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

Growth takes time

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If you’re like me, you’ve undoubtedly been frustrated when you’ve not seen your growth in godliness proceed at a quick enough pace. It seems to take a long time to become Christlike, doesn’t it? Is there any way this can go faster?

According to J.C. Ryle, the answer is no:

Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness—all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God’s saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible.[1. J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), xxiv.]

I think Ryle is bang-on here, because what he offers is a picture of maturity. He understood that becoming mature takes time, and it doesn’t happen uniformly. This is a point I have to remind myself of over and over again, especially when I’m getting frustrated with myself (and others). No matter how hard I try, growth takes time, and I can’t change how long it takes. But I can strive to appreciate where I am in the present, knowing that each day, by God’s grace, I am being remade in the image of his son.

Set your mind on Christ

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One of my favorite books of the Bible is Colossians. Every time I read it, I’m overwhelmed. Paul was dealing with a peculiar bit of false teaching in Colossians, a synthesis of Jewish and pagan folk belief. What some scholars believe happened at Colossae was that a shaman-like figure was presenting himself as a Christian spiritual guide; a mystic likely claiming to have superior insight into the spiritual realm and therefore advising the Christians there to perform certain rites and rituals to protect themselves from evil spirits and for their deliverance from affliction:

  • To practice asceticism; to deny themselves certain food or drink.
  • To practice the Jewish festivals and the Sabbath.
  • To worship angels.
  • To experience visions of spiritual things.

This false teacher judged the believers for not practicing these things. His judgment, of course, only served one purpose: to puff himself up. To show that salvation could be attained through man-made effort and ecstatic experience, which is a problem that still exists today, and still masquerades as Christianity.

Charlatans pose as men of God. Instead of pointing men and women to Jesus, they put on big shows about how they punched demons out of people, or visited Paul’s cottage in the third heaven. What’s worse is they draw a crowd as they pour gasoline on the fire that burns in our hearts. Our desire to focus on ourselves. To be the masters of our own destinies. To be our own gods.

False teachers all repeat the same lie Satan told Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 3), and we keep believing it. So sometimes we’ll deprive ourselves physically, or we indulge ourselves in all sorts of excess. We will whip ourselves up into a sort of spiritual frenzy. And for what? Ultimately, nothing.

But Paul gives us these words to counteract this. “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:1-2).

 

In Christ, we don’t have to look to the things of the world, or to ourselves, for hope. We look to Christ. We pursue him. We seek to live like and for him, as we seek first the kingdom of heaven. But we can’t do this—we can’t seek him—without spending time in his Word. Seeking the things above, setting our minds on them, starts there.

As we read the Scriptures, as we study it and consume it, we grow in our love for Christ. We want to be more like him. We want to love what he loves, and how he loves. If we want to know Jesus, if we want to be transformed by him, that’s where it starts.

No need for fronts

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One thing I always walk away from the Scriptures with is the reminder that character really, really matters. I don’t pretend to be a perfect man, of course. Not even close. But something that scares me the most is how easy it is to put on a good show in public.

We see this all the time at work and church, don’t we, sometimes in innocent ways (and other times not so innocent)? Like when asked how we’re doing and we usually say, “Fine,” even when the morning has been a complete and utter disaster. Or when someone acts like they’ve got all their stuff together, but they’re cheating on their spouse.[1. This isn’t directed at a specific event or individual by the way.] Although we should always be respectful and courteous in public, the truth is, our outward appearances don’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things. They’re not a good indication of what’s going on in our hearts—because we can hide in public. I love the way Augustus Hopkins Strong describes this:

Little things are the best signs of character. Straws thrown into the air show which way the wind blows much better than the throwing up of bullets or cannonballs. In great things we have more thought of others, we are moved more by surrounding influences. In little things there is not the same possibility of concealment. We must sometimes forget, and then we act ourselves.[2. Miscellanies, Volume II: Chiefly Theological (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: Griffith & Rowland Press, 1912), 233.]

This is important for me to remember, and not just because what we do in private (the small things) sets the tone for what happens in public. They’re key indicators, without question.[3. And this is the context of the passage.] But it’s also important because the people who are closest to me can see it, often better than I can. My wife has a better sense of my growth in godliness because she sees how it’s working itself out in the little things: how I respond to correction from her. How I treat our kids. What I say at the dinner table and when we’re alone.

