A small shift in the way we view our Bibles could have a massive impact on how we read and invest time in God’s word. According to Barna, 62% of Americans say they wish they read the Scriptures more. This should raise the question, what is keeping people from cracking the pages of their Bibles?
The possible reasons are varied and might include busy schedules or a fear of not understanding what we read. But there seems to be an even deeper and more fundamental hindrance in our approach to the Scriptures. Addressing this hindrance does not merely require adding another strategy to our Bible reading times — it requires a change in our perspective about what Bible reading is.
Awash in a Sea of Standards
The question asked in the Barna statistic points to the problem. It seems that we have an underlying assumption that there is some arbitrary amount of Bible reading we need to attain each day or week or year in order to fulfill an unwritten requirement. If we have met the quota, we can answer “no” to the Barna question — we are content with our amount of Bible intake and don’t feel the need for more. If the quota goes unmet, on the other hand, we answer yes.
Our own subjective standard for the required volume of Bible reading, which is usually derived from the habits we see in others, leads us to see our Bibles not as a delight but a burden, as we are often unable to match those habits. The result is that for too many, Bible reading is not a habit which brings joy, but work to be dutifully completed.
As a young Christian, I would ask questions about how to study the Bible and grow in my faith. What did that mean? What sort of habits did I need to keep? Within a few years of starting to follow Jesus, I had learned a variety of habits for Bible intake, and I felt overwhelmed by them all. I had all these different standards in my head, and I wasn’t successfully completing any of them. My Bible felt more like a burden than a delight.
We Need a Proper Perspective
The great danger of my early Bible reading practices was not mainly that I couldn’t “keep up.” It was dangerous because I had a deeper problem of perspective, a problem I fear many others share. I was minimizing my Bible reading by constantly trying to answer, “How much Bible do I need to read or memorize in order to meet the ‘required amount’?” It was a guilt-ridden and lowest-common-denominator approach. In the end, it actually led me to read my Bible less and not delight in it much at all.
In Psalm 1, the author says the blessed or happy man is one who delights in God’s word. The blessed man is described as a tree planted by streams of water. If we are like a tree planted on the river bank, God wants us to see his word like a stream of water, nourishing our soul.
Imagine a man walking through the desert and in desperate need of water. When he finally finds a river, he experiences overwhelming delight. Kneeling down at the river bank to drink, he is not asking himself, “What is the least amount I can drink and still satisfy the thirst I have?” No, he is asking, “How much of this water can I possibly get into me?!” Like starving beggars, we don’t come to God’s word as a chore but eagerly, as nourishment for our hearts.
God, Give Us Grace to Come and Drink
Among our prayers and struggles in Bible reading, we ought to ask God to graciously shift our perspective on his word. More and more, we want God to liberate us from seeing the Bible as a burden or duty and instead to see it as an opportunity and delight.
Rather than asking ourselves what is the least amount of Bible we can read and still meet the “required” amount, I propose we never stop asking, how much of the Bible can we possibly get into our hearts and minds. With this mentality, we should all say yes to the Barna question — we all should want to read more of God’s word — not from a sense of duty or obligation, but because they are the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
In the end, that is why we read the Bible, memorize it, and meditate on it: to get more of God’s word into us. Because, as we delight in the Scriptures, it leads us to delight in God himself. As we employ Bible reading plans, habits of memorization, or strategies for Bible meditation, all of which are good, that is the goal. Not to check off the time as a duty fulfilled, but to treasure Jesus more as we see him in his word.
(This blog originally appeared on Desiring God)