big, improbable ideas

This week I read a statistic that troubled me. On the YouVersion app, which populates different Bible reading plans and similar resources, a reading plan covering the theme of “justice” in the Bible has a 70% user completion rate.

The problem? It’s only a three-day plan.

That is, only 70% of people who sign up for a reading plan that will take three days can actually follow through on those three days.

It’s not surprising. We all know that our attention spans are shrinking, our lives are getting busier, and longform content is becoming less and less popular. We’d rather get the one-minute summary video with an eye-catching slideshow than take in the full depth and breadth of a topic. But it is still troubling.

One of the biggest projects I’ve created through this blog so far is a plan to read through the Bible in 180 days. If 30% of people won’t follow through for three days, how many will still be in it at the end of 180? One percent? Less?

Part of me fears that my vision is too big. It’s too much to expect of people, to read through the whole Bible. It takes too long. They don’t want to do it. They’re too busy. They’re too distracted. It’s one of those lovely, big ideas that I should probably pass off as improbable, if not impossible.

And I know that IT IS a hard task. I myself took this year off from Bible180, because it’s a big investment of time, energy, and brainspace to read through the whole Bible in such a concentrated amount of time. But whether you try to read the Bible in seven days, 180 days, or 365 days - it’s still going to be a really big book that requires really big commitment. We can’t distill it down to a one-minute video and still capture the beauty and complexity of who God is and what He has done.

And I know this, too: There are people that have completed Bible180 from beginning to end. Some of them within the 180-day timeframe, some of them taking a bit longer, but they’ve done it. I know who they are. They’ve shared with me how it has impacted them. Even the ones who made it to Deuteronomy, or to Jeremiah, or to the end of the Old Testament - they experienced transformation, too.

There is a pressure to make things easier. Faster. More bite-size, accessible, watered down. There are plenty of voices telling me I have too many big, improbable ideas - that nobody wants to do that much work.

But I contend that some of us are hungry to put in the work.

Some of us are hungry for the dense, nutritious meat of the Word. Some of us - probably more of us than anyone realizes - have been on a diluted diet for far too long, and we long to know God in His richness. His depth.

Maybe it isn’t about whether I can keep 500 people on task to read through the Bible that matters. Maybe it’s about whether the five or ten or twenty of them that were truly starving get fed.

The Bible school that I attended in Florida attracts one, maybe two dozen students every year. Not the hundreds or thousands that other institutions can boast. But the ones that uproot their lives to spend their days marinating in the fullness of the Bible, the ones that put dollars and hours behind their desire to learn from its every page whether they ever reap a tangible return on the investment or not - these are just one example of the truly hungry. And when the truly hungry seek after what can truly satisfy, they will be filled - even as their appetites are whetted for more.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6

We’re all in different places in our walks with Jesus. Some of us need the milk-based diet - we are babies and we need someone else to hold the spoon. Some of us have been stuck on milk for a bit too long, but haven’t yet identified our real need for something different. Some of us have long outgrown the liquid diet and our souls are crying out for more substantial nutrition - and the skills to feed ourselves - to fuel our growth.

There’s a good place for cutting things up into bite-size pieces. But to the fear that I have too many big, improbable ideas that “no one” will ever want to partake in, I say that’s not true. Because I am someone, and I am starving, and I know that I am not the only one.

Are you one of the hungry ones? I’d love to hear about your experience with the Bible and what you feel is missing from your current spiritual “diet.” Leave me a comment below!

(The photos in this post were taken on a recent hike to McCall Point, Columbia River Gorge.)

starving, yet satisfied

My favorite part of everything I do is what I learn along the way. So it’s a little weird to me that it took me so long to realize that I’m not an entrepreneur… I’m not a blogger… I’m not an artist… I’m not even a writer or photographer.

I’m a student. And these other things I’ve dabbled in, pursued, or wildly loved have all been means to my favorite end, which is learning.

Maybe I didn’t notice this sooner because out of all my adult siblings, I have the least formal education. I have two brothers with four-year degrees and my sister is going for her PhD to be a mathematician. I, on the other hand, went to one year of Bible school and have half an associate’s degree. But I’ve never stopped learning, because the world is my classroom, and though I’m never going to be a rich CEO or a starving artist, I am always going to be a student of God and life.

One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. The whole city holds so much to learn!

One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. The whole city holds so much to learn!

When I went to Israel last month, I was reminded how much I hate the act of traveling. I know that’s not a popular thing to say, but I really don’t enjoy packing, flying, living out of a suitcase, getting on and off a bus, or sleeping in hotel beds. That stuff does not excite me - it stresses me out.

But I was also reminded how much I absolutely love to soak up the immense learning opportunity of being in a foreign land.

I love to see unfamiliar sights, hear unfamiliar voices, smell unfamiliar scents. Travel, to me, is the most saturated and all-encompassing form of learning available. You can’t travel and not learn - that would be like plunging into a lake and not getting wet. The learning material is all around you. Every breath is a lesson. Your comfort zone, where you already know what you need to know and feel confident enough to get by, is miles and miles away.

Couple that with the fact that we chose a study tour of Israel rather than a “vacation” - consisting heavily of sound Bible teaching and incredible archaeological sites - and the trip felt, to me, like coming to a rich oasis of as much learning as I could consume, as quickly as I could take it in. Even now, weeks later, I still feel full and satisfied - and also, somehow, starving for more.

My sister took this picture of me editing the Bible study curriculum I’m currently working on. :)

My sister took this picture of me editing the Bible study curriculum I’m currently working on. :)

I think I’m finally coming to terms with the idea that for me, success (or perhaps a better word is “satisfaction”) is found in learning. For a good chunk of my life, success could only be measured by getting an A on a test or by making someone else happy (and I definitely still have residual perfectionism and people pleasing that I deal with on a daily basis); for a lot of the people around me, success seems to somehow relate to money, milestones, or prestige (and I’ve often fallen prey to thinking that’s where I need to find my satisfaction, too). But deep down I know that God made me a learner, and that when I’m learning (or helping others learn, which is a learning experience all its own) I’m becoming more like the person He intends me to be. That’s not very glamorous, and it doesn’t help me figure out an answer for my most-hated question (“So, what do you do?”), but it is good.

It’s why I still love photography, after thirteen years behind a camera. Every time I shoot, I learn something new about how to capture truth, how to find light, or how to express the beauty I’m seeing with my own creative eye.

It’s why I love to write and have never given up blogging, even when I could count my readership on two hands. Writing is how I process information so that I don’t just hear something new and then forget it - I learn something new and understand it.

And it’s why I chose Bible school instead of traditional college, and still love to study and teach the Bible. I know I’ll never close that Book and say, “Okay, I’m done. I’ve learned it all.” Ironically, I feel the most satisfied in this life when I’m hungriest for more than just this life. My God is a fathomless mystery, and I’m pretty delighted that I get an eternity to learn from Him.


Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

10 Comments

Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.