With the people closest to us, there is no need for fronts. We don’t need to pretend we’re something that we’re not. They already know we’re all messes—and they give us the freedom to grow by God’s grace.

When you’re feeling frustrated with your growth in holiness, remember this

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When I was a young boy, I was often frustrated when I couldn’t figure out how to do something right the first time. Doesn’t matter if it was drawing, writing, or creating something delicious in my kitchen, I always wanted it to be right from day one. However, it rarely went that well. Instead, I would try something and fail. Then fail again. And again. And so on. Eventually, I started to learn that developing skills requires that. It takes time. Failing forward, as some might say.

But when I first became a Christian, I found myself frustrated again, for the same reasons. Although I (sort of) knew better, I kept thinking I should be growing as a believer faster. Prayer should be a snap. Bible reading, no problem. Witnessing, easy-peasy. Go forth, sin no more, and enjoy every day like it was a Friday.

But it didn’t work that way either. Instead, I slowly came to realize, growing in holiness took time, too. JC Ryle put it well in his book, Holiness:

Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness—all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God’s saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible.

If you’ve been discouraged at your progress in the faith, be of good cheer. You are not alone. You may not see the kind of exponential growth you may hope for, but, by God’s grace, you are still seeing growth. And no matter how gradual that growth may be, you are becoming more like Christ, and every step in Christlikeness is still cause for celebration.

Growing in the faith always takes time (and it’s never complete)

I’ve said many times that I am not a terribly patient man, particularly when I think about my own maturity in the faith. At least I don’t think I am. Maybe I’m getting better in this area. I know that when I was much younger in my faith (back in the far off days of 2005), I had ideas about what a mature believer should be like that were less than realistic. Over time, I’d like to think I’ve become more realistic and gracious, but I’m not always sure. I see progress, but I’m not where I’d like to be.

Which, really, is the story of all our lives. No matter how far we progress, we’re still not there. There is still work to be done. While we still have breath, sanctification is not complete.

One of the men who helped me really come to grips with this is J.C. Ryle, a 19th-century Anglican bishop. In his book, Holiness, he wrote the following:

Sanctification is always a progressive work. Some men’s graces are in the blade, some in the ear, and some are like full corn in the ear. All must have a beginning. We must never despise “the day of small things.” And sanctification in the very best is an imperfect work. The history of the brightest saints that ever lived will contain many a “but,” and “howbeit,” and “notwithstanding,” before you reach the end. The gold will never be without some dross—the light will never shine without some clouds, until we reach the heavenly Jerusalem. The sun himself has spots on his face. The holiest men have many a blemish and defect when weighted in the balance of the sanctuary. Their life is a continual warfare with sin, the world, and the devil; and sometimes you will see them not overcoming, but overcome. The flesh is ever lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and “in many things they offend all” (Gal. 5:17; James 3:2).

This is good news to me, in so many ways. But chief among them is that it reminds me that it’s normal for me to feel incomplete. Like I’ve not arrived, and probably never will. But it also encourages me to keep pressing forward. To desire to grow and change. To strive to be what I am not yet, and by God’s grace, occasionally get to see glimpses of occasionally.

Growth in the faith always takes time. It’s never complete. But as long as I have breath, I want to keep going. Lord, give me strength.

Six ways podcasts may be good (and bad) for your faith

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Podcasts are not your pastor.

I realize this is ridiculously obvious, yet it is so necessary for us to remind ourselves of this fact. We have more podcasts being created by more people than ever before (including one, eventually, by me). Some are completely separate from what happens in the local church on a Sunday morning—their goal is not to replace church, but to enhance, which is a good thing (but I’m getting ahead of myself). Others tend to be limited to the Sunday morning message from a given local church.

None of these are bad, obviously. And to be clear, we should never have to choose between podcasts and our pastors—instead, we should always see podcasts as being a beneficial addition to the teaching we receive in our local churches. Yet, I sometimes I wonder if they’re contributing more to the consumerist mentality that plagues the Christian life in North America.

