Reading and Listening to the Bible

Reading and Listening to the Bible

We’re inundated with information: blog posts, social media updates, emails, and more. It’s no surprise, then, that many of us struggle to read books. Nor is it a surprise that one of those books, the Bible, is going unread even by Christians who claim to live by the truth of its content.

A 2014 study found that only one in five Christians reflect on the meaning of the Bible for their lives at least a few times a week. New Testament scholar George Guthrie writes:

Ask one hundred church members if they have read the Bible today, and eighty-four of them will say no. Ask them if they have read the Bible at least once in the past week, and sixty-eight of them will say no. Even more disconcerting, ask those one hundred church members if reading or studying the Bible has made any significant difference in the way they live their lives. Only thirty-seven out of one hundred will say yes.

Many of us aren’t reading the Bible. The solution, though, isn’t to feel guilty or to beat ourselves up. Instead, the solution is to understand why reading and listening the Bible is important, and to take positive steps to build new habits that help us to absorb it on a regular basis.

Why It's Important

Before we can build the habit, it’s important to understand why it’s important.

According to Daniel Im, author of No Silver Bullets, some behaviors matter more than others when it comes to growth. A few vital behaviors yield a disproportionate influence toward maturity in Christ. “When it comes to reading the Bible, hands down, this is the input goal that has a direct impact on the total score of all the output goals,” he writes. No other behavior has such a significant impact on spiritual maturity.

What’s interesting is that the question measured reading the Bible, not studying or memorizing it. The simple act of reading the Bible regularly can make a big difference in your life.

The more that people read the Bible, “the better they are going to be able to obey God and deny self, serve God and others, share Christ, exercise their faith, seek God, build relationships, and be unashamed about their faith.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the importance of God’s Word for our lives. We can keep our hearts pure and guard them with God’s Word (Psalm 119:9). God’s Word is as necessary as food (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). It is alive and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Before we can build a habit of reading or listening to the Bible, we must understand why it’s important. According to studies and the Bible itself, reading and listening to the Bible is essential for all of us.

Building the Habit

Follow these suggestions to build your own Bible reading habit.

  • Understand why it’s important. Spends some time thinking about why reading or listening to the Bible is important for you.
  • Know yourself. Are you a morning person or a night person? Do you like reading or do you prefer listening to audiobooks? What would best fit in your schedule? Spend some time thinking about what works best for you.
  • Experiment with formats. Try something new. Choose from an audio Bible, a good study Bible, a reader’s Bible (with no chapters or verses), or an app. If you’ve found yourself stuck before, try something new.
  • Find a plan. The plan can be a one-year or two-year reading plan. It can include video introductions, like The Bible Project. Or it can be just as simple as picking up where you ended yesterday. Make sure the plan is simple and achievable.
  • Shrink the challenge. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s better to read or listen to a small amount regularly than a large amount occasionally. Start small, and add to your habit as you gain confidence.
  • Celebrate. Celebrate your progress.

The Goal

The goal, of course, isn’t just that we read or listen to the Bible. Our goal is that we encounter God. As you read and listen, ask for God’s help so that you get to know him better.

We need God’s Word. Let’s read and listen so that we get to know God better through what he’s written.

Planning for Growth

Planning for Growth

When I ran my first 10K race, I wasn’t prepared. I’d gone for a few runs, but didn’t follow a training plan. I completed the race through sheer determination and a lot of walking breaks. I didn’t have a plan, and it showed. Limping across the finish line counted for something, but was less than what I wanted.

I couldn’t progress in my running if I didn’t begin to build regular habits into my preparation.

It’s the same in every area of life. We want to change. Desire is good, but not enough. We need a plan.

A Plan for Change

One of the keys to change — deep, meaningful change — is to build practices into our lives that create that change. We need a plan: a way to incorporate practices into our lives that help us become the people we’d like to be.

