Developing a Bible Habit

Each new year boasts new events. Whether it’s recently elected officials or the Cleveland Browns winning in the playoffs, no year is the same.

But despite these novelties, the turn of the calendar consistently delivers in two ways: the flood of fresh exercise commitments and the relatively brief lifespans of the same. There's just something about the season's newness, the starting over, that makes us want to capture it. With the storm of gym-goers, we also see an uptick in Bible reading plans as neglected devotionals are revisited with post-Holiday vigor. However, like exercise, these resurgences are often short-lived.

It isn't as if we're unaware of what's at stake, we're not. The importance of regular exercise is common knowledge, the benefits well known. And most understand that a commitment to God’s Word would be life-changing. In neither case is a lack of understood benefit the reason we fail. Rather, for one reason or another, we struggle to make the habit stick.

In Psalm 119:9, the psalmist graces us with a helpful literary feature called “question and answer.” The question he asks is, “How can a young man keep his way pure?”  To which he replies, “By guarding it according to [God’s] Word.” It is by His Word that God leads us into the good life, the life of godliness. Twenty minutes, ten minutes, five minutes—there’s no specific amount of time. We know that any experience with God’s Word is to our benefit. So, why is it so difficult to get started?

Why it’s Hard
The simple answer is because it’s not easy. As a general rule, greater rewards require greater effort, and the Bible's reward is great indeed. If we approach our prospective Bible reading habit expecting a cake-walk, we will be discouraged when it is anything but.

Simply saying, "it isn't easy," may be an oversimplification. But in today’s on-demand world, a proper perspective can go a long way. Sometimes the first hurdle is admitting something is more difficult than we thought, providing us an opportunity to reevaluate and decide if we will shrink from the task or rise.

You may be thinking to yourself that reading the Bible is easy—that you just haven't gotten around to it—but that you eventually will. Yet, the unfortunate reality is we don’t. We don't read our Bibles as much as we want or should. And if you do, if you have already cultivated a healthy Bible reading habit, then that's amazing! You are ahead of the curve and your friends need your encouragement. But for everyone else, the first step is admitting that it's actually kind of tough.

Obviously, developing healthy Bible-reading habits isn’t as simple as a passing interest added to reading ability. We’re up against a lot here, and no less than the powers of Satan and the temptations of sin.

If we want to win this battle, we are going to need a plan.

Making a Change
Deep down, we all know we should be paying more attention to our Bibles. If you're like I was, you’ve probably already given it your best shot, even going a full week without missing a day, only to lie down one evening and realize a week has passed since you last read. The habit simply won't stick. Eventually, distractions slip in, burying our dedicated plans under sports practices, weekend excursions, and the constant, demanding chime of our cellphones.

So be comforted, we are in this together. You are not the first Christian to struggle with his or her Bible reading. However, I also want you to be uncomfortable—uncomfortable enough to make a change.

The Plan
The enemy is happy to see Christians ignore their Bibles, and overjoyed to see us wallow in the resulting guilt. These are his tactics, this is how he fights. He distracts us and then accuses us for being distracted. Therefore, our response must be swift. And like any thoughtful soldiers in the Lord’s army, we need the following things:

  1. Good information
  2. Commitment to the mission
  3. Clear identification of the threats

Good Information
If we want 2021 to be the year our Bible reading habits reach the next level, then there is something we must understand: we cannot do it alone. Like all the Christian life, this is not a solo mission; we need backup. If we try to do it alone, we will fail. We must confess that we need God's help, knowing that it pleases Him to do it and that He will. It's about heart posture and it requires humility.

In Arthur Bennett’s edited collection of Puritan prayers, The Valley of Vision, one entitled, "A Minister’s Bible," reads:

I thank thee for the holy Scriptures,
    their precepts, promises, directions, light.
In them may I learn more of Christ,
  be enabled to retain his truth
  and have grace to follow it.
Help me to lift up the gates of my soul
    that he may come in
  and show me himself when I search
    the Scriptures,
  for I have no lines to fathom its depths,
  no wings to soar to its heights.
By his aid may I be enabled to explore
    all its truths,
  love them with all my heart,

  embrace them with all my power,
  engraft them into my life.

If men who devoted their lives to the study and application of Scripture thought it necessary to ask God for love for His Word, we would be wise to do the same. We need God's help in this.

Last month, we talked about the fact that, as fallen people, we're not born with right affections. Instead, we come into this world punching and kicking against the things of God, especially His Word. To remedy this, God gives us His Spirit, who immediately goes to work redeeming our desires. The Spirit causes us to want to pray, worship, and read our Bibles. Though we are born weak, the Spirit uses our weaknesses as avenues for God's strength to shine through, and we can lean into that.

Just as we need heart-work to develop healthy Bible reading habits, so the inverse is true; we need God’s Word—established habit or not—to grow our hearts.

