How is your Bible reading going?
We should ask each other this question. It helps because it draws out two central foundations for reading your Bible better. First, Bible reading is important, even more important than food. We will wither without hearing the words of God: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, ESV). If you ask me how my Bible reading is going, I will remember that it matters.
The second foundation is that good Bible reading is not automatic. Doing it does not mean doing it well. We can read the Bible and have nothing happen but we can also read and have wrong things happen. If we mishear God we can end up disillusioned as we try to hold him to promises he did not make. Or we can end up disobedient and fail to walk worthy of our calling by misunderstanding it. If you ask me how my Bible reading is going, I will remember that it might not be going well and that it can improve.
On What Basis?
How is your Bible reading going? We should think about our answer. But take a step back from your response to ask another question: how would you come up with an answer? On what basis do we evaluate our devotional Bible reading?
You might say that things are going well. Why? What is happening to make you feel that way? Maybe you would say that your Bible reading is faltering. Why? It could be an issue of discipline. You may not be making the time. If you are taking time to read and yet sense you are stumbling, what leads you to that conclusion? Can you put your finger on what is going wrong?
To know how things are going, we need a clear picture of how they should be going. With something like a car, it is not difficult to tell. Does the engine start when you turn the key? Do the brakes sound like a seven-year-old playing an out-of-tune violin? When you turn on the headlights does the radio change stations? It is more difficult to assess our devotional Bible reading. I suspect that the measures we tend to use fall short.
On the one hand, we assess our Bible reading on a ‘thinking’ level. So, our Bible reading is failing if we do not understand what we read. That is true as far as it goes. The problem is that the statement does not work if we flip it around. We cannot say that our Bible reading is necessarily succeeding if we understand what we read. Our mind is a crucial component but it is only one part. There must be more than comprehension of the ideas. Besides that, having questions when you read can be a sign of growth. We are never going to get to the bottom of everything that the Bible says. Having more questions is often a sign of better reading.
We may assess our Bible reading on a ‘feeling’ level. Sometimes we look to see if our Bible reading has moved us. Did we connect with something we read? Was there a swell of emotion in any direction? This criterion also has value but does not go far enough. Our emotions must engage because the Bible is more than an intellectual object. There must be more than a surge of feeling but we are complicated creatures. Our emotional responses are not automatically correct. The tendency is to move toward the ‘good’ feelings and avoid the ‘bad’ ones. Yet the proper response to Bible reading is often humility and repentance. Neither of those two things feel very good. We can also be moved by misreading the Bible. Are we confronting this word or are we pleasantly distracted by what we presume we know?
Expect the Bible to…
We need a picture of what it looks like when Bible reading goes well. Find the places that tell us what we should expect the Bible to do. These passages can help us because we can look to see how our experiences line up with these expectations. Psalm 19:7-11 pairs up a characteristic of the Word of God with an anticipated result. Examine these and compare them to your own devotional Bible reading.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul…
Does your Bible reading enliven you? This is more than making you feel good. Does it awaken you to the reality of God and set you up to respond as you should?
…the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
Does your Bible reading make you wise? Do you find yourself living better because of it? Remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). Are you turning more frequently from the folly of sin because of what you have read?
…the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
Does your Bible reading bring you joy? Do you know the hope of the glory of God so that you rejoice in Christ and even to suffer (Romans 5:1-5)? Does what you read enable you to respond to the steadfast love of God (Psalm 31:7)?
…the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
Does your Bible reading open your eyes? Do you see more because of it? Is the reality of the kingdom of Christ part of your daily decision making? Does sin look more like darkness and holiness increasingly like light (Acts 26:18)?
…the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
Does your Bible reading lead you to what is true for all time? Do you get the sense that these things are spoken to us and that they are profitable? Are you led to behold the immense eternity of God?
…the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
Does your Bible reading lead you into righteousness? Are your sins uncovered? Do you see how your steps fall short of walking worthy of Christ and his calling? Does your reading draw you into fuller obedience?
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Does your Bible reading enlarge your appetite? Is your sense of the worth of God’s Word greater now than it was a year ago? Do you find yourself increasing in gratitude? Are you amazed and delighted as you read?
Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Does your Bible reading make your life better? Not in the way that Joel Osteen says it should but in the ways that matter most. Can you point to troubles you have avoided because your Bible redirected you? Are you enjoying the presence of God as He speaks to you here?
There is a lot here. These verses give us plenty to think about. But note that Bible reading is a long-term project. That means the assessment of our Bible reading needs to take a long-term view. We will not experience all these things every time we read. But do you find these benefits breaking the surface over time? Are they increasing or decreasing?
So much depends on reading the Bible well. So…how is your Bible reading going?