As we approach the new year, I want you to think beyond goals and resolutions and focus on breaking a bad habit. Stop reading the Bible. It’s a dangerous habit and could be a waste of time.
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Bible reading is not unhealthy or unwise in the way some claim. Those who find no truth or merit in the Bible think it’s a waste of time or believe readers can make it say whatever they want and, thus, use it as a weapon. It’s not true that you can make the Bible say whatever you want if you read it through a biblical lens. Healthy Bible interaction considers the biblical context of the writing, including the genre of literature and its cultural setting. I know what the naysayers mean, and many are guilty of manipulating the text for their benefit. But reading the Bible can be a dangerous habit when consumption alone is the goal.
Too many of us—myself included—read it, set it aside, and forget it. When we do, we are blind to the power of God’s word and the miracle of God speaking to us through the prophets and writers. Don’t miss that last statement: God speaking to us. That alone is a humbling thought that the God of the universe would want to communicate with us. And the danger is that we often casually read God’s word and then get on with our day. There must be something for us in the Bible.
The Bible is meant to be lived. The goal is not to know it but to show it.
Stop reading the Bible and start engaging it. In Arnie Cole and Michael Ross’ excellent book Unstuck, they describe what it means to engage with God’s word: “It’s essential that we receive, reflect on, and respond to God’s Word consistently.” Receive—Reflect on—Respond.
What’s it mean to RECEIVE?
We receive God’s Word by reading it or listening to it. We receive on our own—what many Christians call a “quiet time” or “devotions”—through a Bible study group or Bible teacher. That part of the equation makes sense, but what about the rest?
What’s it mean to “REFLECT ON”?
Reflection is tough work, and it’s not sexy. It takes time, and no one will congratulate you. But people notice a changed life. Reflection builds character and helps you choose joy when angry or bite your tongue when you want to lash out. Reflection is the pause that allows God’s Spirit to engage your heart, soul, and mind and gives you the perspective you routinely miss.
Reflection is similar to a teacher who gets up early to tweak a lesson plan or an artist who stays up late to re-write a chorus, or an athlete who finds a way into the gym before it opens. Reflection is the parent frustrated by a child’s actions yet continues to build into him, speaking words of hope and belief. Those who reflect know there is power in the pause. Those skilled in reflection have learned the discipline of waiting and listening.
Check out my Bottom Line Bible app. It’s designed to emphasize the ‘pause.’ It helps you reflect on what you read in the Bible with the goal of staying engaged with God throughout the day.
So how do you reflect on God’s word?
Don’t just read your Bible today. Read it and pause…and then pause some more. Read it and question what you’ve read. Read it and ask God what it has to do with your life. Read it and listen. It will extend the time you set aside to read, but it will also be the vehicle to change your life. Don’t just read your Bible. Read it and then reflect on what you read.
Three easy ways to reflect
1) Be still
After you read, sit quietly and allow God to speak to you. Ask God to reveal your next step or emphasize what he wants you to know or do or how he wants you to live. When your mind wanders, say something like, “Here I am, Lord. I’m listening.” Set a timer for two minutes; otherwise, you’ll give up as soon as your mind wanders. You may never hear an audible voice, but pay attention to internal nudges or proddings. If two minutes fly by, increase the amount of time. Similarly, if it seems like an eternity, start with thirty seconds and increase the amount over time.
2) Identify and meditate
After reading, look for the word or phrase or verse that impacted you the most. Or perhaps God’s Holy Spirit spoke to you from the reading to think about or do something. Write that down—usually a sentence or even a phrase. Then take two minutes (or another predetermined time) to focus on that. This practice is a form of biblical meditation. It’s similar to chewing your food over and over to savor and enjoy it thoroughly. Meditate on the word, phrase, verse, or action, and ask God to give you the strength to follow through or the ability to help you live it out.
3) Write it out
Similar to writing a short response from the example above, this is more of an extended response. Think of it as “reflection through writing.” If you enjoy writing, this will be natural. If you don’t, give it a shot but focus on writing a paragraph instead of a page. My Bottom Line Bible app provides prompts every third day to develop the habit of reviewing your reading. It also offers several reflection questions to think about or write.
What’s it mean to RESPOND?
Responding to God’s word is living it out. As you reflect on your reading throughout the day, God will provide opportunities to think differently or to take action. It’s one thing to think, “I should do that,” and it’s another to do it. There are plenty of Bible experts in the world. The world needs more Bible practitioners. Bible knowledge has value, but only if used to fulfill God’s commands. The Bible is meant to be lived. The goal is not to know it but to show it.
One Final Caution
It would be easy to say you don’t have time to read and reflect. You do, but it might mean reading less so you can reflect (and apply) more. Some people get overwhelmed by reading plans that require them to read multiple chapters every day. Reading through the Bible is not only a worthy goal but something every Jesus follower should do numerous times throughout their lives. But you don’t have to complete the task in a year. Reading one chapter a day, you’ll accomplish the same goal in three-and-a-half years. There’s no race to read, but there is a race to run.
Hebrews 12:1–2a (NLT)
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
2We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
QUESTION (leave a comment below)
What’s another way to ENGAGE the Bible?