As I shared last week, I have been on a spiritual quest to seek out truth. Not “my truth” or “the world’s truth” or even “truths passed down to me through my faith tradition,” but God’s Absolute, Definitive TRUTH. My mission has me ruthlessly examining ideas and beliefs, weeding out the lies and misperceptions and replacing them with Truth. And my companion and guidebook on this truth-seeking journey is the Word of God.
If I want to understand the truth, Scripture will always be the first place I turn.
Of course, the Bible is not the exclusive source of God’s Truth, which is also written into the created world and into our own hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord can speak His truth to us through community, through nature, through meditative prayer, through dreams, through the stories of others, through Biblical teaching. . . . His creativity is endless, and there is no limit to how He may choose to impart His truth and wisdom to us, His children. While these other mirrors of God’s truth are beneficial and necessary, I hold God’s Word as the primary way the Lord speaks to us, and the ultimate source of His Truth. It is the standard by which I measure all other revelations.
God’s Word is living and active. It is inspired by God, and through it we come to know His mind, heart, and character. In gazing upon Him through the study of His word, we are given a complete portrait of all that is good and true. For this reason, and so many more, I am passionate about reading and studying Scripture, but I know this isn’t the case for all Christians. Many of my fellow believers struggle just to regularly pick up God’s Word, let alone study or apply it.
I get it! The enemy of our souls wants nothing more than to blind us from the Truth, and he will present every possible obstacle to keep us from seeking out truths found in Scripture. As Charleston likes to say, when we give in to these obstacles we are “fighting on Satan’s team.” I, for one, would rather be fighting on GOD’S team. . . and that begins with picking up God’s Word!
Please hear me in this: I do not have this all figured out. I am not an expert at studying the Bible, and I would never want to give that impression. I am not sharing this post to boast about my Bible study skills, or to evoke shame in anyone who still might be learning to read the Bible, or to give the appearance that I am “holier than thou.” I am simply a girl who is in love with the Word of God and would love for you to find this same enthusiasm.
In this post, I’m going to walk us through some of the obstacles we might encounter when starting a habit of regular Bible study. Then I will share some answers, solutions, and resources that I personally have found helpful. THIS IS NOT A DEFINITIVE GUIDE! You could fill libraries with the books dedicated to this topic. This is merely a starting point that I hope might give you the nudge you need to join Charleston and me in fighting on God’s Team as we wield our swords of the Spirit—God’s Word.
OBSTACLE #1: MENTAL HANGUPS
For many of us, there are a number of mental and emotional hurdles holding us back from digging into Scripture. I would like to address a few of those stumbling blocks (all of which I’ve grappled with to some degree).
Stumbling Block—Isn’t reading the Bible part of being in relationship with God? I don’t want to get too legalistic or feel like I’m reading the Bible out of obligation.
My response to this might not be the popular one, but here it is: I don’t see anything wrong with reading the Bible out of obligation. Of course, I hope that as you consistently pursue a practice of studying Scripture it will become a habit you joyfully embrace out of desire and not obligation; but some days, especially in the beginning, you might find yourself resistant to opening the Bible . . . and I just don’t think that having a heart that isn’t in it is a free pass to quit. All of my relationships involve some level of obligation: for instance, I don’t always feel like having conversations with Luke or spending time with my kids or having coffee with a friend, but I do these things even when my heart isn’t in it—out of obligation, if you will—because I know that investing in relationships in this way is beneficial and will foster the types of fulfilling connections I desire. The same holds true for my time in God’s Word: I read out of obedience (sometimes out of obligation) because I covet the fruitful and flourishing relationship that it will birth.
Scripture to Ponder: “Desire God’s pure word as newborn babies desire milk. Then you will grow in your salvation. Certainly you have tasted that the Lord is good!” (1 Peter 2:2-3)
Stumbling Block—The Bible seems so complicated. I don’t want to read or interpret it the wrong way.
This is the stumbling block I’ve struggled with most of late, and I have a full Truth Chronicles post on this coming up next week. So you’ll be hearing a whole lot of words on this from me soon, but (spoiler warning!) I’ve concluded that I can’t let a fear of misreading God’s Word keep me from trying. The Bible is complicated, but perhaps not as complicated as we make it out to be. Of course we want to read carefully and accurately, and take caution when drawing conclusions or applications from what we read, but there is grace for our misunderstandings. God would not have spoken to us through The Bible if He didn’t think we were capable of reading and understanding it, and He will equip us to read rightly when we engage His help.
Scripture to Ponder: “Open my eyes to see the miracle wonders hidden in Scripture. My life on earth is so brief, so tutor me in the ways of your wisdom.” (Psalm 119:8, TPT)
Stumbling Block—The Bible doesn’t seem relevant for my life today.
I fully understand this one. The Bible isn’t always the most exciting read, and it can be difficult to slog through lists of names or detailed building blueprints in search of meaning and application. Let’s not dismiss the entirety of Scripture because portions of it feel irrelevant or challenging. When a particular passage feels unimportant or irrelevant, I view my frustrations as opportunities to invite God into my reading, pursuing His guidance as I seek to understand what He is teaching me in this section of Scripture. Not every verse will have meaning for every one of us, but any verse can speak to us if we trust the Lord for our understanding.
