If you have checked every box on your Bible reading since January 1st, I don’t want to stop you. God can totally use Bible reading plans. Trying to maintain a streak of doing anything daily, from working out, dieting, or reading your Bible is hard, and filling up an uninterrupted checklist is astonishingly satisfying. Not only that, but you feel better. Eating healthy has the strange effect of making your body feel healthy and energetic. Working out may be difficult for a time, but then you get those lovely endorphins, and a strong body.
However, eating disorders do exist, dieting can sometimes be bad, and you can actually injure yourself working out. Can reading your Bible somehow hurt you too?
Satan will try to twist everything that God says is good. Even this.
I was talking with a friend over coffee some years back. She confessed to me that she had not missed a day of reading at least 1 chapter of the Bible every day since she was a teenager. You’d think she would say that cheerfully, but she did not. Her lip quivered, and tears were in her eyes. “I’m afraid if I stop, God will punish me. I really want to be a good Christian. Most of it I don’t understand, but I do it, as I’ve been taught. I just don’t want God to have to deal with me severely if I neglect my duty.”
My heart went out to her, as I struggled to know how to respond. “Nah, you don’t have to read your Bible every day. It doesn’t matter.” That didn’t feel right. Being in God’s word does matter. Biblical literacy is on a sharp decline. There’s nothing that I would want more than to have more people reading the Bible.
But this fear that seized her was not from God. This habit of hers was an unconscious, (or maybe conscious) deal she made with God. If I read the Bible, you’ll leave me alone.
Whether it’s reading the Bible, praying, or meditating on the word, the Bible tells us to do this constantly.
It’s Satan who adds… or else.
That “or else” may seem small, but it changes everything.
Can God use the very Bible we feel obligated towards to change this duty-mindset within us? He did that for me, thank God.
I’ve found it extremely common to find that Christians see spiritual disciplines as a means of making sure God doesn’t have to take more extreme measures to form us. We think: “Exercise 30 minutes a day to keep the weight down, read your Bible so that God doesn’t “teach you to depend” by smiting you with cancer.” We are practical, God-fearing people, and want to stay on God’s good side.
I was scheduled to speak at an event awhile back, and the week before this event, an unusual thing happened. Usually I’m praying and preparing for the event right up until I’m there. I will often fast one of the days before the event to give me clarity. I’m not very good at this, and I don’t want to handle God’s word lightly.
This time, everything that I needed to say was prepared and polished a week ahead of time. That whole week leading up to the event, I didn’t crack open my Bible. By Friday night, I started shaking. Wow, have I screwed this up! How am I going to talk about Jesus tomorrow when I don’t even walk the walk? I haven’t prayed enough! I haven’t even fasted any day this week! I relaxed! I’m so lazy! I’m so stupid! This event is going to be horrible, and it’s ALL. MY. FAULT.
How can God use me if I’m lazy like this? I shouldn’t have rested.
I finally spent Friday night on my knees. I cried out to God. These people expect me to be spiritual. I’m not.
God is so gracious. As I prayed, he didn’t seem at all surprised or annoyed that I had not had a super-spiritual week before I was spending my weekend ministering to his daughters. In fact, it almost seemed like he allowed me to rest to teach me something that I needed to hear.
The passage that the Holy Spirit placed on my mind as I prayed was the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, found in Matthew 20. The master of the house went out early in the morning and hired workers. Then a little later, he hired some more workers. Near the end of the day, he hired even more workers. At the end of the day, he paid all the workers the same wage—just to be generous.
I’ve always hated this parable, if I’m honest. It’s my least-favorite. It makes me the most uncomfortable. I don’t like that God doesn’t give extra to those who work harder at it. I want to be there early in the morning. I want to be the favorite disciple. I want to show him that I want it more.
Like the older son in the story of the prodigal, I can totally see myself grumbling that the little brother gets celebrated. He didn’t earn it.
Realizing that I was the little brother, or the late worker, just added insult to injury. I couldn’t celebrate it. I didn’t earn it.
I struggle with God’s generosity of grace in my own life. Even though I don’t earn God’s grace, I wish I had. I somehow think that it would be better if I didn’t have to bother God so much to cause him to lavish grace—which ironically is his very nature. Legalism despises the very nature of a generous God.
God lavishes his grace upon us. God lavishes his word upon us. I wrestle with both. I collapse into it because I must.
If I’m honest, I want that completed Bible reading plan more than I want grace.
I somehow think that I have to choose approaching Bible reading with either gritted duty, or reading when my flimsy emotions will me to read. However, there is an in-between. There is a Spirit-led approach. God brings speaks to me through Scripture throughout the day. God draws my heart to cry “help me to want it, because my heart is hard and dead!”
“Help me to want your word more than I want coffee” is the stupidest, and most honest prayer that I’ve prayed, and God actually answered it. I don’t always like it. I can’t control my desires on my own. Even when I’m stubborn, he brings it to me.
God brings me to hear his word when I’m in community Sunday mornings at church. I drink from the cup. I eat the bread. Is it enough?
We don’t want to trust God with our hearts. What if he lets us backslide? What if he forgets about us, and stops prompting us? Is he as dependable as our Bible reading sticker charts?
Unfortunately, even when I am reading the Bible every day, there are no verses that tell me how many chapters to read, or how long I must read! How can God leave me hanging like that? “Just tell me what to do so I can do it and you’ll leave me alone!” my stubborn heart cries. I’d rather have self-discipline than Spirit-discipline. I’d rather be spiritually sufficient than spiritually dependent.
God freely and generously lets us read his word every day. We have an all-access, VIP pass. It’s rich and healing. It’s comforting and convicting. It’s living and active. Hearing it builds faith, when used by the Holy Spirit.
With the Bible holding kind of power, how urgently Satan must want to frame it as a duty, that we must accomplish daily, to be saved…or at the very least a “good Christian.” If Satan can redefine what makes us a “good Christian” by any other metric than that of Jesus’ completed sacrifice on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, he will be satisfied.
I’ve started listening to the Bible read aloud as an audiobook while I’m driving when I’m alone. Somehow it feels like it’s cheating, as if there were rules. It has ministered to me deeply. Sometimes I read the Bible to my children on my lap, and never get to it alone by myself. “Not enough…not enough…not enough…” is the doubt I hear inside me. “Not enough.” It’s the anti-gospel. It’s saying God’s grace isn’t enough, God’s pursuit of me isn’t enough, listening instead of reading isn’t enough, and reading to someone instead of my own quiet meditation isn’t enough.
How many verses do you have to read for it to “count” as devotions or quiet time? I want us to ask further: why are we counting?
The uncomfortable beauty of it is that God will be glorified when we are in it, and he will be glorified by lavishing grace on us when we have horrible habits. He does not lose. He brings passages to mind when I don’t have the book open. He whispers verses to my heart that I memorized as a child when I’m overwhelmed by my day. God will not drop me and will never stop interfering with my life, forming it to his will. He will not be held back by my insufficiencies or lack of routine in my life.
How can I go up and speak when I haven’t done my “routine” of preparation? That night before the event, as I was crying out to God, I looked at a line on my notes prepared the week before: “God is enough when we are not enough.” Yeah. I can say that with all honesty, from the deepest part of me. I’ll have no trouble saying that.