What’s your best guess of the percentage of American adults who meet the daily federal fruit or vegetable recommendations?
Fifty percent? Twenty-five percent?
We don’t need a lot of extra research to see how troubling this number is, and what it means for our society and livelihood.
But it’s not only the bananas and the broccoli we are leaving out of our daily diet. We are also missing out on the milk and the meat found in God’s Word.
DAILY DIET PROBLEMS
A 2018 Barna study conducted found that only fourteen percent of surveyed adults read the Bible daily, and only a quarter use it more than once a week. Another study conducted in 2019 concluded that only five percent of those interviewed would call themselves “Bible-centered,” meaning they have frequent interaction with Scripture that leads to spiritual formation). That’s a steep drop from an already low nine percent in 2018.
When we survey our cultural landscape, we can see sobering comparisons between our physical spiritual well-being. But the prevailing point is that we’re physically overweight, spiritually scrawny, and malnourished through and through.
We are certainly not where we are because of a lack of resources. Troves of daily Bible reading plans sit at our disposal. Numerous apps encourage frequency and consistency in the Word. We counsel people to find what works for them and to get it done.
However, it seems that little is changing. If anything, our daily diet is getting worse. Day to day, the nourishing feast of the Word goes untried, even within the corporate body of Christ.
There is much we can make of these statistics. What I make of them are the words Annie Dillard haunted us with: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” A daily neglect, gradually over time, grows into a life of neglect.
A HUNGER “QUIET TIME” CANNOT MEET
When the Church teaches on daily Bible study, we often emphasize picking a particular time in the day to reserve as our “quiet time.” Maybe right when we get out of bed, or during our lunch break, or before bed when the kids are asleep.
Yet the tendency to limit Bible study to one window of each day is not increasing overall engagement with Scripture—at least, according to the data.
A big factor underneath these numbers is misplaced priorities, of course. But there is something to say about the clear correlation between our consistent pushes for daily Bible reading and our declining ability to make it happen.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
Eight verses into the introduction and eight verses before the conclusion of the Bible’s final book, Jesus Christ announces, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8, 22:13). These statements serve as bookends of sorts to the Revelation of John; two fixed anchor points that hold together the contents of the book between.
In all three instances where Christ names himself in this way (the third is in Rev. 21:6), he is using language that speaks of time. He is both before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:17), and will for eternity. He is First. He is Last. He is Beginning. He is End.
We know this to be true on a cosmic, grand scale. But is it true for our twenty-four-hour days? If God is the Alpha and the Omega of our universe, why should his Word not be the Alpha and the Omega of our Tuesday?
Perhaps daily Bible reading is not a priority for us because we do not actually believe Christ is the Alpha and the Omega of the day we’ve been given.
Our best shot at more frequent and consistent engagement with God’s Word does not stop short at finding a singular daily “quiet time,” but rather understands “daily” Bible reading as intentionally unleashing and spreading the Word throughout our day.
THE BENEFITS OF BOOKENDS
When we read the Psalms, we cannot help but notice recurring the language of “day and night,” which seems to be the normal behavior of one in mature relationship with God:
"but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." (1:2)
"Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge." (19:2)
"O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest." (22:2)
"My tears have been my food day and night...By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life." (42:3, 8)
"Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun." (74:16)
"O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you." (88:1)
When we commit to letting the Word meet us in the entirety of our day, we benefit in many ways. First, and most importantly, the reality that Bible reading is a discipline is reinforced. We are more than ever aware that we must prioritize receiving the Word.
But there are other benefits as well. If we are in the Word at both the start and the close of our day, we are bookending our day with the gospel. That can change our perception of how we approach our day, as well as how we look back on it.
And, as an added practical benefit, this approach might help you stick to that Bible reading plan after all (reading half in the morning, half at night, for example).
Finally, this approach to Bible reading makes daily Bible reading more attainable. Because let’s face it, interruptions happen: the baby is up earlier than you expected, and the morning is gone to mothering; work runs late and you’re beyond exhausted.
If “quiet time” exists in only one of these windows and gets interrupted, you’ve missed out on God’s Word for the entire day. But planning a handful of encounters with Scripture throughout the day makes such interruptions less harmful to our time in God’s Word.
WORDS OF LIFE WHEN LIFE HAPPENS
Recently I had one of those hectic days at work. It wasn’t even noon yet, but I was eager to throw in the towel. Frustrated. Tired. Done. I had my own private pity party, and then decided to continue in my reading plan for the day. Psalm 117.
I turned there, praying as I flipped the pages to find rich encouragements and healing words:
Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!
I scoffed. “Really? That’s all I get? Today?”
But I read it again. And again. And I realized that these were the words God needed to give me today. Despite the discouraging day at work, I still had a reason to sing.
He loves me. He is faithful. He never falls short of those truths. They are unwavering, even when I waver. There is no need to throw in the towel. He loves me despite what disappoints me. He is faithful despite my lack of faith.
I share this story because it captures how reading God’s Word throughout our day meets our particular, daily needs. We need it before, we need it during, we need it after. The Word resonates differently in my heart when I read those words in the moment of my pain and frustration, instead of only the hours leading up to it.
Making room for these kinds of encounters with God’s Word in our schedules, where we surrender the moments that make up our days to its authority and care, will prove nourishing to our soul. Water is not only good for the runner to drink before and after her race but during the race as well.
In the same way, the words of life that Christ holds out to us are meant to rejuvenate and refresh us when we get weary and thirsty throughout the day.
IS THIS ASKING TOO MUCH?
Are we asking too much of ourselves here? Isn’t it enough for us to make time for even one Bible-reading session in a day?
I understand that each of us are busy in our own respective ways. But we must remember, we’re all busy. We all have twenty-four hours. We all have the Alpha and Omega as our God. Busyness is not license for missing out on the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.
None of us would dare suggest that we are trying to limit God. But there's a way of doing so even when it comes to Bible study. He wants more of you than a few minutes during a sunrise with coffee, or a last few words before lights out. He wants all of you. He is the Alpha and Omega of your day.
If we agree that we should always be “on mission” and “making disciples” and “praying without ceasing,” why be content to let God’s Word only occupy a tiny corner of our day (if we get around to it)? The Lord has promised to keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (Ps. 121:8).
We have bookends to support us throughout the day, if we will only use them. Let’s receive his words with gladness all throughout our days, as if they are indeed light for the path of the days we walk.
 - “Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables.” Accessed June 1 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1116-fruit-vegetable-consumption.html
 - “State of the Bible 2019: Trends in Engagement.” Accessed June 1 2019, https://www.barna.com/research/state-of-the-bible-2019/
Zach Barnhart lives in the greater Austin, TX area with his wife, Hannah, and their daughter, Nora. Zach serves as Pastor of Students and Spiritual Formation of Northlake Church and is a staff writer with GCD. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is in pursuit of a Master of Theological Studies degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow Zach on Twitter or read more from him at his blog.