Why we don’t read the bible, and what to do about it
We Christians claim the bible is the word of God. But why don’t we don’t we read the bible? A picture like the one above is quite improbable. Our bibles are closed. Here are a few ideas why, and what to do about them.
The state of the book
We as westerners stopped being a bible reading generation: While only 19% of churchgoers read the bible daily, three-quarters believe the bible is the word of God. If you claim God wrote a book, wouldn’t you want to know what he wrote? Nearly all (90%) agree that they want to grow and honor God in all they do. But how will this be possible, without knowing what is honoring to God? While 74 % of all americans would like to have the ten commandments on display in public schools, most couldn’t name more than 5 of those commands.
We could easily point to America. But here in Europe things are worse: Only 13% claim to read the bible at all in Germany, and only 4% actually do this regularly. While I couldn’t find any numbers, I think it’s quite similar here in Switzerland.
This raises at least two of questions:
- How can we stand for biblical values, when we don’t know them?
- How can we complain, that God is silent, when our Bibles are closed?
- But more importantly: What are the underlying reasons, and what can we do?
Here are three reasons I’ve experienced myself, and what we can do about them.
The bible is uncomfortable:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16)
“Oh God!? Where is the spiritual inspiring massage-message? Where are the “footprints in the sand” verses? Teaching, reproof, correction, training, etc. that all sounds like I have to change!!” Yep. The bible has those passages that inspire to courage, that build up and show you God’s unconditional love. But there is a huge value in the Word of God molding us, that is not comfortable at first!
Look for the fruit
The writers of the Bible knew this:
Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (NIV)
A harvest takes time. Righteousness and peace don’t grow over night. And the seed for it is correction. If you are after things of true value, you instinctively know it’s going to cost you something. See the value in the fruit that it produces.
the bible isn’t an easy-reader
Some letters / parts of the bible are easier to read than others. If you are new to the bible start In the New Testament: One of the Gospels, maybe Mark, and then John, then Acts. (Here is a more detailed description)
But there are admittedly hard books in the bible! Books like Leviticus have cultural, historical barriers to cross, you have to be patient enough to read, while you don’t understand everything. Of course there are plenty commentaries, that can help. They surely do, but in the end you only read what other people have seen in this texts.
His book, his job
What helped me was this: Expectancy. I experienced God in one of the weirdest passages about laws for cleansing lepers in Leviticus 14:1-9. It spoke about the sacrifice of two birds. One got sacrificed the other one cleansed with the blood of the offered one, washed in living water, healed and then sent off to fly in freedom. And in an instant I saw myself in this passage: Jesus was the sacrifice offered for me, I was forgiven, washed, healed, and sent off as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1 ). How amazing! A living sacrifice is not about walking around like a punished dog, but flying like a freed bird. A Christian is the most free person on the planet! My point is this: God can speak through the weirdest passages. It’s His book, so it’s His job. But we have to read and to expect.
We feel it’s boring
When we think it’s boring, it will be. Instead, we are boring: We read stuff like: “A Boy Tries To Buy A Bottle Of Beer. The Reason Why Will Make You Cry” or “The Google Search About Bacon That School Teachers Shouldn’t Nod At” or “35 Pick-Up Lines That Kitten Owners Will Relate To” You get the point: It’s so trivial, it hurts! What we behold, we will become like:
2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Often, our phones are the first thing we check in the morning. In one word: Distraction:
Luke 8:14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. (ESV)
The worries, and the riches and the pleasures of life can distract us so quickly, and can hinder us from maturing. At the core, problems of the people in the bible are none different than ours. What can we do?
Psalm 5:3 O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
prepare a sacrifice and watch what happens
In the Verses before (Psalm 5:1-2), David pours out the things that are on his mind before God. This is a sacrifice. It’s not easy. I think sometimes, prayer and the reading the Bible, shouldn’t be just in our minds. It’s meant to be read aloud, so I’m actually active and not only observing. I prepare a sacrifice. There are a thousand things I could do just now. But I prepare a sacrifice and let God hear my voice. And then I get expectant: I watch. So: Watch what happens, when you do this! God will meet you and give you so much more than any other distraction.
We have an issue with God, and we don’t want Him to speak.
There might be sin, or just us perceiving God as an angry, stern Father. When we are at odds with God, and we know it, to meet Him is a challenge. When we are at odds with God, remember: This is the problem of human condition. It’s not you alone! That gap between you and God, it’s crossed!
John 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Look for Jesus
When reading, don’t look for knowledge, don’t look for wisdom, don’t look for a thing. Look for a person: Look for Jesus!
In John 5:39-40 Jesus says “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you have eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Our very nature is at odds with God. That’s why we need Jesus. Search for Him, while you read the bible. He will bridge the gap.
How many reading plans have you started? How many finished? If there is a big discrepancy here, you are where I often am. Bible reading becomes one of the many things you maybe want to change: Drink more water. Have an organized desk always. Eat more healthy, sleep more, read more. The issue is often this: We want to, but the urgent stuff pulls on our attention. For me the trick is to make bible reading an urgent thing: I am part of a community that depends on me reading the bible.
don’t try it alone
The only thing that helps me with discipline, is community. I need people who care if I meet God in the bible or not. I need people who ask how it’s going! And this is not about controlling, it’s about care! Historically, it’s a novel thing, that every christian has an average of 4,7 bibles. People shared bible, and therefore often read it in community. Read the bible with others! Read the bible together in your connect group! Ask a friend to join you in reading together! Just step out of your living room.
you are what you eat
Do you feel guilty?
The bible speaks about itself as food. Why? Because it’s a daily thing. It is absolutely essential, but it’s also an enjoyment. So reading the bible is less about feeling guilty, than it is about appetite.
This Sunday we are starting a new series on reading the Bible. My prayer is that you and I can enlarge our taste for the Bible. Because in the end: You are what you eat!