3 reasons why reading the Bible feels like a chore

Christian, if reading the Bible isn’t really your thing, can we chat for a minute?

While Christianity isn’t dependent upon our academic inclinations, nor our interest in reading in general—to suggest those who are illiterate, have a learning disability or simply aren’t big readers are excluded from the kingdom of God is ridiculous—all Christians should strive to be students of the Bible.

We are, after all, a people of the Book. We know God’s will, his character, and his promises through the Bible. And so, especially for those of us who have the means and ability to do so, this is a book that should be one we’re always eager to pick up. To read and study carefully to whatever capacity God has given us. To enjoy as though it were our favorite meal…

3 Reasons Behind Our Struggles Reading the Bible

So why is it that reading the Bible seems like such a chore? While there are, no doubt, many reasons, here are three that I’ve seen crop up most frequently in my own life.

1. We don’t prioritize it.

Let’s be honest, this is probably the key reason many of us struggle to read our Bibles. We don’t prioritize it, and choose other books or television instead… While other books and television aren’t bad at all, shouldn’t the Bible be our first priority? I can definitely attest that I’ve had seasons where this has been my problem—and it’s really dangerous because it’s so hard to get out of this trap, and often the approaches we take to doing so can cause even greater harm.

2. We treat it like a project.

This is the second issue, and it’s related to the first. Many of us try to overcome our lackadaisical attitude to the Bible with aggressive reading plans. We want to read the Bible in a year, or ten times in a year, or the New Testament in a month… But that’s like trying to start your car in the dead of winter and immediately jump onto the highway without letting it warm-up. You may move (briefly), but you’ll ruin the engine. But reading the Bible is not a project. Spiritual dullness cannot be defeated by an exertion of willpower.

3. We are in a season of spiritual depression.

Unlike a Barney Stinson’s views on mixtapes and despite what Joel Osteen may tell you, the Christian life is not all rise. Every day is not a Friday. Sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of a deep spiritual depression—one that just never seems to lift. Perhaps it comes from a prolonged season of battling against personal sin. Or maybe it’s from trying to remain faithful in difficult circumstances (I have had periods of time where I dreaded even getting up in the morning because of what was happening in my life, so I get it).

Whatever the reason though, in these situations, we cannot find comfort, encouragement, or rest in the place we should find them. And so our weariness can lead to despair, and we struggle to push back the darkness. And as our shame grows, we grow silent, for fear of judging eyes.

What can we do to make reading the Bible not so difficult?

For the first two reasons, the solution begins with repentance. We need to repent of sinful attitudes toward the Bible, whether that is neglecting it or treating it as a project. We need to see our wrong attitudes as wrong. In order to begin to give the Bible its due, we ought to start simple. Read something. Don’t aim to read the Bible in a month. Just try to read a paragraph. Then another. And another. Take the time you need to take.

The third issue needs to be dealt with with a great deal of sensitivity. Those who are in this trap already feel a huge amount of guilt and shame for not being “good enough” as Christians. They don’t need to be told to do more better or try harder because that’s just not going to work. Instead, my challenge to them (as one who has experienced this myself) would be to open up about the struggle, for shame only thrives in secrecy. Tell someone who is close to you what you’re going through. Don’t ask them to fix the problem, but just to pray. And to keep praying. And for you to be praying as well. Admit where you’re at, for God already knows.

Most of all, be patient. This is not something that’s going to be overcome with a few prayers and a coffee cup verse. There will be relapses. There will be setbacks. You may never fully overcome it, but there will be small triumphs along the way (especially if you make if your habit to read the Psalms). Focus on those small wins. Focus on where you have seen God at work in the past, and recount them as David did in his darkest moments. Trust him to overcome this, for he surely will, either in this life or in glory.


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

The one story of the Bible

An open Bible being read

One of the things I love about reading the Bible is seeing how everything fits together. And one of the great joys of my life as a believer has been seeing when people “get” it—when that “aha” moment happens when they realize the point, because it’s something that is always so fresh in my mind. It’s a truth I’m continually rediscovering because, as Edmund Clowney wrote, “it is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story.”

My default mode, and presumably yours as well, is to treat the Bible as a series of disconnected moral tales. Of fables filled with wise principles for living a virtuous life. But the Bible is so much more than this. It is one book with one story, the story of God’s rescue of his people in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The one story that changes everything.

Lord, help us see this every time we open this book.

Six gospel themes in first half of Genesis

Highlighted Bible

At the beginning of the year, our church encouraged everyone to be reading the Bible together throughout the entire year. So far, I’ve managed to actually keep up with it (and am now in Deuteronomy). I’ve consistently enjoyed reading the Old Testament, because it is so rich with these threads of the gospel—hints at what God was planning from before the world began. They’re the sort of moments that are easy to overlook, because they’re presented in an understated way; they’re not the main point of the passage, but they’re present.