C. S. Lewis writes, "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor [or not]; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him." What Lewis is saying is that, even if we don’t feel like we love our neighbors, we should act as if we do and then we will. This principle can apply to our Bible reading as well. The Bible is not magical, but Paul tells us that God's Word is power for those who believe, meaning it nourishes us even if we aren't the best readers. So, if we're struggling to make the habit stick, Lewis would say, "read on!" and maybe we'll find a love for God's Word after all.

If He chose to, God could snap His fingers and grant us all the motivation and discipline to read our Bibles an hour a day, every day of the week. But this doesn’t happen. What God has chosen to do is work through His Word. Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is “God-breathed and useful for training in righteousness . . . that the man of God may be complete.” God’s Word is like a teacher who, with the Spirit's help, instructs us in the things of God and forms us into godly people (people who read their Bibles). Therefore, in a large sense, we must do the very thing we wish to improve at doing in order to get better. In the sports world, we call this “practice.” In Scripture, God calls it faithfulness.

As Christians, we have received a spirit that loves God. In fact, God’s own Spirit lives within us. So, when we expose ourselves to God’s Word our spirit responds with satisfaction. For this reason, even if you haven’t cultivated the habit you desire, act as if you have. Proceed as though your only desire is to honor God by going to Him in His Word. Read your Bible, study it diligently, and practice the spiritual discipline you wish to master. And God, who is faithful to His promises, will establish it in your heart.

Identification of Threats
The days are short and we have limited room in our hearts. We must make the most of both.
The Bible tells us that, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Mt. 6:24). As we do our best to live for God, unending worldly distractions will confront us. These attention-stealing decoys seek to dethrone Christ as the King of our hearts and disrupt our focus. In response, we must acknowledge their existence, point them out, and hunt them down.

Personally, when I realized my Bible habit needed a boost, I thought I had what I needed to make it happen, starting with a sincere desire for growth. Every day I prayed, asking God to help me love His Word more. I even dedicated serious time to the Word, subscribing to various reading plans, all in hopes of jump-starting my habit. But I lacked a third, essential part: the acknowledgment of my idols.

Whenever I would pray about my reading habits, the Spirit would bring the same things to mind: self-imposed distractions. Social media, frivolous hobbies, fantasy-football, you name it; they were all there, and I knew exactly how much time and heart-space they were taking up. Yet I would make excuses for myself, arguing that I could successfully balance the vain desires of my heart along with a faithful, growing discipline in the Word and prayer.

I was wrong.

Itinerant preacher and author Paul Washer suggests that we as modern people simply cannot be as great of men and women as previous generations and for one simple reason: there are so many distractions. And though interruptions are often external, many of the wounds we suffer are self-inflicted—we bring them on ourselves.

Chances are you are prioritizing activities every day, whether you realize it or not, that are far less important than God’s Word. Perhaps the relationship between your time on TikTok, or playing video games, and God’s Word, has never occurred to you. But I assure you it exists. We are stewards of the time and resources God has given us, and His Word is one resource of which we are most undeserving, and so is every morning. He does not owe us each day, another breath, nor another beat of our hearts. Yet God generously gives us all these things and more that we might live for Him. But He only gives us so many heartbeats, let us use them wisely.

Pastor and author H.B. Charles Jr. gives this instruction: guard your quiet time with the Lord vigilantly. Today I take these words to heart. As Christians in a post-Christian world, we must protect our time with the Lord with great determination. Like a growling dog over a bone, we cannot allow anything to interfere.
As a fallen person myself, I know what it’s like to live with the guilt of spiritual idleness and neglect. Before becoming a more serious Bible reader (having still so far to go), I was merely the owner of a beautiful, brown leather Bible. It was a hardcover and it looked very impressive wherever it sat. The cover was mostly for show, however, as I rarely opened it. It remained on my nightstand, day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month, for almost four years. During that time, I begged God to help me read my Bible. I wanted desperately to want to read it, for its joys, for its encouragements, and for God. And as an answer to my prayers, my life was (and still is) a cascade of challenges for which the Bible would have been the perfect balm. But I, professing with my mouth a desire for God’s Word, with my actions, refused.

Colossians 3:16 instructs us to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. His Word is not merely an accessory to our lives, it is central. Even if we haven't developed the reading habits we desire, we start by confessing we should and that we need God's help. After that, we must simply commit, "bathing in the Word," as it were, confident that God will use it to mold us into people who love it.

The Lord is faithful even when we are not. He convicts our hearts of their idols and leads us to His Word where they are highlighted and struck down and our love for His word is grown.
Paul Washer reminds us that Olympic athletes are not made overnight. From five years old these men and women submit to a strict schedule of practice, exercise, and diet so that one day they can run a race, receive a medal, hang it up, and that’s it.

One race, and it’s over.

You and I race for eternity—what should our practice look like?

Go to the Lord with confidence that through His Word He will grow you and shape you, both for His glory and for your good. As the Scriptures say, blessed—truly blessed—are those who delight in His Word (Psalm 112:1; Lk. 11:28).

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