Why Is It So Hard to Read My Bible These Days?

Since March, I’ve struggled to maintain my daily habit of Bible reading and prayer. Some days, I’ve happily turned to the next passage in my year-long plan (or asked Alexa to read it to me). Some days, I’ve slogged through my daily chapters only because I know it’s the right thing to do. But, some days, I’ve skipped altogether.

According to new research, I’m not alone.

recent study from Barna Group and the American Bible Society reports that daily Bible reading among Americans has dropped during the pandemic, with only 8.5 percent of the population opening the Scriptures every day compared to 13.7 percent in 2019. Some of that drop-off can probably be attributed to rearranged schedules and the domino chain of additional responsibilities created by the virus. But the data also suggests a correlation between church participation and private Bible reading.

When people engage less with the local church, they engage less with their Bibles.

We’re All ‘Nones’ Now

For years, prominent, progressive voices have been telling us that it’s possible (even preferable) to have a vibrant, personal faith apart from the local church. Now, thanks to the novel coronavirus, we’ve all had to pursue the life of faith at a distance from the church—and it’s not going well.

When people engage less with the local church, they engage less with their Bibles.

With church gatherings prohibited or limited, hospitality curtailed, and prayer meetings and small groups moved to Zoom, we’ve missed out on some aspects of church life. Many of us have also missed out on opening our Bibles.

I’m not a social scientist, but after a lifetime in the local church (and years of writing about corporate piety), I find the recent study results unsurprising. If we are going to flourish spiritually, we need the body of Christ.

Centrality of Scripture

As I repent of my spotty Bible reading over the past few months, I realize that my fundamental problem is not a lack of time, mounting stress, or increased fatigue. Working from home and overseeing distance education for three kids may be challenging, but it doesn’t keep me from reading Leviticus. My real problem is something else. It’s the fact that I don’t value the Bible as much as I should.

The Bible is God’s good Word—infallible, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient—and I should gobble it up like honey and treasure it like a stack of gold coins. But, on my own, I can drift into acting like the Bible is just like any other book. Nice, but not essential.

Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t summon us to a solitary faith. Instead, he sets us in the church. Week after week, worship with the church affirms the centrality of the Bible to the Christian life. Together, we hear the Word read and preached; we sing the Word; we pray prayers based on the promises given in the Word; and, in the sacraments, we receive the visible and tangible Word.

In the church, we hear passages we wouldn’t necessarily bookmark for ourselves (minor prophets, anyone?) and, as they are explained, we discover they are clear and useful for our souls. Studying Scripture in the company of God’s people whets our appetite for the rich feast that awaits us every time we open our Bibles.

If our private and family Bible reading have faltered during the week, Sunday reminds us that every Christian needs the light (Ps. 119:105), nourishment (Matt. 4:4), and wisdom (Ps. 19:7) of the Word.

Cloud of Witnesses

Of course, regular, private Bible reading seldom produces immediate results. I can plow through days of the Gospels, weeks of Psalms, and months of Old Testament narratives, and I don’t notice any dramatic effect in my life. For that, I need a wider perspective.

Here, too, the Lord gives us help in the church. The people of our congregations form a cloud of witnesses, testifying to the power of the Word in the hands of the Spirit.

The people of our congregations form a cloud of witnesses, testifying to the power of the Word in the hands of the Spirit.

As I interact with the people in my church, I interact with people who have been profoundly changed by the Word of God. Once upon a time, they hated God, rebelled against his law, scoffed at Christ, and wanted nothing to do with his people. Then, someone opened the Bible with them, and nothing was ever the same again.

From that Spirit-enabled moment on, their lives have been shaped by the Word of God. Their actions, affections, and desires are based not on their own wicked inclinations, but on God’s declared will. They seek to know and love him as he is revealed in the Scriptures. They seek to obey and please him as he directs. Little by little, as they meditate on the Word, they become more and more like Christ. I can’t always see the life-changing power of the Word in my own life, but I can see it clearly in the radiance of theirs.

Over many years and in a variety of circumstances, the people in our churches have found the Bible to be comfort in affliction, help in trouble, direction in uncertainty, and hope in distress. They have staked their lives on its claims, even though it has often cost them greatly.

Ultimately, they have searched the Scriptures to find him whom their soul loves best. And as they delight in him more with every page, they encourage me to delight in my own Bible.

Go to Church to Read Your Bible

Are you struggling to pick up your Bible? Go to church. If you can safely and legally gather with your local congregation, do it. If you can’t, make the livestream a priority. Sit under the Word of God along with the people of God. Ask God to help you receive it, “not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13).

Your private Bible reading depends more on other people than you may think.

Then, between Sundays, look for ways to be shaped by people who have been shaped by Scripture. Spend time with them—outdoors, six-feet apart, wearing masks, whatever it takes. Pay attention to how God has sustained them by his Word. Ask him to sustain you by it too.

Your private Bible reading depends more on other people than you may think.

Written by: MEGAN HILL

First published 08.09.20: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/hard-to-read-bible/

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