In a well-intentioned effort to motivate daily Bible reading, the church has attempted to make the Bible more accessible. Apps and devotionals aim to make the Bible easier to consume and digest. Sermons are preached at the microscope level. Bible reading plans help us achieve a reading goal in desirable time frames. “Verse of the Day” notifications push morsels of the Word our way. While there is certainly value in these efforts, we cannot deny the problem they also create, namely, that our Bibles have become bite-sized. I’m afraid we have grown content with that measly portion and have lost our wonder at the whole feast. We’re so caught up in the paragraphs that we are falling out of love with the Story.
Has your bite-sized Bible grown your love for God’s Word? Has it led to more consistent and meaningful Bible reading? Maybe it has for you. But what I’ve found in my own life and in conversations with many of my Christian friends is that it has hardly improved anything. The attainability of only having one chapter to read tomorrow morning isn’t motivating us to feast on the Word.
There has to be another approach that makes for a more worthwhile time in the Word and makes us want to get out of bed to read about it. I believe the Story, treated as a story, is the key. Reading large portions of Scripture in one sitting is right and necessary and will increase the breadth and depth of our knowledge of God.
THE LIMIT OF BUSY-NESS
The notion of reading large swaths of Scripture as opposed to more “bite-sized” pieces may scare you. After all, there are only twenty-four hours in our days; eight of those are spent asleep; another eight or more are spent at work. Most of us probably already feel the lack of margin in our lives—it’s all we can do to fit in a five-minute devotional.
Please understand, I am not oblivious to your busy-ness. I am learning what it means to be busy as each week passes. In the past few months, I have watched both my family and my job expand. Adding a baby and new pastoral responsibilities to my plate have me wondering if they make bigger plates! When the baby will not stop crying and the meetings and deadlines begin to pile up, Scripture reading is not naturally at the forefront of my mind. I sympathize with you feeling like you’re trying to manage life with whatever Bible you can fit in whenever it seems to happen.
With that said, I do believe it would be wise to get a little more honest about how busy we are—and perhaps even better, if busy is best. Our Ace of Spades for getting out of anything is that we’re too busy. But the fascinating truth about time is that everyone has the same amount of it—24 hours—each day. There are solutions to recover healthy time in God’s Word in the face of our busy-ness problem if we are willing to face them.
TAKING THE LIMITS OFF OF SCRIPTURE
The fewer constraints and limitations we place on the Word, the better we will understand because we begin to read it the way it was intended to be read. How, in a practical sense, can we begin to reduce the limits we impose on Scripture?
First, at a macro level, we need to know the Story of Scripture as opposed to a few plot points. We must feast continually, not snack here and there. When we begin to see Scripture less as a hodgepodge of spiritual insights and more as an ordered revelation from God, we’ll realize that we need to know the Story.
We should then think about how exactly we read the Word. We are tempted, from the get-go, to start with one verse, one paragraph, one chapter. Why not read, however, until we feel there is a natural literary break? Why not, for example, read the whole book of Hebrews? It only takes about 45 minutes.1 Go even further: What if you read the entire book of Hebrews 45 minutes each day, five times in one week? Don’t you believe your understanding of the whole book of Hebrews would be much improved? But if you committed to a chapter a day, it would take you two full weeks to get through it just once.
A special note for those that preach: we should help our congregation approach the Bible with this emphasis on widening our reading. Expository preaching is wonderful and important. The “microscopic” view of the text is necessary. But microscopes don’t help us see in the same way telescopes do. We need both views of Scripture; one that examines and investigates and determines, and another that searches and finds and marvels. Preach large portions of Scripture. Better yet, let Scripture preach in your stead. Help your congregation see how a passage connects the dots somewhere. Help them see that this small passage fits into a much larger Story.
Finally, we must confront our busy-ness. The first step forward here is to realize that we are not as busy as we think. Many of us can fix our “too busy” problem immediately if, for example, we would simply wake up thirty minutes earlier, spend thirty fewer minutes on social media, or listen to Scripture for thirty minutes of our commute to or from work. The second nudge would be to consider if we are indeed too busy, and what needs to be removed from our plate in order to make room for meaningful time spent in the Word. This may require small, subtle changes, like better time management or better planning. It also may require radical changes, like finding a job that better serves your spiritual disciplines. After all, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?
INEFFICIENT TO GOD’S GLORY
Overall, our Bible reading habits are most in need of the freedom to be inefficient, untidy, drawn out, even wasteful. In a culture that demands we treat everything as Martha would, Jesus asks us to have the heart of Mary, choosing “the good portion” for our day (Lk. 10:38-42).
We truly cannot live this Christian life with any zeal, any hope, or any confidence if we will not feast at Christ’s table. It may mean we don’t get as much checked off of our to-do list as we had hoped. It may mean the Bible reading plan needs to be put on pause. But no matter the cost, we know it’s worth it because the Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).
May you break free from your snackable Bible and gorge yourself on God’s Word. And may Christ dwell in us richly, freely, and without limitation.
1 - Check out Andy Naselli’s blog post, “Three Tips for Better Bible Reading,” which includes a helpful chart of Bible Reading Times for each book of the Bible: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/three-tips-for-better-bible-reading
Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.