I believed the gospel (or, what I understood of it) from the time I was nine years old. My leaders taught me verses or passages from the Bible and it made sense to me. But I can never remember a time that someone took me through an entire letter of Paul or a complete Gospel in one sitting. Some pastors spent months or even years teaching Philippians or Galatians or Luke. At the end of all that time we had taken so long to get there I couldn’t remember where we’d come from.
When I was in college I read all the way through the Bible from beginning to end for the first time in my life. After I read through the entire Bible, something happened. I saw and comprehended the whole story and I realized how the pieces fit together for the first time. I often wonder now how much our lives would change if we would just eliminate the chapters and verses and read through the Bible like a novel. The way I approached the Bible was forever changed. The purpose of the Bible was not to help me complete a few minutes of devotions time every day. It gave me an accurate picture of God, His creation, his purposes throughout history, and the small part I play in the grand narrative.
But something else happened to me. Sometime later, years after reading the entire Bible, I continued to force myself to read it daily for “quiet times” or other personal study. One day in the midst of my routine I realized that I was not paying attention anymore to what I was reading. My mind and my heart were drifting. Even worse, I found that I was beginning to dread my time reading the Bible. I continued to read what I already knew, thinking that the reading was somehow pleasing to God. I felt guilty and prayed. What was wrong with me? I used to love reading the Bible so much. I had so many leaders tell me that the way to spiritual growth was to “just keep reading”.
Somewhere along the way, many of us are taught that we have a limited amount of time in each day and the best, most spiritual things we can do with that time is pray and read the Bible. You want to go out to a movie with your friends? Wait a minute! Is that the best use of your time? Ever thought about reading some bit of classic literature? Shouldn’t you do something more profitable like stay home and read your Bible by yourself? The answer is no, and I hope this is freeing to you.
God didn’t give us the Bible so we could spend all of our time reading it and fail to live the life the Bible calls us to.
If you’re in the middle of a program that requires you to read the Bible intensively, I’m not telling you to stop. If you’ve been reading the Bible your whole life, or if you spend so much time reading the Bible you don’t have time for anything or anyone else, I’m telling you to stop for a while. You need to take what you’ve already read and figure out how it applies to life. You need to meditate on some of the passages you’ve already committed to memory. Reading is not the same as meditating. One of the most shocking responses I give to people who ask me what I’ve read in the Bible this week is: nothing. There are times that I read a passage, which absolutely consumes me, and I need to spend a month thinking about it. I can’t move on to another verse until the one does its work in me.
If you think that you need to keep plowing through your reading schedule even though something doesn’t feel right, you are denying the feeling God gave you, which can often be an indicator that something else is going on. If your body is in pain, it is an indicator that something is physically wrong. In the same way, if you don’t fell like reading the Bible, something is going on and you need to stop and ask God to reveal what it is. This may be shocking to you, but the Bible is not the only way God communicates with us. It is obviously the definitive, written Word by which we filter and discern what is true. But He has given us the Holy Spirit and each other. Other Christians are also filled with the Holy Spirit and you need to be in community with them and listen to them. The Christian life is not a “you and God against the world” mentality.
Sometimes, you need to stop reading your Bible and listen to what God is saying to you, instead of trying to make a verse in the Bible fit your specific situation. The Pharisees were great at reading their Bibles more than anyone, but they couldn’t recognize God when He was standing right in front of them.