Five Ways to Suck at Reading Your Bible

Thomas Edison QuoteA familiar line from Thomas Edison frames failure with unfamiliar brightness: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

It embarrasses me that it has taken me years to establish a regular Scripture reading habit. But in the spirit of Edison, here are five surefire ways to failure that I discovered along the way:

1) Don’t Have a Plan.
The amount of mental energy saved by following an already-established reading schedule is unreal. Such a plan allows me to quickly jump in to the task at hand without clearing any additional hurdles on a daily basis because if I have to clear additional hurdles on a daily basis, I’m not even stepping on the track. If you are in desperate need of a varied and reasonably paced reading schedule, here is the one I use; it has me on course to read my Bible through every three years. If you want to avoid reading your Bible, plan to figure out what to read each day when the moment arrives–that failure method is foolproof.

2) Do It at Bedtime.
“I am not a morning person.” That was my chorus for many years, particularly during my student days, when late-night studying was a regular rhythm. Then my conscience would awake at bedtime to remind me of my missed Bible readings. Additionally, the idea of falling asleep with Scripture as my final thoughts of the day was somewhat romantic. The less romantic reality was that I typically failed to get through a paragraph before my eyes closed up shop. We can argue about being a morning person or not in another post. For the moment, consider every option better than reading in a horizontal position at the end of a hard day: while you eat breakfast, on the bus to school, during morning coffee break, as you grab lunch, first thing after you tuck in your kids. If deep down, you really don’t want to read your Bible, do it at bedtime. And you won’t!

3) Seek the Check Mark.
How much pleasure do you derive from checking off at item on your to do list? Have you ever done something that wasn’t on your list, and then written it on your list after the fact so that you could place a check mark beside it? I know someone who has. However, all the check marks in the world can actually work to undercut the value of a solid Bible reading habit. You might getting to it, but is it getting to you? Tell your duty-driven self to submit itself before the Scriptures being reading. View the exercise as a time dedicated to God getting His hands on your heart, rather than you getting your hands on His book. But if the only mark you want left from the habit is checks upon your list, then treat Bible-reading as something akin to washing the floor or changing the oil. You will get exactly what you are seeking–the thrill of inking a check mark.

4) Settle for Silence.
Silent reading engages the eyes and the mind. And sometimes it fails to do even that much. At times, I’ve added my ears to the game by listening to an audio Bible. Max McLean is among my favourite readers–he can be heard on BibleGateway’s website, reading the ESV along with a few other translations. However, after a time, I realized that I was still under-engaged in the act. His soothing voice had become background noise as my eyes grazed over the text. Next move? Read it aloud with my own voice. This now engages my eyes, ears, and mouth. And it is that final component–my mouth determining the tone and emphasis to read with as I press the text through my lips–that engages my mind on a deeper level still. But if you want to struggle to interact with the text, or even to remember it an hour later, stay in the silence.

5) Keep Moving Regardless.If you have a plan in action (see #1), and you enjoy checking it off each day (see #3), then one corrective measure may be needed. In “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ,” Madame Guyon likened Scripture-reading to a bee buzzing over flowers. At some point, he finds what he’s looking for and stops to plunge himself into it. If your Scripture habit is driven by a recognized need to connect with God and hear from Him, then pay more attention to your reading than to your reading list. What if the second verse of your chapter is where your heart needs to linger? Guyon would say, “Scrap the rest of your plan, and linger.” To keep reading is to risk losing the glorious revelation that most of bemoan as lacking in our Bible readings. Don’t allow your sense of duty (I should really finish the whole passage) to undercut the entire purpose of your habit: To connect with God. If God shows up ready to teach, clear your schedule… starting with the rest of today’s reading. Or to minimize the impact of your Scripture habits, keep trucking blindly.

YOUR TURN: What about you? Have you discovered any other paths to surefire failure in your Bible readings?  Your input makes this post better!

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Finding Life within Lament: How the Bible’s Bitterest Book Breathes into Our Souls

Last week, our church’s Scripture schedule walked us through Lamentations, a killer of a book whose editors in today’s market would surely have chosen a different title!

Whatever the case, through this prophetic piece of piercing poetry we plodded.  (Use of alliteration: Check.)

Unbeknownst to the casual Bible reader, a famous excerpt of Scripture comes from Lamentations.  Chapter three, to be exact.  Recited or sung alone, these well-known words are inspiring and hopeful.  But found within their devastating context, they are nearly other-worldly.  In an exercise that often assists my Bible-reading efforts, here is my re-phrasing of Lamentations 3:19-33:

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the choking bitterness on which I gag.  My soul cannot forget; I am bent and broken within myself.  Yet one thing I call to mind, and hope breathes.

