January has come and gone. A little more than 8 percent of 2013 has already passed. Now is an especially good time to ask ourselves (and each other!) how our personal Bible reading is going. Many of us began a new Bible reading plan on January 1. Such plans can be helpful. You should try one. They can help you to be more consistent in your Bible reading; they can help to get you into a steady, daily diet of the Word; they can help you get through whole books and into previously unexplored parts of the Bible over the course of the year. It’s never a bad time to get going on one or get back on one.
Regardless of your Bible reading plan (or lack thereof), you probably had a general desire for your Bible reading to be better in 2013 than it was in 2012—to read more, to read more consistently, to read more thoughtfully, to read more passionately, and/or to better apply it to our daily life. So how’s it going?
Maybe so far in 2013 your Bible reading hasn’t gone according to plan; it hasn’t increased or improved as you’d hoped. Let me suggest several possible reasons why Bible reading might feel weak and wearisome, and suggest some ways in which those weaknesses might be helped.
Maybe you’re a type-A personality who’s fallen behind on your reading plan.
Maybe you’re using a plan that assigns texts to specific dates. Falling behind means you’re now on the wrong date. So you leave the Bible alone and decide to straighten or alphabetize something. Don’t! Just keep going. Or switch to a reading plan that doesn’t use dates. Remember, Bible reading plans were made for Bible reading; Bible reading was not made for Bible reading plans.
Maybe you’ve become accustomed to not eating.
If we fast from food for a few days our bodies become accustomed to not eating. The Bible is likened to food more than once (e.g., 1 Peter 2:2). We need it for our spiritual survival and sustenance. But if it’s been a long time since you’ve had a steady diet of the Word, your spiritual stomach has shrunk and become indifferent to spiritual nourishment. This isn’t healthy, and it can’t go on indefinitely. So resolve to nurse yourself back to health even if you have to start small.
Related, maybe your new reading plan is too rigorous, at least for now.
Whether you have a spiritual appetite or not, you may have bitten off a bit more than you can chew. Going from a random verse for the day to the McCheyne Reading Plan is a step in the right direction, but if you’re not keeping up with McCheyne, you might try doing it at half or one-fourth of the pace.
Maybe you’re approaching your Bible reading in a performance-based way.
It’s good to keep track of progress no matter the discipline. But if you’re reading the Bible only to feel better about yourself or appease God then a checklist can be dangerous. Go to the Bible to get more of God, not to get more gold stars. Go to the Bible to get your soul happy in God, not satisfied in yourself.
Maybe you’re paralyzed with guilt for having done poorly yesterday.
Have you ever felt unworthy to pray or open the Bible? I have. How ironic when it’s a book about and for sinners who need grace. We need the Bible most when we’ve read and obeyed it the least. Confess your sin boldly and in faith open your Bible to find comfort. Soak yourself afresh in the gospel.
Maybe it feels dry, mechanical, and, truth be told, you even wonder why regular Bible intake is needed.
Here’s where another discipline should be partnered with Bible reading: preaching to yourself about what the Bible is, what it does, and why you need it. Psalm 119 is basically 176 verses of this encouragement. When the Bible feels stale and our reading feels empty, go to Psalm 119. Pray to God and preach to yourself about the need to feel the weight and worth of God’s Word in our lives.
Maybe you have false expectations about the work and discipline of Bible reading.
Are you under the mistaken impression that Bible reading is easy and glorious if you’re spiritual enough? Remember, Paul told Timothy, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). It is not unspiritual to do what the flesh resists. Determination, resolve, and self-discipline are necessary for even the most consistent and experienced Bible-readers.
Maybe you have too high of expectations for this season of life.
Perhaps you’re a mom of a few tots. Before children, your times of Bible reading and praying were sweet, slow, and steady. Praise God for those seasons! But you’re not in one of them now. Do what you can, starting with reading this new mom’s testimony and this good advice from Don Whitney.
Maybe you’re in a part of Scripture right now that is new and unfamiliar to you.
Maybe you don’t understand the “big picture” of the story. The Bible is a big book; it is a long, multi-millennia story, each part building upon and pointing to others. Maybe you didn’t grow up in church hearing the stories of the Old Testament. Then again, many of us grew up in church hearing the stories but still have no idea in what order they go or if it even matters. A little book, God’s Big Picture, is helpful in laying out, well, the big picture of the Bible. Read it alongside your Bible plan.
Maybe you find yourself all too often scratching your head wondering what a word or phrase means.
If so, get something like the ESV Study Bible. Look down in the footnotes when you need some help. Go to the back for a longer explanation about a biblical or theological concept. Or check out this article that recommends other resources for interpreting the Bible.
Maybe you haven’t found a consistent time or place to do Bible reading and prayer.
Habits form much more easily with consistency. In our busy culture, consistency has to be planned. Chances are, there are some bad times of the day for you to try to read and pray. Chances are, there some good and some bad places in your home for Bible reading. Find the best spot at the best time and keep to it. By God’s grace, in time, it will become a sweet, familiar place and time for you to meet with the Lord.
Maybe you’re compartmentalizing your Bible reading from the rest of your day.
Healthy Bible intake seeks to bring the Bible to the whole of life. No matter how consistent our schedule, if our thoughts about the Bible are separated by 23 or more hours, we will not use our “swords” like we should. Here’s a practical recommendation: No matter the amount of Bible you read in your ”quiet time,” take one verse, something that stood out to you, and write it on a 3×5 card or sticky tab. Put it in your pocket, on your desk, or on your dash. Several times per day look at it, say it, think on it, pray it back to God. If the Bible is like food and eating, remember, snacks are good!
Maybe this part of your life is actually too personal.
Do you have anyone in your life who will ask you how it’s going and what you’ve been reading? If not, seek one out. Find someone and read the Bible together. Find a more mature friend who can help you with how to read and understand the Bible.
I could go on and on with possible diagnoses for the shortcomings of our Bible reading. I know because I have experienced these and many others myself. Maybe you, too, see yourself in one or more of these diagnoses. Don’t think I intend to make Bible reading more complicated or to simply add more tasks. Use this list as a diagnostic tool to help you narrow in on one or two practical or spiritual ways that Bible reading is hindered and might be helped. This thing of God’s Word is “no trifle for you, but your very life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). May God do great things in us through his Word in the rest of 2013.