Inspired by the crisp, clean pages of a new calendar, many people start the year with plans to diet and exercise. Some of these resolutions, however, have nothing to do with weight or health: the diet is scripture reading and the exercise is spiritual.
The key to keeping such resolutions, most observers say, is to set aside a specific part of the day and stick with it until the resolution becomes a routine.
"Pick the time of day that works best for you, whether it be the evening, morning, or afternoon," said Matt Poe, publishing director of Back to the Bible Ministries in Lincoln, Neb. "Some people are night people and it's easier for them to do things in the evening. Other people may be morning people. The key is to make it a habit."
To read all of the Bible's 1,189 chapters in a year, an individual would have to cover an average of 3.26 chapters per day. Converted into verses, the average is 85.41 per day to span all 31,173 verses in the Old and New Testaments.
A multitude of guides is available to help Christians organize what might seem like a daunting task into smaller, more easily reachable goals that take about 15 minutes per day. One of the most widely available guides is a simple checklist, printed in pamphlets or church bulletin inserts, that lists specific chapters and verses for each day of the year.
Providence Lutheran Church, in Toledo, Ohio, published such a checklist recently and encouraged its congregation to "set aside a time each day to read from your Bible. ... Be realistic. Commit yourself only to as much time as you honestly feel that you can stick to on an ongoing basis."
Jews have similar programs encouraging the reading of the Torah, which consists of the first five books of the Bible, and the Talmud, a book of Jewish law that spans an imposing 64 volumes. Rabbi Ed Garsek of Congregation Etz Chayim in Toledo said his congregation studies a portion of the Torah each week, covering all five books of Moses plus some writings of the prophets in the course of a year.
About 160 years ago, Rabbi Meir Shapiro devised a system for studying the entire Talmud in 7-12 years, Rabbi Garsek said, and in some large cities, Talmud classes are offered on a daily basis.
"If you exercise for 20 minutes a day, it's much better than exercising for one hour a week," Rabbi Garsek said. "It's mind-sharpening. It makes a person better."
The Qur'an, the holy book of the Muslims, contains 114 chapters printed on approximately 600 pages.
"We encourage Muslims to read as much of the Qur'an as possible during Ramadan, the holy month of prayer and fasting," said Imam Farooq Abo-Elzahab of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. "We encourage people to read about an hour a night."
A popular seller in Christian bookstores around the new year is The One Year Bible, which presents the entire Bible in 365 daily portions. The book, introduced in 1986, has sold more than 4.3 million copies in its various formats. Among its devotees is President-elect George W. Bush.
"I read the Bible regularly," Mr. Bush wrote in his autobiography, "A Charge to Keep." "Don Evans (whom Mr. Bush recently named his secretary of commerce) gave me The One Year Bible, a Bible divided into 365 daily readings, each one including a section from the New Testament, the Old Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. I read through that Bible every other year. During the years in between, I pick different chapters to study at different times."
Tyndale House, the Christian publisher based in suburban Chicago, prints a large number of products with the one-year theme, including The One Year Bible for Kids, The One Year Chronological Bible, The One Year Bible Companion, The One Year Book of Poetry,and The One Year Book of Personal Prayer. They are offered in different biblical translations, including the King James Version, the New International Version, and the New Living Translation.
"We had a lot of concern at first that it wasn't going to be very popular," said Doug Knox, a vice president and publisher at Tyndale House in Carol Stream, Ill. "It's basically the text of the Bible rearranged into 15-minute readings. Anybody who has a Bible at home can do this."
But Tyndale House found that many Christians who attempted to read through the Bible using a checklist ended up falling short of their goal.
"Reader surveys have confirmed that The One Year Bible has helped people achieve their personal goal of reading through the Bible in a year," Mr. Knox said.
The publisher recommends people team up with friends, family, and others to encourage one another.
"We've had whole churches decide to read through The One Year Bible as a group. It provokes a lot of interesting discussion 'Did you see what was going on in the Old Testament today?' It's fun to read through the Bible with a group."
The one-year Bibles are selling briskly in Toledo, according to Becky Book, manager of Family Christian Bookstore on Reynolds Road. "They do sell pretty well. We're almost all sold out now but we'll be getting more soon."
The rise of the Internet has made it even easier for people to read scripture daily. Some Internet sites, such as www.bibleinayear.org, will send scripture verses via e-mail each day, free of charge.
At the Back to the Bible Ministries Web site (www.backtothebible.org), the organization recently began offering a free program of daily Bible readings for downloading onto home computers and laptops. Keeping up with the trends, the ministry also offers a program for handheld Palm Pilots.
"We've been offering read-the-Bible pamphlets to any church that requests it, but this is the first year we've offered it on our Web site," said Mr. Poe.
About 9,600 people logged onto the site last month. Other Web sites, such as www.ssnet.org, offer one-year Bible reading programs with daily verses that users can access with the click of a mouse. The site offers a choice of the King James, New International, Revised Standard, and Spanish-language translations.
At www.jesus4you.com, Web users can listen to soothing background music while they do their daily reading.
It's even possible to "read" the Bible in a year without actually reading it: Tyndale House publishes The Audio One Year Bible New Testament on 12 cassettes, and a number of Web sites offer "streaming audio" readings of the daily verses.
What happens when the task is accomplished? Mr. Knox of Tyndale House said many One Year Bible readers start all over again the next year using a different translation.