Yahweh’s love remains, steadfast and without ceasing. His mercies never end, renewing with every dawn.  Great is Your faithfulness!  My soul declares, “Yahweh is my allotted and sufficient portion; I will steadily hope in Him.”

Yahweh’s goodness is tasted by those who wait for Him; His presence is perceived by those who seek Him.

It is good that one should quietly await Yahweh’s salvation.  It is good to bear His life-giving yoke.  Even if the yoke arrives with suffering, sit in silence and feel its weight. Despair not, for hope is here.  If the yoke arrives as a blow, offer your cheek to your striker, for Yahweh will not endlessly rebuke. Though He grieve you, His compassion is complete, according to His plentiful and steadfast affection.  He is not eager to afflict or grieve the children of men.

Bible Reading 2009

Is it possible to feel pride and embarrassment simultaneously?

I say, “Yes.”

The year ending today marks the most consistent stretch of time in my life for a regular habit of Bible-reading. I read and journaled for 347 days in the past 365–for me, that’s a major improvement over any earlier year of life.

A slight sense of achievement is present because it’s about time that I established this habit. A slight sense of shame is also present because it’s about time that I established this habit.

(If you thought that preachers or pastors were born were with some daily-devotional gene, then I have one of two replies for you.  1) You’re so wrong.  Or 2) You’re right, but I’m a mutant freak preacher, so the point is moot.)

But more than post about my success or shortcoming, I simply wanted to mention a handful of helpful bits I learned about myself and habits in this process…

  1. There’s nothing tough about reading my Bible or exercising or going to bed at a suitable time or getting up as early as I should or saving my money or flossing my teeth or any of the other thousand good habits I should have. The only hard part is doing them CONSISTENTLY! For those once-in-a-while habits, I’m gold. Unfortunately, none of the habits worth anything fall into that category.
  2. “First things first.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this phrase or seen it illustrated in creative ways, but it is most certainly true that the things I put at the top of my list DO happen. Regardless of how long my list gets, I ALWAYS get the top few items checked off. The obvious point? Be planned and careful and intentional about what you slot into those top positions.
  3. A pre-set plan makes a world of difference. If I’d had to decide what I was going to read everyday when I opened my Bible, my success rate would have plummeted. Same for exercise or budgets. (If I really believe this principle to be true, it’s got me wondering why I don’t yet use a Prayer Book of some sort to give some structure to my still sporadic prayer habits.)
  4. More than I might care to admit, I am a creature of habit. Most of the stretches of missed readings came during “irregular times” such as vacations or long weekends or other times of messy life routines.
  5. Habits work best when joined to others’ lives. My Scripture reading was enriched in both quality and quantity when the readings were part of conversations I was having, planned or unplanned. For most of the year, a bi-weekly men’s breakfast group was part of my routine. Every time, our conversation revolved around our past week of readings. For parts of the year, some form of evening discussion group was also part of my schedule. Any thoughts that habits are strictly private matters could be erased by even a couple weeks of experimenting with this. Still unsure? Ask the exerciser if it’s easier to stick to it alone or with a work-out partner. It’s a no-brainer.
  6. As vital as routine is for me, variety is also key. My reading schedule, while orderly and sensible, also kept me moving. Some NT, some OT, some poetry, some narrative, some prophecy–my mind was constantly needing to adjust and shift as we went. Pattern and structure without monotony–that’s the balance I need.
  7. I am constantly tempted to squeeze “other things” ahead of the priorities I claim as those on top. There is always something “really important” that needs attention right now Some insightful moments throughout 2009 led me to learn that most of this is BS. It is too easy to be derailed by what appears urgent, while the truly important gets bumped yet again. Some of us function with elite skill levels at setting critical items aside in exchange for distractions. This is a bad skill to have developed.
  8. A part of me detests structure. Some little anarchist reigns in one corner of my heart, shouting out that routine is rigid and that life is meant to be lived more loosely. The problem for this little character is that a growing majority of my divided self is awakening to the truth that nothing worth anything grows in structureless soil. It is practice and discipline and self-control and routine that birth beautiful fruit, and I am slowly but increasingly surrendering myself to that truth.
  9. Journaling is a great habit. I’m attempting to tie it to my Scripture readings just enough to be useful without getting bogged down in it.
  10. I am aware of the stats that say that it takes around 28 days to develop a new habit. I am also aware of the reality that it takes about 2 days to effectively kill a hard-earned new habit. So while I dream that I’m now completely rehabilitated from my poor devotional disciplines of the past, I’m no longer that naive. I intend to battle through 2010, reliving everyday most of what just filled this blog post. I don’t suppose the road of discipline and godliness ever gets as easy as I dream it should. I’ll plug along all the same.