Why do we give up on Bible reading
[This post originally appeared on Desiring God]
So you’ve committed to reading the Bible again this year. Praise God.
Maybe this is something new for you, one of your resolutions for the New Year. Or maybe you’re a seasoned, veteran reader, just hoping to maintain the patterns God has blessed over many years now.
However much or little you have read in the past, though, will not change what’s going to happen soon, probably even sometime in the next week. Maybe it’s happened already. You’ll sit down for your time in the word, spend half an hour in Genesis or Deuteronomy or Psalms or Romans, close the book, and have no idea what to do with what you just read.
What do you do when Bible reading produces no obvious application — when you walk away from your Bible reading with no fantastic insights, no deep revelations, or even any profound experience of awe or wonder? This happens more often than any of us would like to admit. It unnerves us. I just heard from God, and nothing seems different.
What do you do when your Bible reading seems insignificant or irrelevant?
Two Lies Satan Tells
What do you pray for when your Bible reading gives you no new principles for how to live? Is there even a purpose to reading Scripture when there’s no personal application?
Satan aims to devour us by sifting the faith from our souls (Luke 22:31; 1 Peter 5:8). There are two lies that Satan speaks when we read our Bibles. The first is that our time in God’s word was worthless. Our reading plan gave us half-an-hour’s worth of “So-and-so was an evil king. He fought with these people. He died. And his son became king in his place. . . .” Entertaining, maybe, but if that’s all we’re after in Bible reading, we’ll do better turning on Netflix instead.
This is the lie of cynicism. I see no application for me here. Therefore, the time must be worthless. Over time, we’ll end up reading the Bible less and less or skipping over the “insignificant” parts we suspect are less valuable or relevant to us.
Or maybe God spares us from cynically dismissing the importance of chapters or books in the Bible. We will still have times when we don’t know what to do with what we read. In this case, we don’t take issue with the Bible, but with ourselves. This is the lie of self-doubt.
Why couldn’t I get anything out of my Bible reading? We know it’s not because God’s word is insignificant, so it must be that we’re just not smart enough, or spiritual enough, or trained enough. Our morning devotions, which started out with high hope and fresh resolve, end in introspective worry: “What’s wrong with me that I didn’t see anything new today?”
Not a Filing Cabinet
If you’ve experienced either cynicism or self-doubt in Bible reading, take heart. When we understand ourselves and the Bible rightly, we will come to see that there is no such thing as insignificant or worthless Bible time.
Part of our problem is that we’re misunderstanding what God made humans to be in the first place. Humans aren’t primarily intellectual filing systems of information. Almost none of what you do throughout the day is the result of compiling information in your brain, sorting it into logical premises, and choosing to act on a conclusion from those premises.
The main engine that moves you through life is not what you know, but what you love. We are always moving irresistibly (often, even unnoticeably) in the direction of our affections — the deepest inclinations, desires, and loves that hold our hearts captive.
Why Do We Read?
This is why David said, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” (Psalm 119:92). Seriously? Perished?
David was poetic, but this is not hyperbole. Even if you meditate on God’s law day and night (Psalm 1:2), unveil the most profound application from your Bible reading, understand all mysteries and knowledge of God’s will (1 Corinthians 13:2), but your heart is not being molded into the image of God’s Son, your Bible reading is ultimately worth nothing.
In our Bible reading, we aren’t seeking mainly to learn certain things, but to become certain types of people. We want the beauty and excellency and holiness of God to spread its way deeper and broader into who we are — not just into how we think, but into how we love and feel and act.
We seek to understand God’s word with our minds, find application for our lives, and gain insight into the mysteries of Christ, not as ends in themselves, but because these are pathways God gives us to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).
Sword in His Hands
We get cynical or discouraged in Bible reading in part because we forget what it means to be human, but also because we often forget that the Bible is God’s book.
God’s word is “like fire . . . like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29). You don’t halt the hammer of God just because you’re left without a new life principle. We can’t extinguish the living and active word of God simply because we failed to understand its practical significance immediately.
We must be faithful to read on our part, but ultimately, it is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7) — the insight, the application, the resolve — and he’s not dependent on us to give blessing as he wills. When we read the Bible, we’re not performing self-surgery to help ourselves think better or act better. We are turning ourselves over to God, whose healing sword pierces to the division of our very souls and spirits, joints and marrow (Hebrews 4:12).
Your growth and sanctification always run deeper than you can observe — don’t be discouraged because you can’t see it all at once. God can do more in your life with ten minutes of “insignificant” Bible reading than all the wisdom of Homer, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy combined.
All of God’s word is “perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7), which means that your time in the Bible is never wasted. No matter how many new insights you gain from a given day of devotions (or how few), you always have something to pray after your time in the word:
Lord, your word is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true. By it, you revive souls, make the simple wise, rejoice hearts, enlighten eyes, and mold us into righteousness (Psalm 19:7–9). Transform the words in front of me into virtue and grace within me, conforming me to the image of your Son. Let your word fall on my heart like a hammer, breaking away what is sinful and refining what is righteous. Shape not only my mind, but all of me, to love what Christ loves and to hate what he hates. Amen.