Scripture to Ponder: “They received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
OBSTACLE #2: LACK OF TIME
In his book The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith writes, “I had been thinking a lot about American ‘hurry sickness,’ always being in a rush, and the causes behind it. . . . Being overcommitted, too busy and preoccupied are not new to contemporary society. . . . Will we take on too many things or be concerned about the wrong things and thus miss the most important things?”
If we are too busy or have too little time to spend in God’s Word, it’s time to reorder our priorities. We are plagued by tasks that feel urgent, but we cannot give in to the lie that they are more important than our relationship with our Heavenly Father and our time with Him. We all have time for what is important to us, so it’s not that we don’t have time to study Scripture, it’s that we are spending our time in the wrong ways.
This isn’t an easy word to hear. I get that, and I am feeling convicted myself as I write these words. . . which is all the more reason to write them. If we “don’t have time,” we need to make the time! It is a matter of eternal significance.
Here is what I am not saying: that we must spend an hour every morning in the Word. Or that we should neglect our work or our families for the sake of solid, dedicated time reading Scripture. Or that failing to be in God’s Word every day means we are unsaved or unsanctified or “bad Christians.” We shouldn’t feel pressured to meet some sort of quota on how much of the Bible we read, or when we read it, or what that reading looks like, as long as it IS happening.
This will look different for every individual and for every season. My biggest tip here is to build Bible reading into your day in such a way that it is almost impossible to miss it. For me at this stage of life, that means I have slotted opportunities to study Scripture into several parts of my day so that if I miss one or two of them, God’s Word will still be incorporated into my day in some way:
- I listen to the Bible in a Year podcast while I unload the dishwasher each morning.
- I spend half an hour reading and journaling through the Bible before breakfast while the kids play.
- I read a children’s Bible with the kids each afternoon.
- I memorize verses alongside Charleston during our school day, and we discuss them.
- I have printed copies verses I’m memorizing posted around the house and in my car, and I meditate on them as I go about my day.
- I read from devotionals (filled with specific verses) while I brush my teeth in the morning and at night.
- I work through a Bible study (homework from our community group or my women’s study or my own personal study) in the evenings after the kids are in bed.
Your routes to building Bible reading into your day will likely look very different, but I can guarantee that if you look for the time, you WILL find it.
OBSTACLE #3: DIFFICULTY KNOWING WHERE TO START
There are countless devotionals and books about the Bible, and those are fantastic, but I would highly encourage you to view those as supplemental reading and not a substitute for studying God’s Word itself. This can be as complicated as pouring through commentaries and Bible studies and various translations, or as simple as opening up the Bible and reading what jumps out at you.
I am a big fan of reading from a physical Bible, but if reading off of your phone or listening to an audio reading works better for you, that’s great. Don’t let format get in the way of a healthy Bible reading habit.
Before diving in, decide on your approach: do you want to go broad or deep? (In other words, do you want to read through the whole of Scripture at once, or do an in-depth study into one portion of it?) For the past two years, I read through the whole Bible within a calendar year and I found so much value in viewing the Bible through that Big Picture lens.
This year I’ve gone deeper into just the New Testament and a select few books, and have loved this as well. For me, this has involved reading a chapter per day in various translations alongside a handful of commentaries. I take notes in my Bible as I read and journal a response that involves my takeaways and a prayer.
If you are brand new to the Bible, I would suggest starting with the Book of John, then branching out to the rest of the Gospels and the New Testament before attempting to read the Old Testament. YouVersion offers a number of excellent reading plans that you can read on your own or within a community.
MY FAVORITE BIBLE STUDY RESOURCES:
- The Bible Recap—A short daily podcast (or book) with commentary on a year-long chronological reading of the Bible.
- Bible in a Year Podcast—A daily 25-minute podcast with 2-3 Scripture readings, commentary, and a prayer.
- She Reads Truth Bible—The physical Bible that I use. It is beautiful, filled with excellent charts, study aids, reading plans, and devotionals.
- YouVersion App—Free access to hundreds of Bible translations and thousands of reading plans. Great for accountability and reading in community.
- ESV Study Bible—A top-rated study Bible filled with detailed commentaries and applications.
- The Passion Translation—My favorite supplemental Bible version. (Great for helping me understand familiar verses in a new way.)
- The Bible Project—Summary videos for every book of the Bible; visual commentaries; and tools for understanding how to read and understand the Bible.
- Verses—A great app to help with memorizing Scripture.
- Here’s my list of great Bibles for preschoolers, and this is the Bible I’m reading with Charleston now.
OBSTACLE #4: LACK OF MOTIVATION
I’ll assume that if you’ve made it to this point in the post, you are feeling at least somewhat motivated to pick up the Bible and begin reading. That’s fantastic! Please keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Reading God’s Word doesn’t have to look a certain way or follow a particular template. It might sometimes feel like a drudgery, and that’s okay. Please don’t quit! The Lord has given us an incredible gift in His Word, and failing to read it is to miss out on the immense blessings that come from engaging with Scripture.
I’ll end with this encouragement, spoken by the Lord in the book of Isaiah: “So My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it. You will indeed go out with joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 55:11-12)
Friends, God’s Word brings joy and peace and TRUTH. Through it, the Lord will accomplish with it what He pleases—in our hearts, our lives, our souls, and His Kingdom. Let us treasure this gift, savoring its goodness and wholeheartedly pursuing its blessings.