Just in the first book of the Bible alone, there are many gospel themes that begin to take shape, many of which are found in the earliest chapters. Here are just a few that are fairly clear:

  1. God promises death to the serpent (Genesis 3). The first hint at the gospel comes on the heels of humanity’s rebellion against God. Sin will die, death will be defeated, and the serpent will be crushed the Son of the woman.
  2. God covers Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). This is a somewhat debated point, so it’s wise not to make more of it than is necessary, but prior to casting the first humans out of the garden, God clothes them in animal skins that he makes. So there are a couple of key things we see here: God covers shame, and another dies in their place.
  3. God’s favor toward Noah (Genesis 6-9). The language of Genesis s pretty clear that “every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). And God determined that he would destroy all humanity. Yet, Noah found favor with the Lord (6:8). God’s favor (or grace) to Noah gives us a picture of a greater rescue to come—that just as God preserved humanity in judgment through one man, he would preserve a people for himself in Christ.
  4. The promised offspring (Genesis 12). Paul explicitly addresses this in Galatians: the promised offspring, the seed, is a singular person—Jesus.
  5. Abraham is justified by faith (Genesis 15). Paul also explicitly calls this out in Romans: Abraham’s righteousness comes not from his actions, but from his belief in his God.
  6. Isaac is spared (Genesis 22). Abraham was faithful to bring Isaac to the mountain, to place him on the altar, and to raise the knife. Isaac was faithful to carry the wood, to allow himself to be tied up and placed on the altar, and watched as his father prepared to kill him. They both knew God’s promise. They knew Isaac was a child of promise—born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. They trusted the Lord to fulfill his purposes. And he did, because in the thicket, after Abraham’s hand was stayed, there was a ram. These events hinted at actions still to come, when a Father would send his son into this world, who would carry the wood on his back to the place of his sacrifice, be placed on a different altar, and no one would stay the hand of the One offering the sacrifice. A Son who was the Lamb.

There are more than these, of course. The gospel lurks in the shadows of the stories of Cain and Abel, of Jacob and Esau, of Joseph and his brothers. And when you see them, you can’t miss them. The gospel isn’t reserved for the Gospels themselves; it is the whole story of the Bible, and it is waiting for us in every book from beginning to end.

Patterns and patience

Highlighted Bible

When I get particularly busy, one of the things that can fall to the wayside quickly is consistent Bible reading. And that’s incredibly dangerous for me because I know reading the Bible on a daily basis is good for me. I’ve seen the fruit of that over and again. But it’s an easy habit to get out of.

But what I’ve found keeps me on track most consistently is one thing: prayer.

Actually a rhythm.

Pray, then read. Read, then pray.

That’s it.

It’s not a magic formula, but a basic truth: I try to pray before reading the Bible, asking for the help of the Holy Spirit to understand and apply the text, and help me to see how it reveals Jesus or my need for him. Reading with reverence, with the expectation that God is speaking through this book. That he is changing me because of what is in it. And continuing to pray that what I’ve read will be used to shape me into the image of Christ.

And out of it, I see fruit. I see a greater understanding of the text. I read and find myself convicted and encouraged where I need to be. I start to piece together connections to Christ, even if it’s a growing awareness of my need for the gospel.

But it doesn’t happen every time I read. It’s not like every morning there’s a light from heaven shining in the room as I open my increasingly marked-up CSB. But the pattern helps. And the fruit helps me to grow in patience. I may not have what seems like a fruitful personal time in the Word this morning or the next, but there are always markers along the way, markers that help me to be patient as I press on.

 

Delight, the Law and Leviticus

Highlighted Bible

We’re just around the time when many people have fallen off the rails with their Bible reading plans. Genesis was solid; Exodus started strong but by the end was getting challenging. And then, Leviticus. Laws. More laws. Very specific laws about every area of life.

For us, in our current context, these laws seem strange. They don’t fit with how we relate to God, nor to one another. So we tend to ignore them, which is so different than the psalmist who wrote, “I will delight in your statutes” (Psalm 119:16)—a delight which included Leviticus.

The psalmist knew Leviticus was good for him. He knew it was a means of relating to God, of identifying himself as one of God’s people, even as the Law inflamed his sin (Rom 5:20). He loved it, delighted in it, even as he knew it wasn’t enough to save him. It was a steward. A temporary restraint against even greater evils. A teacher, preparing him for the greater freedom to come. The freedom that ultimately comes through faith in Jesus, the one who fulfilled the Law not simply in precept, but in principle.

When we read Leviticus, we should read with this same kind of mindset. We should read it in light of the story that is playing out in Scripture, the story of God redeeming his people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We should read it in anticipation of the gospel. Without the gospel, Leviticus will crush us. But with it, we may truly be able to delight in all that God says through it.

