Happy New Year! As we begin 2019 I’ve seen a lot of people on social media making New Years Resolutions to read the Bible more. While a fabulous goal, I fear our spiritual fitness often goes the way of our physical fitness; we buy that gym membership, and work really hard in January and February, but lose conviction around March and peter out in April as we fail to see measurable progress or find fulfillment in what we’re doing. So, what I want to address in this article is:
- Why to Read the Bible
- How to Read the Bible
A lot of unbelievers, young Christians, and even veterans of the faith wonder, “Where do I start?” or “I read the Bible daily yet feel unsatisfied. How do I recover that emotional connection with God?” Oddly enough, when we hyper-focus on reading the Bible for the sake of reading the Bible, we lose sight of its Author. We’re so focused on the What, we forget the Why; so focused on the When, we forget the How. Reading the Bible is good, but in and of itself is mere action. Remember, Satan quotes Scripture. That means he reads Scripture too. It’s entirely possible to read God’s Word and get nothing out of it. So how do we fix this? As often happens, it’s a heart issue.
Why to Read the Bible
When we love God, we want to get to know God, and once we’ve gotten to know God, we want to get to know him even better. We’re interested in what he thinks, wants, feels, and desires us to know. We think about him day and night. When we sit down and read his Word, his Spirit works in us, convicting us of sin, drawing us to repentance, strengthening our faith, and piquing our spiritual curiosity. That’s because the Bible isn’t a big inert old book. It’s the living and active Word of our Bride Groom, Father, Counselor, Redeemer, Best Friend, and King.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of making devotionals into a chore or mechanical habit, like checking the mail, attending yet another superfluous office meeting, or listening to your spouse tell you the same story for the tenth time. And while having a habit of reading the Bible is good, we want to focus on – not our action – but our interaction. That is, our interaction with God. The ultimate goal of devotionals should never be to, “Read the Whole Bible in 365 Days,” or “Discover a Better You.” Rather, the goal of devotionals is to develop and maintain an ongoing conversation with the Creator of the Universe.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dinging your favorite Bible plan or mobile app. I’m saying let’s dig into our heart motives and make Christ our goal and aim. Let’s read the Bible, not because it’s a good thing to do, but because we love God. Once we get our will aligned with God’s will, our spiritual lifestyle will fall into place.
So, firstly, get your spiritual posture correct. When we want to improve our physical strength, we exercise and go to the gym on a regular basis. However, we don’t go straight to the 80lbs dumbbells and struggle through 50 painful repetitions right off the bat. Rather, we focus on posture. We lift a manageable weight, using the correct form, a practical number of times. When we overload ourselves or use poor posture, that’s when we risk injury and burn-out. Just so, when we want to improve our spiritual strength, we need to focus on the posture of our heart and mind. We select a manageable weight of Scripture, fix our eyes on Jesus, and feel out a practical number of verses.
Depending on your understanding of the Bible and your season of life, Luke might be more encouraging than Lamentations. You may devour Psalm after Psalm yet find a single sentence in Revelation mind-blowing. Focus on your posture. Read with an attitude toward Christ. Don’t strive to achieve a set number of verses. Rather, identify your spiritual and emotional needs and focus on building those muscle groups.
Secondly, view your devotionals as an ongoing conversation, not a series of disjointed events or a daily ritual. Don’t focus on your action of reading, but on your interaction with God. For example, before you read, pray. Ask God to calm your mind, help you focus, and give you understanding. A love for God’s Word is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s not an app or a habit, but a blessing. If you come to a verse that moves or confuses you, pray. And when you finish reading, pray again. In fact, let your devotions follow a conversational pattern, similar to this:
God: God calls you to read the Bible. (Matthew 11:28)
You: You respond by opening his Word and praying for wisdom to understand it. (Psalm 1, Psalm 141:1-2)
God: His Spirit works through the Scripture you’re reading to convict you of sin, draw you to repentance, build your faith, and deepen your understanding. (John 14:23)
You: Thank God for his Word, and ask him to make it effective in your soul. (Psalm 119:97-106)
God: God strengthens your faith, softens your heart, and manifests his grace by enabling you to do good works. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
How to Read the Bible
As a busy mom of three young children, I rarely have time for private devotions. Even now as I write this, my six-year-old is chattering about her new Dr. Seuss book, my four-year-old is begging to play Mario Cart, and my two-year-old is driving a remote-control car around the living room. Quiet time is the stuff of legends. Thankfully, I’ve found my most meaningful devotionals are the ones I read out loud to my children.
As parents, part of loving God and loving our kids means we want our kids to be God’s children. Together we pray, repent of our sins, read the Bible, ask lots of questions, pray, and pray again. I love listening to the prayers of my children. They pray for our cat, for Peter not to walk on water by himself, that Batgirl and Rainbow Dash would love Jesus, and that I’d let them watch TV all afternoon.
While these requests sound cute and silly to us as adults, that’s likely not too far from how God our Father views “grown up” prayers. He sees our naivety, weakness, and misguided ideas. He feels our pain and weeps with us over sin and sorrow. He cherishes our desire to trust him, in fact, he sparked that desire in us. His Spirit grows and matures us, largely through the reading of his World. Faith is not a feeling we muster, but a precious gift from God.
Every blue moon, I manage a massive 2 to 6-hour private devotion. Usually it involves three or four Bible translations and writing my thoughts into an article, like this one. This is how I think, learn, and how God wired me. Don’t forget to take into account how God wired you. If you’re an audio-learner, try listening to an audio version of the Bible. If you tend to be tactile, do something physical like read on a treadmill, or work on a craft project as you listen. Enjoy the Word in ways that maximize its impact and your retention of it.
This goes for your kids too. On an ideal day we read while they eat lunch or color, but often I have to be content with reciting Psalm 23 or The Lord’s Prayer before bed. I try to select verses they’ll understand or be able to relate with emotionally. I select weights of Scripture their little spiritual muscles can carry. Right now, we’re reading through Matthew, but sometimes I mix things up with a Psalm. Sometimes we read the same three verses three days in a row, because I’m not sure they were listening. After all, reading the Bible is about more than establishing habits. It’s about more than reaching a measurable goal or completing an action. It’s about interaction. I want my kids to have an ongoing conversation with God, from their earliest memories to the day they die.
However you Bible, whenever you Bible, focus on Jesus. Work on your spiritual posture and establish correct form in your heart, soul, and mind. Don’t limit your conversation to 10 minutes a day. Make your whole life a devotion. Pray continually, whether your Bible is in hand or on a shelf. Talk to God casually like you’re texting a spouse. Take every thought, no matter how mundane, and confide it to God, until your whole being – every thought, word, and deed – is a living sacrifice and an offering to Christ.
O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me!
Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.