When podcasts supplant pastors in our hearts and minds, we should be gravely concerned. But what concerns me is not entirely the consumerist mentality, or the continued perpetuation of Christian celebrity. Instead, I want to know why people turn to podcasts and perhaps too frequently looking to them as their source of biblical nourishment? Here are two reasons I’d suggest:

1. An inability of church members to submit to the leaders placed over them. The reasons for this are twofold: First, we lack a proper understanding of that there is even such a thing as objective truth. This is fundamentally a worldview issue—if truth is relative, then I am the arbiter of truth, so I’m ultimately my own authority. At best, everyone else has an opinion, but it’s not something I need to listen to. The current generation’s attitudes toward leadership is fruit of decades of mistrust and skepticism. We expect politicians to lie to us. We assume our bosses are going to throw us under the bus in order to save their own skin. And we have wrongly projected that onto our church leaders. This unhealthy attitude must be countered and corrected.

2. Pastors are failing to preach. To not put too fine a point on it, if pastors are not preaching the Word, they are failing their congregations. As Jared Wilson once put it so succinctly, “Putting some Bible verses in your message is not the same thing as preaching the Scriptures.” Christians who are starving for the nourishment that only comes from the preached Word will inevitably seek it out elsewhere, and if that’s a podcast, so be it. But here’s the thing: if you’re in a church where you truly never hear the Bible preached, you seriously need to leave and join one where it is. Podcasts might be a benefit in the short term, but they shouldn’t replace sitting under the faithful preaching of a pastor who knows and loves you.

So those are my concerns. And yet, as I have already said, podcasts can be (and often are) hugely helpful for many people. After all, that’s what they’re intended for. So here are a few positive benefits:

1. Podcasts can prevent you turning your pastor into an idol. Listening to other pastors offers you different perspectives as well as opportunities for discussion with your pastor and can help keep you from viewing him as your sole source of truth. In other words, it can help prevent you from turning him into an idol. We naturally attempt to put anyone and anything in the place of God. But to put any person in that position is not only unfair, it is evil. Podcasts can help remind you that your pastor is a regular person, just like you. Every pastor, no matter how excellent a student of the Word, is imperfect. He can and will make mistakes. And a good pastor is never afraid of his congregation hearing the Word from other sources, provided those sources hold fast to the truth.

2. Podcasts can help you recognize false teachers and doctrine. This one is a bit touchy as there is a greater possibility of exposure to false teachers and doctrine through podcasts; iTunes doesn’t check for doctrinal fidelity. So when you subscribe you might find yourself listening to something terrible—but that podcast might also help you identify and counter false teaching within your own congregation, whether it’s found in your small group discussions (which happens), or—God forbid!—from the pulpit or platform at your local church.

3. Podcasts can help you redeem your commute. Rather than listening to smutty and/or irrelevant morning-drive shows, a podcast can help you prepare for your day on a positive note, using the time that has been given to you to hear the truth expounded. This is a wonderful and necessary thing. Prior to selling our house and moving, I had a roughly 30 minute commute (round trip) each day, which I used to listen to audiobooks and podcasts such as Ligonier’s Renewing Your Mind. This was hugely beneficial not only to my ability to do my job well, but to prepare myself for the second half of my day—being “dad,” helping my wife and writing.

4. Podcasts can help you become a better preacher. Don Carson has often said that if you listen to one person, you’re going to be a bad copy, if you listen to 10, you’ll be boring, and if you listen to 50, you’ll start to develop your own voice. Podcasts allow preachers to hear how others communicate, learn helpful techniques and grow in the role to which God has called them.

The important thing for us to note (again) is that podcasts can be very valuable to our spiritual health and growth provided they maintain their proper position in our lives—that is serving as a supplement and complement to the instruction we receive within our local churches and in our personal study. So give thanks for their existence, encourage others when you find worthwhile ones to listening to and enjoy.


This post is based on two previously posted articles from 2011.

Why it’s good to disagree with your past self

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It never fails. You write something, you put publish it, share it, do all the stuff you usually do with a blog post… And then, a few years later, you come back to it for some reason, and realize “Wow, I’m not sure I agree with that anymore.”

