I think the Bible is hugely important. It’s the most objectively reliable way of hearing from God and knowing truth. It is “living and active.” It’s a very tangible way to spend time with God as part of a routine or rhythm. It is what keeps us honest in our dogma and praxis.
I’m not particularly close to my dad, but one of the few things he ever encouraged me to do was to read my Bible every day.
A few years ago, I felt convicted about my Bible reading being so infrequent - it seemed unhealthy/unnatural for a Christian to read it so little. I began to understand my spiritual health in some large part by how frequently I read my Bible (in addition to some other things. How someone measures spiritual health deserves a blog post of its own). At the time, I worked a few blocks away from a donut shop that looked like this:
At first, I was just trying to wake up early once a week so I could go to the shop and read my Bible before going to work. I slowly increased the cadence to twice a week, then to three times. Eventually, I was going almost every day. (And after that, there were some weeks I actually went more than once a day! It was also a good place to just kill time and one of the baristas would give me free stuff.)
I made it into something special. I had a private Instagram account, and the entire account was just pictures of my Bible, notebook, and a coffee (sometimes a donut) on the table in front of me. It was like “this is my time with God.” I settled into this rhythm where I’d read about two pages a day, jot down a summary, thoughts, and questions in my notebook, and then pray. Sometimes I’d have another Christian book that I was going through, so I’d spend 20 minutes in that book and 20 minutes in the Bible. So it wasn’t just 10 minutes before I fell asleep, it was typically 30–60 minutes and the first productive thing I did each morning.
As the jobs have changed over the year, the coffeeshops have changed too, but the Bible reading has held steady. At Facebook, I went to Herkimer in Lower Queen Anne, which also had a nice second story loft. At Airbnb, I switched to Anchorhead downtown, then Slate in Pioneer Square. On the weekends, I’m likely to head off to Seward Park Caffe Vita or Cap Hill for Victrola or Ada’s.
In the past 5 years, I read the Bible straight through nearly twice (well, I’m currently about to finish the last book, Revelation, which’ll conclude the second reading). I’m not that fast of a reader, but I was consistent. During that time, I’ve taken breaks to read other sections of the Bible and gone through different books of the Bible as part of church, small group, and discipleship endeavors. I memorized the Sermon on the Mount, 2 Timothy, and a big chunk of Romans. It was a big part of my life (such that I’d feel guilty if I skipped a day of reading and started my day without it), and I wasn’t just going through motions or robotically keeping a routine, I was double checking my intentionality and desire, I was trying to engage responsibly.
But if I’m being honest, I feel weird about the time. I’m still surprised by how little I feel like I know the Bible. I feel like it doesn’t excite me much. That’s a big thing for me to admit.
I feel like it has complicated my relationship with the Bible more. It’s gotten harder and harder to read over time. It’s not that I think it’s irrelevant or outdated or fallible. It might be that I think there’s so much there that I can’t handle it properly if I didn’t go to seminary and understand Hebrew or Greek or Ancient Near Eastern literature or first century Roman context. It’s just that I’m so accustomed to an intellectual engagement with the text that I feel like I can’t read it on my own - I need someone else to tell me what it says (which is ironic, because I literally meet with a new Christian once a week to help him read the Bible).
But that’s honestly how I feel. I feel like you can’t just open the Bible and read it on the light rail for a minute here and there, you need to sit down for an hour and read it alongside Logos Bible software so that you can read a dozen commentaries from scholars and see all of the cross references and whatever. I feel like there are all of these opinionated scholars out there who are quick to point out what I’m not seeing or what I’m misinterpreting, and it’s just easier not to try. It’s inaccessible. It’s like how I grew up and we only had KJV Bibles at home and it didn’t mean anything to me.
[I should note that reading comprehension was like my lowest ACT section. I’m certainly no reading comprehension rockstar.]
How, then, can I approach and engage with the Bible?