To prepare for the 10K, I needed a simple plan: run this far on this day, and then rest. The plan would have taken me — a couch potato — and gradually prepared me so that I could easily accomplish the goal I’d set. The key: a rhythm of simple, doable practices that lead to the desired results. A simple online search would have given me the plan I needed.

It’s the same with our desire for growth. Many of us want to change. We want to grow closer to God. We want to become more patient and loving. We want to improve our relationships. We want to operate out of a heart that’s content rather than one that’s frazzled and stressed.

We won’t get there without a plan, without a rhythm of simple, doable practices. But when we find a set of simple practices that work, and actually begin to practice them, we will start to see the change we desire in our lives.

Don’t miss out on the simple path to growth: find a rhythm of simple, doable practices that will help you become the person God wants you to be. Keep repeating these regularly so that they become a natural part of your life.

Three Simple Practices

So what are some practices that can help?

No matter how complicated things get, we believe there are three core practices that are foundational to growth. We never grow beyond them. We can add to these practices, but we must always return to them.

You’ll notice that these practices aren’t fancy. In fact, they seem kind of boring. Some people call them ordinary means. Ordinary captures how unspectacular they are. Means emphasizes that they aren’t an end in themselves. They aren’t the point. Instead, they help keep our focus on the point.

So what are some practices that can help? Here are three key practices that help us to grow:

  • Read or listen to the Bible. Find out what works for you. Some people like listening to a good audio Bible. Others like following a structured reading plan. Some like opening the Bible and reading for as much time as they have available that day. Regular input of God’s Word in our lives is crucial. Find a way that works for you. Don’t underestimate the power of regularly reading or listening to the Bible.
  • Pray. Tell God what’s on your mind. Share your anxieties and concerns. Praise him. Thank him. Pray at certain times during the day, as well as spontaneously when it comes to mind. Keep an ongoing conversation with God going throughout your day.
  • Commit to worship and community within a local church. Don’t live the Christian life on your own. Find others who will walk with you. Worship together. Listen to preaching. Share your joys and your struggles. Don’t just attend a church; begin to get involved by building relationships and sharing your life with others.

These three core practices are essential for every follower of Jesus Christ: for the beginner, and for the most mature believer. We’ve noticed that people who engage in these three practices tend to grow, while those who don’t tend to stop growing. They are core practices that are essential for anyone who wants to grow to become the person that God is calling them to be.

Your Plan

Here are some simple steps you can take to create a plan for your own growth.

  1. Take stock. Which of these three practices are you already practicing? Be honest and compassionate. Don’t get down on yourself if they’re not a regular part of your life. Just recognize where you are right now so you can take the next step.
  2. Pick one. Don’t get overwhelmed. Pick just one. If you haven’t found a good church, we recommend that you start there so that you can get support from others as you grow. Pick one of these core practices to focus on right now.
  3. Start small. Look for ways to begin to build that practice into your life regularly. Shrink the practice until it’s so small that you can’t help but succeed. To start reading or listening to the Bible or praying, start with just a few minutes a day and build from there. Look for ways to shrink the practice until you practice it so consistently that it becomes a habit.
  4. Repeat. Repeat with the other practices, as slowly as needed, until all three become a regular part of your life.

We’ll dig deeper into these three practices in the coming weeks. If you’re interested in learning more, preorder my book How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to ALL of Life (to be released August 7, 2018).

Keep practicing these three practices, and they will help you become the person God wants you to be.

Sudden Change, Slow Change

Sudden Change, Slow Change

Do you ever wonder why we aren’t changing as quickly as we thought we would?

Sudden Change

The Bible says that those who trust in Jesus are changed. Immediately. It’s dramatic and it’s complete.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The moment we trust in Jesus, we’re given new hearts and identities. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We’re completely forgiven. Our futures are secure.

This is true of everyone who turns to Jesus in repentance and faith. While the change is sudden, we also experience change slowly at the same time.

Slow Change

In his book Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem outlines the difference between what happens immediately (justification) and what happens as part of a process (sanctification).