When this happens, I actually get pretty happy. Though it might seem strange to say, I don’t want to agree with everything I’ve written over the last six years. Why? Three reasons:

1. I’m not the same person who wrote it. Someone told me you’re the same person you were five years ago except for the people you meet and the books you read. Which, is really a coy way of saying, you should be a very different person if you’re doing it right. A few years (or a few months) from now, we may no longer agree with a popular figure who once was a strong influence. We will meet people and have experience which will affect us in ways we may not even be consciously aware of. We will be exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking through the books we read (at least, as long as we’re being appropriately diverse in our reading). These changes and influences may be conspicuous or subtle, but they will most definitely happen. And that is most definitely a good thing.

2. I’m a different kind of writer than I was then. A few years ago, I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be. Much of my old writing was (in my opinion) sloppy and filled with unnecessary filler (far too many thens and thats and such things). I wanted to be taken seriously, so I used more words instead of better ones. Today, I’m more looking to have fun with words than to present myself a certain way. I want to write in ways material that’s fun to read, and usually this means making things shorter.

3. I’m being refined by God. One of the ways I’ve seen God most at work in my life in this regard has been a slowly increasing concern with character over results. Results can be manufactured, as we all know. But no matter how hard we try, character can’t be. I want to have the kind of character that’s marked with the fruit of the Spirit, to be the kind of person who is self-controlled and considerate. I have a long way to go, but when I look back on things I wrote or said a few years ago, I have confidence that the Lord is at work.

The courage to take a risk

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I spent the bulk of last week in Chicago for Story, a conference for those who are engaged in the creative world—storytellers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers, among others. I went to this event a couple years ago and found it… weird, but interesting, and a bit scattered in its message. This time around, it had its elements of pretension—the standard “You are creative and the world needs you!” type stuff—but it wasn’t all rah-rah this time. Instead, I noticed a pretty consistent theme come through all the speakers’ addresses: this idea of courageous creativity.

What do I mean by that? Being willing to take risks—real risks. Being willing to try something and fail.

This is something few of us are good at. In fact, it’s not something I’m entirely sure I know how to do. Working in the non-profit world, where we deal with money entrusted to us by donors, it sometimes feels as though we can’t afford to try something and have it fail. We can’t really take risks, which means we can’t really innovate.

Or so we think.

I wonder, though, how much would change for us if someone just said these five words: “You are free to fail”?

Would we be more willing to take risks? To experiment?

To maybe even have a little fun with our work?

And moving beyond creative work, consider how these words affect our relationship with God. Just as many of us who work in the non-profit world believe failure isn’t an option, many of us believe the same thing about following Jesus? That if we’re not “all-rise” in our approach to the Christian faith—always more baptisms, more bums in seats, more services—we’re blowing it?

Why do we keep forgetting that, although we will always progress on our march to holiness, it’s going to be of a stumbling, faltering sort? That there is a sense in which we are told in the gospel, we are free to fail? Not in a way that minimizes or blesses sin, but in the sense that it’s our failures more than our successes that we see our need for Christ—and God uses to shape us into the image of Christ?

This, too, requires courage. A kind of courage we too easily set aside for the sake of appearances. We want to be seen as godly, without actually wanting to take the risks associated with becoming godly. Confessing sin is a risk. Repenting of sin requires courage. But the reward—while it may never be fully seen in this world—makes the risk worth it, doesn’t it?

Do You Journal?

I’m not talking about a manly version of keeping a diary (although if you keep a diary, that’s cool…), I’m talking about journaling what God is teaching you through your regular Scripture reading.

Do you journal?

For years, I’ve done it and it’s been very worthwhile, particularly from the standpoint of looking back and seeing what God’s been teaching you over the years. My friend Adam and I were talking about this last night over bison burgers and I’d mentioned that it’s very humbling to look back on things you wrote 3, 4 or 5 years ago that you thought were really insightful and intelligent and think, “Man, I was an idiot!”

Maybe that’s just me, though.

And even though I’ve always really enjoyed journaling, it’s fallen by the wayside in recent weeks. I always have things to ponder from my reading (some of which ends up becoming posts like these), but I’m not always writing it down.

This is probably a trend I should reverse.

So do you journal? If so, how do you keep yourself on track with doing it?