If I could go back and have a conversation with 20-year-old me, one area of life I’d love to sort out is my daily Bible reading. Not just about cultivating good disciplines, but more fundamentally about what’s at the very heart of what I’m doing when I read.
Personal reading of the Bible ought to be the bread and butter, if you like, of the Christian life. We all know of stories in ages past where Christians would give over a significant amount of time for daily reading, and the idea of “No Bible, no breakfast” is still key for many people.
At the beginning of the year my social media feed was peppered with suggestions about Bible reading plans for the coming 12 months. There are people out there who are clearly very organised and have created their own plans. Others offered links to programs developed by various organisations. All are extremely helpful in encouraging us to keep reading our bibles. Yet it seems for many (is it possible to say the majority?) of us, those who love God and his word, there is a genuine struggle to “fit in” daily Bible reading.
Rather than give another top 10 reasons or ways to read your Bible, I thought it would be good to visit the fundamental reasons why we read the Bible.
It’s not rocket science! We have God’s very words written for us for our instruction, help, encouragement and understanding. It teaches and reminds us of God’s character and nature (Ex.34; Ps. 86:15). The Bible declares God’s love for us and teaches us that without Christ we are God’s enemies, and reconciliation with God only comes through trusting in his death for us (Rom 5:10; 1 Cor 15).
The Bible instructs and teaches us about living as God’s people, as well as rebuking us (Ps 1; Matt 7:24-28; Ps 119:9-16, 105; 2 Tim 3:16; Heb 4:12-13). We read the Bible because only then can we truly make sense of ourselves and the world. Jesus tells us that he is “the way, the truth and life” (Is 45:19; John 14:6; John 15:26). We read the Bible because it is God’s very word to us (1 Thess 2:13)
There’s more to say, of course, but these are some of the fundamentals of why we read the Bible. Recently I’ve been doing some reading about Susannah Spurgeon, and I stumbled across a little article about the approach she and her husband, Charles Spurgeon, had to Bible reading and prayer. This stood out for me:
Their approach was simple – they believed the Bible to be true, trustworthy, and sufficient because of the infallibility of God Himself. And, trusting in the reliability of the Bible – they read it faithfully, confidently, and expectantly. Everything that they needed to know about God and about how to love one another was contained in the Bible. Charles imagined that if the Bible merely contained the words of man, it should be discarded. However, he believed the Bible to be “God’s handwriting” and, therefore, authoritative. Susie said that it was “well to ponder every weighty sentence” of God’s “loving voice”.
There are many voices keen to have my ear, but Susannah Spurgeon reminds us that the Bible offers us God’s loving voice and we should be ready to listen.
I have several luxuries that ought to allow me to be diligent in daily reading. First, the flexibility in my timetable. Sometimes I commute to the city on the train; sometimes I drive. Some days I work at home. Other days I’m visiting women in their local church or at conferences. Whatever my day holds, it shouldn’t be difficult for me to find the 15 minutes or half hour for Bible and prayer.
Second, I don’t have children who need my attention in the mornings or evenings. This brings a freedom in determining my routine. Third, I have a supportive husband who encourages me to read God’s word – indeed, he prays for me in this. Yet despite these privileges and circumstances there are occasions when I genuinely struggle to be disciplined, joyful or even expectant as I sit down to read.
You know your own reasons or struggles in prioritising Bible reading. Another factor for me, I think, is the increasing use of technology. I get lots of my information via social media or short articles. Reading more substantial things like books is reserved for holidays. I digest things via sound bites.
The trap is allowing this to be the norm for Bible reading as well. With the Bible on my phone, I get the “verse of the day” or read the next chapter or section of the book I’m in, but I’m not getting the benefit of reading in context or reading more substantively. I read small chunks – which of course is better than nothing – but what I’m missing is that slow, deliberate engagement with God through his word.
With all the disruption of 2020 it might be time to create new and profitable habits in 2021. If you haven’t yet organised your own reading for the year, why not take 10 minutes as you finish reading this to consider what and how you might read in the coming three months? If you have a plan, consider who you can invite to join you – keeping one another accountable.
Think about some changes, even small ones, you can make to ensure you can capture that 15 or 30 minutes each day for a slow and quiet reading of God’s word. It really isn’t rocket science.
The Ven Kara Hartley is Archdeacon for Women in the Sydney Diocese.