is simple: Reading plans are a wonderful servant, but a cruel master. If you’re using a reading plan, great. Enjoy it! Go for broke—try to get through the Bible in a year (or depending on the plan, multiple times this year). But don’t freak out about it if you only have the capacity to read and enjoy one chapter instead of four, five or six. Read what you can, be consistent about it, and let God worry about the rest. Sound good?

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.

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2 Replies to “Reading goals: a help or hindrance?”

  1. Great post, I also make a reading plan at the beginning of most years, and as I’ve been wrestling with the usefulness of my current plan I’ve thought many of these same thoughts. Another question that has crept into my mind is simply, “Why am I reading these books?” Am I reading because I think it will make me look impressive? Am I reading because I want to be able to say I’ve read such and such book? You get the idea. I think there is a temptation to want to read for reasons other than enjoyment, spiritual growth, and personal growth, and when those temptations are left unchecked, our reading plans can become very cruel masters.

  2. Great post!

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