Photo Credit: Olga Caprotti, Creative Commons
Guest Post by Ben Larson
I’ve been reading the bible almost every day since I was very young (with the exception of three or four years of doing my own thing in college). Sometimes I read a lot; sometimes I only read a verse or two, but I try to maintain the discipline of cracking it open for at least a minute or two every day.
And I’m going to be a little vulnerable here: sometimes it really feels like a discipline.
I’ve often felt insecure talking to Christians that are in a season in which they love reading the bible. They’re learning something earth-shattering with every word, jumping around between twenty different bible studies, and talking about what they’re reading with everyone they meet. My experience with bible reading often leaves me feeling a little less enthusiastic, and I sometimes feel like an outsider or somehow “lesser” than people that are really into it.
And don’t get me wrong: I love reading! I’m almost always in the middle of reading between three or four books. In fact, sometimes reading other books helps fuel me for bible reading. When I was in my teens, my bible was a KJV bible (written in the 1600s), so I would warm up for reading it by reading Shakespeare…it was easier to understand the Elizabethan English of the KJV if I preceded it with a few intriguing scenes from Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth. Now I spend around an hour reading every night before I go to sleep – after about two minutes of reading the bible.
Maybe bible reading has become more tedious for me because I’ve been reading it every day for the last twenty years. But whatever the reason, sometimes I just really don’t feel like reading scripture. Which makes me feel like a lousy Christian.
I know spiritual discipline isn’t about legalistically following God’s rules or feeling lousy about ourselves, so a few times over the years I’ve deliberately taken a break from bible reading, just to get healthy about it again. And I’ve discovered something fascinating: within days I begin to feel disconnected from God, disconnected from my own spirituality, and bitter about the rest of my Christian practice. I start to resent other things that are important to me: church, relationships, serving, prayer, simply loving others.
Even if I’m not learning something transformative every day, the discipline is somehow aligning me spiritually with God in a direct, measurable way. It’s kind of spooky, really. In a way, I would say that bible reading has become the front lines of my spiritual life. When I begin to lose the battle there, I begin to lose my focus on Christ in every other area of my life.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that bible reading isn’t optional. Ezekiel and I are joined at the hip, for better or worse. And, for me, hating something I do every day isn’t an option either. So here are some tricks I’ve developed over the years to grease the gears and make it easier to enter into bible reading and get excited about it:
(1) Buy a new bible. I have mixed feelings about this one, because it’s so American. But at some level, I am a product of my culture, and if having a new bible that’s a little more exciting to read or crack open or toss in the passenger seat on my way to work helps, I’m all for it. Plus I bought a new bible two weeks ago and it’s really helped, so I felt like I had to share.
(2) Read twice a day. Sounds counter-productive, right? But the nice thing about reading twice a day is that I can skip reading once if I’m exhausted or just need a break, and sometimes that’s enough to break the monotony and get me back on track. I’ve been reading right after I wake up and right before I go to bed for years now, and another side affect is that bible reading feels a little more like normal daily life – like brushing my teeth – which has helped it to feel less like an interruption.
(3) Stop. It really is okay to stop reading the bible for a while. I won’t judge you, God won’t hate you, and you can always start reading again. I recommend replacing it with something else that maintains the reading habit unless the reading is the thing you need a break from. Maybe a devotional, a prayer book, a spiritual development book, or even – God forbid – fiction. And whether you replace it with something else or not, I definitely recommend setting a specific time for the break, rather than leaving it open-ended. That’s how you “accidentally” go months or years without reading the bible.
(4) Go to your favorite books. There are a lot of really cool read-the-bible-in-a-year (or even ninety days) programs out there, which can be really helpful if you’re a new Christian or simply desire to develop a holistic picture of the bible. But the downside is that – at least for me – they can make us feel like we’re supposed to be cycling through the entire bible every year. Then I find myself poring over never-ending personnel rosters in Numbers for weeks, ready to set my bible on fire and never open it again.
I do think everyone should be familiar with the whole bible, not just pick their favorite books and camp there, but that doesn’t mean I need to slog through Levitical law every February – especially if bible reading has become difficult or legalistic for me. My go-to books are Ruth, Esther, and the story of Samson in Judges. Whatever biblical books speak your language the most, don’t be ashamed to retreat to them when you’re feeling spiritually dry…in fact, that’s probably when you need them the most.
(5) Do a guided study. Nothing brings bible passages to life faster than understanding more of the history, cultural context, and intention behind them. If you’re a natural scholar, this can actually help a lot. Or it can make bible reading feel like schoolwork, which might be worse. But if it works for you, go for it!
(6) Read with a friend. If you’re an extrovert, bible reading by yourself might feel a little bit like you’ve been locked in a closet until you’ve finished your homework. Meet up with a friend, find a way to talk about and externalize what you’re reading. It might help more than you’d expect!
(7) Switch up the routine. Sometimes the very “routineness” of bible reading becomes the source of tension. Switch to reading at a different time of the day. Or read for longer sessions once a week. There are no rules and no one is watching you, so find a rhythm that works for you.
(8) Be honest. Our spirituality will only be as authentic as we are. Be honest about what you struggle with. Talk to God about it. Talk to other people about it. You’re not the first person who has wondered whether we needed all sixty-six chapters of Isaiah. There’s no sense in pretending it’s easy when it’s not.
The last thing I’d leave you with is a simple reminder that the bible is a gift. God is mysterious, and spirituality is a strange journey sometimes. Even though bible reading can sometimes be tedious, I am truly grateful for the thousands of years of writings from imperfect people like me to illuminate, encourage, and course-correct along the way. I don’t think I could do it on my own.
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:4-6