Start Now to Form Good Habits
There were years when I didn’t read my Bible at all. Sometimes, I would do it on and off, a few days then stop, a few weeks then stop. Other times I would do it legalistically, thinking that I had to read a certain number of verses every day to keep on God’s good side. Very rarely did I get many benefits out of it. My adolescent years were tough years to read the Bible.
But in addition to the usual obstacles, there’s now the huge additional challenge of digital technology, which I didn’t have. It’s a challenge I now have to overcome as well though, and I want to help you with it.
Before I do so, though, think for a moment or two about how we suffer when regular Bible reading is not part of our lives. We lose connection with God, chilling our relationship with him. We lack a God-centered worldview, distorting our perspective on the world and ourselves. We do not grow in faith, but instead grow doubts. We feel guilty and ashamed, pushing the Bible even further out of our lives.
So, how can we establish healthy Bible-reading habits so that we are connected to God, have a God-centered worldview, grow in confident faith, and enjoy spiritual peace and confidence? The first step is to honestly recognize the obstructions in our way.
Recognize the Obstacles
There are many obstacles in the way of establishing good Bible-reading habits, but as I said earlier, there is none greater than digital technology. While computers, smartphones, iPads, the Internet, and social media have been a great blessing in many ways, they have complicated our lives in other ways, with personal spirituality being hit particularly hard.
All the research is warning us that overuse of our screens, especially our phones, is damaging concentration, reading ability, meditation, memory, problem-solving, sleep, quiet, privacy, purity, patience, routine, and relationships.
Do you see how massive the challenge is? We’re really up against it, aren’t we? Is there any hope of winning this battle? With God’s help, yes, especially if we begin by reminding ourselves of how many benefits there are in regular Bible reading.
Remember the Advantages
The Center for Bible Engagement reported that the most important thing to do for spiritual health and growth is read the Bible four times a week or more. “Read it this frequently,” said Steven Kryger, “and your life looks completely different to those who don’t read the Bible, or read it less than that.”
Another survey that resulted in the book Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth found that “reflection on Scripture is, by far, the most influential personal spiritual practice.” And that was true of all age groups.
Why is regular Bible reading so beneficial? Mainly because it is the primary way God speaks to us and relates to us. The Bible not only records God’s grace through Christ but brings it to us. And even if we’ve believed the gospel of grace before, we need to be daily reminded of it so that we can be daily refreshed by it.
Also, the Bible gives us a different lens with which to view the world. When God is not in the picture, the world looks so uncertain and fearful. But when the Bible brings God into view and into focus, our whole worldview changes and our emotions are stabilized and tranquilized.
If that’s not enough to motivate, consider further the sanctifying effect of God’s word. When blessed by the Holy Spirit, the Bible purifies us by rooting out sin and planting graces, helping us to stop sinning and be a blessing to others in the world.
These are some significant advantages to reading the Bible, aren’t they? So, given the obstacles to, and advantages of regular Bible reading, how can we develop good habits that are sustainable?
Here’s what I’ve found helpful as I fight this daily battle.
1. Take guilt to God.
We feel guilty over our failure to read, our rushed reading, and our lack of profit in reading. As guilt makes us run away from God, we need to start with seeking forgiveness. There is nothing so empowering to a new beginning than a clean sheet. You can get that today and put the past in the past through the gospel.
2. Pray for the Holy Spirit.
We cannot do this or keep this up in our own strength. But God gives us his Holy Spirit who delights to lead us into the truth. Pray for that each day before you open your Bible.
3. Establish a regular time and place.
For the vast majority of us, the best time to read the Bible is first thing in the morning before everyone else is awake. Maybe have a shower and coffee first to wake you up though! Ideally, find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. An early bed-time and decent sleep will transform your morning Bible reading.
4. Build a systematic routine.
Don’t jump around to a different book every day, but rather read through entire books. Start with a Gospel, then an Old Testament book, then an Epistle, and so on. There are various Bible-reading plans available that can help you, but don’t be too ambitious.
5. Start small.
Don’t go from nothing to an hour of reading and expect to keep it up. Start with one minute a day the first week, then two minutes the second week, and so on. You’ll soon build to five or ten minutes. Or start with one verse, then two, and so on. If you start small, you’ll be amazed at how this will encourage you and build momentum.
6. Use a study Bible.
We want to expose ourselves directly to the word of God more than people’s thoughts on it. However, study Bibles strike a good balance in that they keep the word of God central, but offer sufficient commentary to help us figure out the tough parts.
7. Keep a journal.
Why not buy a small notebook to write out a verse a day, a thought about what you read, or a prayer based on what you read? You could then carry this with you and reflect on it during the day, or read it at night before you sleep. This will keep what you’ve learned with you.
8. Turn off your phone and avoid the Internet and email.
I put this last, not because it’s least important, but because if you take anything away with you, take this. If there’s a silver bullet today, this is it. Before you check email, social media, or the news, check in with God. Otherwise, your mind will already be distracted and filled with trivialities. Turn off your devices, or put them in another room, and use a real, tangible book for Bible reading. This will stop you from being interrupted or distracted. I cannot emphasize this enough.
The Profitable Becomes Permanent
Although Bible reading as a young person is a great challenge, especially in the age of digital technology, the advantages more than compensate. Therefore, use God-given helps to overcome the difficulties and begin regular Bible reading that will connect you with God, give you a God-centered worldview, and grow you in confident faith and joyful holiness. Profitable Bible reading will soon become permanent Bible reading.
Content adapted from Meeting with Jesus by David Murray. This article first appeared on Crossway.org