I think these are some things that have helped me engage:
- It’s okay not to sit down and read everyday. Hopefully you’re doing something of spiritual value every day to draw near to God; hopefully He is a very real part of your day every day whether you’re reading or not. But I think it’s okay not to read everyday. I think it’s okay to forego several smaller chunks in favor of one longer, more concentrated chunk of time (for example, spending a longer amount of time in the Word on the weekend instead of more frequent, shorter, and potentially randomized or distracted time during the work week).
- The Bible Project. They have Youtube videos and a podcast - the podcast just recently concluded about 8 50-minute episodes on the book of Romans, which helped it come alive for me and to engage with the text more meaningfully. They put things in common everyday language which helps make it make more sense and be more relevant/applicable to us today. You can get some good context and interpretation from them.
- Bible reading and prayer should be coupled. One of my takeaways from Tim Keller’s book on prayer was someone saying that they read the Bible until they prayed, allowing it to form and inform their prayers - and then when they were done praying, it also cyclically fueled their desire to be in the Bible. Additionally, I watched this video from a guy named Jonathan Ogden about Scripture meditation - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPEsWN29wng - and tried it out for a few days and I was definitely more engaged. The thing that made it work for me was slowing down on a verse and thinking through the implications and using it as a starting place or sometimes the entire content of my prayers.
- Sometimes you need to see other people who have engaged with and been changed by Scripture in a meaningful way. Like sometimes I’m around people in ordinary, mundane situations, and Scripture will be so fluidly integrated into what they’re saying and doing, and it clearly demonstrates, for them, how their lives are impacted by the truths of Scripture. When I am around people like that, it is attractive and it makes me want to know the Word like they know it. It keeps me from doing what I’m so prone to do - from reading the Bible just to accrue knowledge - and instead, to read the Bible and allow it to change the way I think.
- Write in your Bible, write in a notebook (or get a Bible notebook). I think writing in your Bible is a good natural way of engaging with the text, in the same way that you might naturally underline things or write in the margins in any other book. And it allows you to leave yourself notes and reminders when you come back to a passage (for example, it’s not uncommon for me to read something that I have trouble understanding, only to see the notes I left for myself the last time I was there). Since I don’t carry around a study Bible, one thing I typically do is jot down the book’s context (timeline, audience, main points) on the first page of the book. And writing in a notebook has value for retention or just further processing, even if you never ever do anything with your notes.
- Even just get a nice Bible. There are some cool ones out there. Some of them are even designed well so that it’s as easy to read as any other book published today. It can be a good, aesthetically pleasing experience. I recently stumbled upon these beauties. ESV also has some nice-looking Scripture journals here.
- Get into a routine - and then break it. I think routines are great for forming habits that will, over time, help you develop into the person you want to become. Sometimes getting into the consistency is what makes the difference. So it helped when I defined a desire or purpose of “I need to be setting aside time to spend with God”, a structure of “this is how I’m going to do my dedicated time with God”, and then a goal of “I want to be doing this three times a week before I go to work.” And then I could iterate by saying “I’m going to go once this week”, now “I’m going to go twice this week.” Hopefully you can form that routine in a healthy way (one that is driven by the underlying desire and not by guilt or ego) - but, after a while, you should be willing to reassess where you are and if the structure is actually serving the purpose. Sometimes it is helpful at first and becomes decreasingly helpful over time. Sometimes you need to change things up periodically to stay engaged and to keep a fresh perspective. Especially when it comes to spending time with God, it can be detrimental to get so accustomed to a methodology that you unconsciously or subconsciously begin to believe that it is the only or the right way. Spending time with God and engaging in the Bible has looked a lot of different ways throughout history and can look a lot of different ways to different people. What matters is responsibly keeping God and the Bible central.
Hope that this post might encourage you to be honest about your Bible reading and level of engagement with it. If you’ve found anything personally helpful in that area, please share it with me!! I’m certainly still trying to figure this out, and this already feels like a post that will undergo several amendments. If we can engage with the Bible, I am hopeful we will have greater intimacy and wonder with God Himself.