Six marks of wisdom

Highlighted Bible

I’m trying something a little different this year. Along with my regular Bible reading, I’m trying to spend a few minutes each day working through Timothy Keller’s God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, a devotional focused on the Book of Proverbs. For the last week and change, the book has been focused on how we become wise, and in it, Keller offers six positive characteristics—six marks of wisdom drawn from Proverbs 3:

Trust in God. “You can believe in God yet still trust something else for your real significance and happiness—which is therefore your real God” (22). The wise will find seek to identify their idols and turn from them.

Submit to God’s Word. “Modern people don’t question their right and ability to question everything. So everyone is living by faith in some ultimate authority. Proverbs calls us to make it God’s Word, not our reason and intuition” (23). The wise will ask questions of the Bible, to desire to understand it well, but they will also submit themselves to it.

Be Teachable. “Wisdom is seeing things through as many other eyes as possible, through the Word of God and through the eyes of your friends, of people from other races, classes, and political viewpoints, and your critics.” (24). Wise men and women are not content to exist in an echo chamber.

Be Generous. “The firstfruits of a crop were to be given to God and the poor even though it wasn’t certain how big the harvest would actually be” (25). The wise put their trust in God’s provision, not in the power of money.

Learn from Adversity. “…suffering is also a discipline for growth in wisdom. It can drive you toward God in greater love and strength or away from him into hardness of heart” (26). The wise accept adversity, suffering and difficulties, as a means of growth in godliness (which doesn’t mean that we grin and bear it, as some might think…).

Do Justice. “If you have things your neighbor doesn’t have, share them, because he or she has a right to the part of the world over which God has made you a temporary steward” (27). The wise know they are stewards and they are responsible to help all who are their neighbors—which Jesus defined as anyone in need—to flourish.

These are challenging characteristics. They are difficult for us, in part because they are so contrary to how we think—even as believers. There is wisdom in considering them; in doing so, even if we find legitimate flaws, we show that we desire the wisdom we seek.

15 days in Genesis

An open Bible being read

A couple days ago, I wrapped by my latest read-through of Genesis in the quest to read through the entire Bible this year. I’ve read this book many times, but I never tire of it.

I love seeing how the Holy Spirit inspired the crafting of this book to display his power and glory as the Creator of all things. How he continually shows mercy and compassion to undeserving sinners, sparing humanity from destruction by commanding Noah to build an ark. How grace flows through each page as I recognize the patriarchs for the train wrecks that they are. (Kind of like all of us, huh?) How he has orchestrated events to fulfill his purposes in the world, preserving his people through Joseph being sent to Egypt as a slave.

But most of all, it’s the gospel that I see being hinted at and foretold throughout so much of this book. In the garden as the first humans and the serpent are cursed. As God covers the man and woman in animal skins. As Noah finds favor in God’s sight, despite being a sinner like the rest of us. As God promises an offspring to Abraham, one who will be a blessing to all nations. As Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness, and later still did not hold back his son from the Lord.

There is so much to relish in this book of the Bible, as the seeds of God’s great rescue plan are sowed. One can hardly help but rejoice reading this book, even in the darkest moments, because it offers us such good news. It offers us the gospel, the promise upon which all humanity’s hopes rest.

Should we teach kids about sin?

As part of my job, I am involved in a couple of Kids Ministry groups on Facebook. The conversations I see are fascinating. Usually they’re about best practices for discipling kids, occasionally folks are looking for different curriculum options… and then every so often there’s a question about what we should and shouldn’t be teaching kids.

Are sin too big for kids? Do we really need to teach them this or that story?

These are good questions, important questions. While some may disagree, it should be no surprise that I will say yes to each.

Yes, we need to teach kids about sin. We need to because they already know about it. They’ve experienced it in some way, but they should know how and why sin is in the world, what God has done to solve the problem of sin. So we teach them about sin to give them context and understanding of the world they live in.

And yes, that also means there aren’t really any stories from the Bible that are off-limits. You can (and should) teach kids about the nastier bits of Scripture, especially when it comes to the people we tend to portray as heroes (Abraham, Jacob, the Judges, David…). We don’t need to expose them to situations way too mature for them, of course, but in an age appropriate way, we should be helping kids see that the heroes of the Bible are people who needed God’s grace and forgiveness just like we do. That God was gracious to them, just as he is gracious to us. If all Scripture is inspired and profitable, then it’s inspired and profitable for all ages. Our responsibility is to teach it faithfully at an age-appropriate level (e.g., we don’t need to talk about adultery necessarily, but we do need to talk about David sinning).

Ultimately, we want kids to see that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and his gospel is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That Jesus’ goodness and righteousness is what we need to be in relationship with God. That Jesus is the one who paid for our sins. And Jesus is the one who we will spend eternity with by faith.