For nearly four decades I have followed Jesus, and looking back I see an obvious pattern. The seasons of greatest progress and spiritual depth have coincided with the practice of daily Bible reading. Likewise, when the binding of my Bible remained unbent due to my own negligence, I sensed something significant was missing in my relationship with Christ.
What about the Bible is so essential to the vitality of a Jesus-follower?
Donald Bray, in his book God is Love, says that the Bible serves God’s people by forming us and feeding us. Well said! Without the Scripture, we get stuck on our journey toward becoming like Jesus. Without the Bible, our souls starve for the nourishment only the truth of Scripture provides.
Bible-reading is critical, but it need not be complicated. I have discovered a few simple tips to enrich anyone’s Bible-reading experience.
1. Set a time
A curious friend recently asked me if I ever experienced writer’s block. I never have. I write sermons and Bible studies and articles and books for a living. Am I somehow exempt from the mental hurdles other writers face? Certainly not. I have good days and bad days, to be sure. But my secret is in the power of habit. Every morning at the same time, I sit at the same table, and pick up the same styled notepad. My surroundings and my clock tell me it is time to write. And write I do, most times for better and many times for worse. But I write. Progress, however slow and halting is made. I have discovered and experienced a simple truth: Consistency is the incubator of creativity.
Consistency is the incubator of creativity.
The same can be said of the decision to read the Scripture. By observing a consistent time, our hearts and our spirits begin to automatically anticipate a daily encounter with God’s word. The decision is made, and God will honour our discipline by showing up and speaking clearly. Does this mean that every day will bring an epiphany? No. But excitement is not the measure of an authentic encounter with God. We trust that in unseen ways we are being formed into the likeness of Jesus. We trust that even when we can’t feel it, we are fed for the journey ahead.
2. Take your time
As we approach the Scripture, we are looking for something more than information. We are in need of transformation, and transformation takes times.
Two years ago, I decided to rid myself of a few unwanted pounds. Life change was the order of the day. Water replaced sugar saturated drinks. When I felt full, I stopped eating. Late-night cravings were no longer indulged. No single day witnessed a dramatic change, but every day made a difference. Over the course of several months, my belt loosened and my energy level soared. Each day’s progress could hardly be measured, but every day mattered. Like physical health, spiritual transformation and vitality take time.
Spiritual transformation and vitality take time
The ancients knew the value of time-taking and captured it in a process they called Lectio Divina--divine reading. Lectio encourages an unrushed reading of the Bible. Year-long and 90-day reading plans have their place. But so does reading the Bible with no agenda other than encounter with God. Hovering over Scripture replaces the temptation to hurry through it.
Perhaps an example will help. Currently I'm reading the minor prophets--twelve Older Testament books with messages as unusual as the their names. But by a slow reading, I am encountering a part of the Bible I never before appreciated. How long will I live among the minor prophets? Who can tell? And I am not concerned. I am paying attention to the next sentence or two in Zechariah as he shows me more about the God who isn’t afraid to touch my life even when I make a mess of it.
3. Stick with a passage, or rather... let it stick with you
As you take your time in the Scripture, practice a simple discipline: read until you sense it is time to stop. Be more concerned with how you read the Bible and less with how much of the Bible you read. If your plan is to read three chapters from the Scripture, it is tempting to allow your goal to distract you from God. Read until a word or phrase captures your attention. At this point, the reading is done and the art of integrating the Scripture into your daily life has begun.
Simple scripture stayed with me and sustained me for the day
Just this week I read Zechariah 2:5. God sees the unwalled and unprotected city of Jerusalem and promises, “I myself will be a wall of fire around it, and I will be the glory within it.” God was concerned for his people.
He still is. Every day God gives his protection (the wall of fire) and his power (the glory within) to those he loves. I took this passage with me into the fray of the day. Several times I drew boldness from the reminder of God’s encompassing and indwelling presence. This simple scripture stayed with me and sustained me for the day.
4. Pray the Scripture
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” The reliable truth of Scripture rather than the randomness of our thoughts can fuel our praying. By making the substance of God’s word the stuff of our prayers we push our prayers higher into the presence of God while at the same time pressing the contents of Scripture deeper into the core of our character.
By making the substance of God’s word the stuff of our prayers we push our prayers higher into the presence of God
Centuries ago, an ordinary man listened to the prompting of God to “pick up and read” the Bible. One sentence from the book of Romans initiated a transformation that would change him from a common sinner into an uncommon saint. Augustine experienced something that awaits all who would pick up and read--the power of the Scripture to sculpt us into the image of Christ and sustain us through the tumult of life.
Deron Spoo is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and author of ‘The Good Book: 40 Chapters That Reveal The Bible’s Big Ideas’, published by David C Cook.