Five Unique But Practical Suggestions For Christians Who Struggle to Read Their Bibles
In a few weeks you’re going to see a lot of your friends going to the gym, starting a new diet, and making lifestyle resolutions. That’s because the New Year is approaching and every new year, people feel this need to start with a clean slate and pick up habits that will benefit us. And for Christians, one beneficial habit that a lot of us take up is to start reading our Bible again.
Most Christians know that reading the Bible regularly is important to our spiritual well-being. We grew up being trained to practice “daily devotionals” and we remember passages that tell us how God’s word is a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” (Ps 119:105). And when the new year comes around, we feel motivated to start a one-year Bible reading plan.
But I find that a lot of Christians struggle to keep this up. In fact, it’s pretty rare to find Christians who have a daily devotional life where they’re consistently reading their Bibles. According to a 2012 LifeWay survey, only 19% of Christians read their Bibles “daily.” As the research reports, “While the majority of churchgoers desire to honor Christ with their lives and even profess to think on biblical truths…few actually engage in personal reading and study of the Scriptures.”
Therefore, I hope to offer some practical help for Christians to not only re-start but to continue their Bible reading plan. And while I know there are a lot of good but typical suggestions out there (e.g. pray, journal, etc.), I hope to offer advice that’s somewhat unique.
1) Invest in a New, High-Quality Bible
This may sound superficial at first, but one way to get your Bible reading going is to invest in a new Bible. I can’t tell you how often I see Christians carrying these old, janky hand-me-down Bibles that they probably got for free at a Christian conference. There’s absolutely no ownership that this is “my Bible” and their devotional life reflects this. If you already own a bible but it’s getting worn out, consider buying a new one. I usually buy a new Bible every 4-5 years.
Now some people may disagree with me. That’s because some Christians feel there’s something holy about using the same Bible that they’ve always used. They feel proud of all the notes they’ve written in their Bible’s margins. But first of all, realize a lot of the margin notes you wrote as a youth kid are probably heretical. More importantly though, I don’t see how there’s anything intrinsically holy about reading the same Bible your whole life - especially if you’re not even reading it.
So if you want to jumpstart your Bible reading, consider investing in a new Bible. And don’t buy a flimsy $10.00 one. Get a nice one (here here). I’m not saying buy a nice, high-quality Bible makes God’s Word any holier, but it does make you more invested to read it. Sure it may seem silly to cough up $50-60 for something you can get for free as an app. But if I was going to war everyday and needed to get a sword, I’d make sure to get a good one. If God’s Word is truly the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17), purchase a nicely-crafted one that will make you want to wield it everyday.
2) “Stretch” Before Reading
Back when I used to regularly work out (a long, long time ago), I’d never just walk into the gym and start lifting weights. Instead, I always took time to stretch my body and listen to music in order to hype myself up. Why so? Well, I’m not naturally ready to exercise. My muscles are tight and my mind is unmotivated. So if I want a good workout, I need to prepare myself.
Similarly, I think a lot of us struggle to read our Bibles because we don’t prepare ourselves before reading. Instead, what usually happens is we tell ourselves, “I should read” and we pull out our Bibles, pray, and start reading. But as we read, we start feeling sleepy and we end up not even knowing what we’re reading anymore. So we close our Bibles and say a quick prayer and end up leaving unchanged. Why does this happen? Well, like exercise, I think a lot of us try to read God’s Word without stretching our spiritual muscles.
So when reading your Bible, I’d recommend a quick pregame routine where you stretch your spiritual muscles. For me, I never just sit down and read my Bible. I always first brew a cup of coffee because I just can’t focus without some caffeine (1st world problems). Then I’ll pray and listen to music in the background (puts me in the mood). Next, I’ll read a chapter of a Christian book (wets my spiritual appetite). And only after I do all of this will I proceed to read my Bible. I’m not saying do what I do, but like exercise, it’s always helpful to spiritually stretch before engaging in spiritual exercise.
3) Don’t Read Your Bible the Same Way as Before
I know a lot of Christians who have the exact same devotional life that they had when they were in high school and college. For some of them, that means they’re just flipping through the Bible, picking a random passage, reading it, and then closing in prayer. For others, that means they’re analyzing passages verse-by-verse, journaling two-pages of thoughts and reflection, and then spending 30 minutes praying about what they just read.
The problem with this though is that while your devotional life may be the same, your life circumstances are always changing. As you get older and more mature, skimming through a passage like that won’t penetrate the depth of your heart. As you work and have kids, analyzing passages verse-by-verse for two hours just isn’t feasible. Like any relationship, you have to adjust the way you connect with God through the different seasons of life that you go through.
Therefore, when reading the Bible, don’t stick to your old routines. Change it up every once in a while. If you’re a Bible skimmer but aren’t spiritually growing, try journaling. If you’re a journal person but still feel spiritually mundane, try typing out your thoughts on a laptop. If you’re a verse-by-verse guy/girl, try reading whole chapters at a time. The point is change up your approach to Bible-reading. Do something new It not only breaks the monotony of your past routines but it helps you prepare to adapt to your ever-changing life circumstances.
4) Utilize Simple Bible Commentaries
Sometimes I’ll watch a movie and once it’s over, I’ll have no idea what the film was about. When this happens, I’ll usually go on Wikipedia or find some blog that will help explain what I just watched. Doing so helps me understand the plot of the film, notice details that I didn’t notice, and conjure up theories about its meaning. Doing this often helps me appreciate the movie in a way that I couldn’t otherwise appreciate it.
Many of us open our Bibles and finish reading a passage without knowing what the passage was really about. The passage is obscure or contextually confusing or seemingly irrelevant to our lives. But instead of doing anything about it, we’ll just shrug our shoulders, pray, and hope somehow that God blessed our reading. In reality though, it seems like God really wants His people to not just know but meditate and learn what He has to say to us.
Therefore, I always recommend Christians to use resources (not Wikipedia) as a companion to their Bible reading. There are so many simple Bible commentaries available (here here here) that are so helpful in explaining obscure passages and offering insight. They make Bible reading feel more fruitful, which will motivate you to return to the Bible again and again. So while commentaries aren’t necessary for Bible reading, they help you appreciate the Bible in a way you perhaps couldn’t otherwise appreciate it.
5) Interact With Your Bibles Directly
This may not apply to everybody, but I know a few Christians who rely upon Christian devotional books like Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, John Piper’s Taste and See, or Tim Keller’s Devotions in Psalms as their devotional plan. I actually like these devotional books and, as I mentioned above, I think it’s always good to utilize resources to help us understand our Bibles. But I think it’s a mistake to see devotional books, blogs, or even sermons as substitutes for personal Bible reading.
Why so? Well, when you read a devotional or a blog about a bible passage, you’re not personally interacting with God’s Word; rather, you’re reading about someone else’s personal interactions with God’s Word. It’s like watching a Youtube channel that breaks down why a movie is awesome. Sure, you may understand the movie through this Youtuber, but you’re not really experiencing it for yourself. As helpful as that Youtube channel may be, you’re still experiencing the movie through someone else’s experience. And that makes the Bible less beautiful than it should be to you.
If God’s word is living and active (Heb 4:12), then I can’t help but think it comes alive when we personally interact with it ourselves. Sure, utilizing the experiences and insights of other authors is helpful. But nothing is more helpful and life-changing than interacting with the text itself. As Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.” Experience God’s Word yourself. Read it directly. Chew on it. What is God saying to you about this passage? Use resources but rely most upon God’s Spirit to help you engage with His Word.