  • Whereas justification involves legal standing, sanctification involves our internal condition.
  • Whereas justification is once for all time, sanctification is continuous throughout life.
  • Whereas justification is entirely God’s work, we cooperate in sanctification.
  • Whereas justification is perfect in this life, sanctification is not perfect in this life.
  • While justification is the same in all Christians, sanctification is greater in some than others.

In other words, some things about us change immediately when we trust in Jesus. Other things take a lifetime.

No matter how mature or immature we are, we’re still in process. God is still at work within us changing us from the inside out. We can be sure that he’s changed us and that he will continue to work within us for the rest of our lives, even as we work to grow.

What This Means for Us

Understanding the difference between these two types of change is important for every follower of Jesus Christ.

If you have put your trust in Jesus as your only hope in life and death, and are trusting in what he did for you, then you can rest in what Jesus has done. You have been changed. You’ve passed from death to life. Don’t put your trust in yourself. Put your hope in Jesus instead.

On the other hand, it’s important to examine our lives for evidence that there has been a real change. Some people mistakenly think that following Jesus is a matter of making a decision, and then continuing to live as they did before. Don’t make this mistake. Although we will continue to struggle, there should be evidence in your life that he has changed you and is continuing to change you.

Finally, don’t be surprised if you continue to struggle. We all do. Don’t get discouraged. Continue to look to Jesus and ask him to change you. Continue practices that help you grow, like reading Scripture, praying, and participating in worship and fellowship in a local church.

Through Jesus, God changes us decisively. He also changes us slowly as well. We need both kinds of change, and to understand the difference between them.

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani

Something’s wrong. Although we were meant to experience freedom and joy in our relationship with God, many of us feel discouraged. We’re working for God. We’re trying to please him. We’re trying to live by his commands. We’re seeking his gifts. But it’s not working. We’re unsatisfied, and we’re not enjoying the relationship with God that we expected.

The problem, according to Skye Jethani in his book With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, is that we may be approaching our relationship with God in the wrong way. It’s not just a problem for us as individuals. Churches and books also call us to take the wrong approach in our relationship with God.

According to Jethani, most of relate to God in one of four ways:

  • Life from God — Wanting God’s blessings and gifts, but not God himself; using God to get our desires; focuses on consuming
  • Life over God — Abandoning God in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes; the implementation of useful principles; focuses on managing
  • Life for God — Focusing on accomplishing great things for God; a task to accomplish; focuses on serving
  • Life under God — Relating to God according to cause and effects — we obey and God blesses; a set of rules and rituals to follow; focuses on sin

“Much of the church’s activity is spent trying to move people from one of these four postures to another.” Churches can major in one of these approaches. Pastors often suffer from a “Life Over God” approach — the church will grow based on one person’s leadership.

But each of these approaches is seriously flawed. They are based on a misunderstanding of God’s character and what it means to follow him. We worship a relational and personal God. God isn’t interested in being the means by which we acquire our treasure. He wants to be our treasure himself.

We were meant to live life with God, right now. We can commune with him, trust (surrender control), and enjoy unending union with him no matter how hard life gets. We can find our hope in God rather than circumstances, and enjoy a loving relationship with him. We are beloved by God. We are meant to live life with him.

“Only a LIFE WITH GOD sees him as our true desire rather than a device, and only a life spent in communion with him can lead us to faith, hope, and love,” writes Jethani. It’s the life we were meant to enjoy.

I found Jethani’s insights to be profound. I had never thought about these different ways of relating to God. His critiques rang true. I was able to spot variations of these approaches to God, and see how much energy we spend trying to move people from one approach to another. I even wondered how many of my sermons focus on one of these at the expense of the other.

This book is both a caution and an invitation to enjoy the gift of a relationship with God, and to remember that he is what we seek most of all.

This was a challenging book. I love the invitation to the kind of life it describes. If you feel like you’re not experiencing the kind of relationship with God you desire, With may help you begin to enjoy a life with God like never before.

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