Over and over again, studies show that the most important thing for spiritual growth is reading the Bible. Yet it’s the one thing most people in the church aren’t doing.
Only 45% of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. For each church attender who does read their Bible every day, there’s someone else who doesn’t read it at all. Biblical illiteracy really is an epidemic.
I say this not simply as someone who is researching the topic, but as a pastor who talks to people every week inside and outside the church who have next to no biblical knowledge. The most concerning thing is that there doesn’t seem to be a distinction between those who are new to the faith and those who have been a Christian for several years, sometimes even ten or more.
Why is it that despite the evidence, despite our sincere longing to grow spiritually, that we aren’t doing the one thing most capable of producing that growth?
In my experience, there are two main reasons people don’t read their Bible. The first is that people honestly don’t understand that the Bible holds transformational power. They may think so intellectually, but they don’t believe it. And second, they don’t read the Bible because they don’t know how to find delight in reading it. Both of these are worth understanding in more detail.
Understanding the transforming power of God’s Word
Why do people always tell you that you should be reading your Bible more? Seriously, why do pastors and writers and bloggers go on and on about being in the Bible each and every day?
Besides the overwhelming research indicating Bible engagement is crucial to spiritual growth, it’s because the Bible itself tells us that the Word of God is the only thing powerful enough to transform the human heart.
Nowhere is this seen in more vivid detail than the prophet Ezekiel’s vision from God of the valley of bones:
“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:1-4 ESV)
Ezekiel knows he’s helpless to bring this bunch of skeletons to life. He says, “God, I don’t know, but you do.” Good answer.
God then tells him what it takes to bring the bones to life — His own words. Ezekiel then speaks the Word of God over those dry bones and the unthinkable happens:
“And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” (Ezekiel 37:8-10 ESV)
God spoke and enfleshed these piles of bones and then breathed into them the breath of life. All through the power of His Word.
The power of His Word
And that’s not all. The book of Hebrews tells us that all things are held together by the power of His Word.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power… (Hebrews 1:3 ESV)
That same life-giving, universe-sustaining power is still wielded through the Word of the Lord. But these days, we don’t have to hear from prophets or judges or priests. The opening of the book of Hebrews tells us,
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)
The Son (Jesus), then, is how we hear the Word of God today. And where are his teachings and commandments recorded? In the Bible.
How to get started understanding the power of the Bible
If we want to be brought back to life, if we want to see a new heart made of flesh beating in our chest instead of the cold, hard one we have now, then we will be students of the living, breathing, active Word of God (Heb. 4:12).
If you’ve never understood that, don’t stop until you do. Many people have never been walked through the truths of Scripture about the power of the Word in a way that made them see the importance of Bible reading. Don’t feel bad. Just get started.
If you’re not sure where to look, start by reading this chapter of Multiply, a discipleship curriculum. It will help you understand why we should be studying the Bible in very clear language. (This chapter is in part 3 of the book, which is all about how to study the Bible. It’s well worth the time. In fact, the whole book is great. And free! The site linked to has all the material, and it’s also available as a free app.)
The goal of using any of these resources is for you to see the transformational power of the Bible. I’m reminded of these words from Rick Warren:
“Reading the Bible generates life, it produces change, it heals hurts, it builds character, it transforms circumstances, it imparts joy, it overcomes adversity, it defeats temptation, it infuses hope, it releases power, it cleanses the mind.”
May you and I know those things to be true through our own experience with God’s Word.
Finding delight in reading the Bible
An even more common reason for not reading the Bible than not understanding the power of it is not knowing how to find delight in reading it.
Try to imagine yourself sitting down to a table with fresh white linens draped over top. Several pristine utensils sit before you. The napkin is folded into some beautiful but unknown geometric shape. It sits just above a clean, white plate. And on that plate is a big, black leather Bible.
As you look down at that Bible, does it look like the desert you can’t wait to dig into, or does it look more like the brussel sprouts you shove aside so you can get to the good part?
The answer to that question means everything.
Too many of us look down and see a strange, foreign book that we want to love, but just don’t know quite what to do with it. It’s just never tasted good, so we move it around on the plate and pretend to enjoy it.
That is not what God intended.
The majesty of the God’s Word
Look at the majesty of what God’s Word should be like to us from Psalm 19:
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11 ESV)
In just five verses, we’re told that the Word of God is perfect, trustworthy, good, clear, eternal, true, and sweet. Is that how you feel about the Bible?
If those stats mentioned earlier are true, probably not. So what do you do?
How to start finding delight in reading the Bible
Well, for starters, you don’t find delight in reading the Bible until you start reading the Bible. Like any other discipline or practice, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes and the more you’ll start to enjoy it.
If you’ve never really given daily Bible reading a shot, of course it’s difficult in the beginning. Of course it’s hard to do and hard to understand. But that doesn’t mean you should stop; it just means you’ve got work to do.
The best way to jump in is to pick a yearly reading plan through the free YouVersion app, one of the many websites, or, my current favorite, the Read Scripture plan. It’s available as a free app or PDF that has helpful videos to better understand each book and major theme of the Bible. There’s also a weekly podcast with Francis Chan where he talks through the week’s readings and helps you better understand and apply it.
Those are some good options, but which plan you choose is really not the point. It matters less how you’re reading through the Bible, and more that you’re actually doing it.
What to do if you hit a road block
If you’ve tried to build a daily habit and failed miserably (like I did many times), or you just can’t seem to get into it, there is something that will help. First, pray for the God to give you a heart for the Bible. If you’re seeking His truth, He will answer you.
But second, talk to someone or listen to someone who loves God’s Word. Nothing has been more catalytic in my own delight in God’s Word than this. If you’ve never really seen someone who loves God’s Word, then you have no picture of how it can transform your life and bring joy to the core of your being.
If that’s you, then I’d suggest listening to or watching this series of videos on how to study the Bible (and following along with the notes they have). It’s a big investment, but so, so worth it. The teacher, David Platt, loves God’s Word, and it’s evident in his voice and demeanor. I’m in seminary, so believe me when I say that what he takes you through is a seminary-level education for the everyday person. And it’s all free, like the other resources mentioned here.
Don’t put this off
At the end of your life, you will give an account to God for how you spent your time (Rom. 14:12). At that time, all the ways you wasted time on Netflix, Facebook, or whatever else will be abundantly clear. Please, see the reality of what’s at stake now. Don’t put this off until later.
God has revealed Himself to us. He has told us how to live and work and think and act. And it’s all the Bible. You probably own 2 or more if you’re reading this. Or you probably have a smartphone and can download a free Bible app right now. In many parts of the world today, we have no excuse for not reading the Bible because it’s so widely available.
The most precious gift I can give you or anyone else is encouragement to build a lifelong passion for studying God’s Word. My prayer for you is that these words from Martin Luther would be true of you:
“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me, it has feet, it runs after me, it has hands, it lays hold [of] me.”