Bible Reading: Removing the Yawn Factor
Moving from Boring to Engaging
The Lunch Appointment
Jeff was running late for lunch with his friend, John. After parking his car and all but running to the restaurant, he was relieved to spot John sitting at their usual table by the window. As he slid into the seat across from him, he began apologizing profusely. But John just smiled and closed the book he was reading.
“Don’t worry. I used the time to read.”
Jeff glanced at the book and looked questioningly back at John. “You were reading the Bible? Here?” Jeff looked around to see if anyone was looking at them.
Still smiling, John responded, “Of course, why not?”
Jeff colored a little, “Well, I mean. I guess it’s alright, but it’s hardly the right place or time, is it?”
John’s smile disappeared and he looked confused as he glanced around the restaurant. “Well, maybe it’s a little noisier than my room.”
Just then the waiter stopped at their table ending the discussion. After the waiter left with their order, John noticed Jeff studying him and his Bible. “Something on your mind?”
“Yeah,” Jeff said. “You know I’m a Christian and all. I read my Bible most mornings. You know, at least a chapter a day. But why would you want to read your Bible any other time of the day? It’s not like it’s riveting prose. Besides, once you read it through once or twice, you know what it has to say. There are no more surprises.”
John stirred his drink thoughtfully, “When was the last time you received a letter from your fiancé, Tina?”
Jeff smiled broadly, “I got one just yesterday. She’s so far back in the jungle on her research expedition that she can only get a letter out maybe every other week if she’s lucky.”
John smiled. “Do you keep her letters?”
Jeff didn’t hesitate, “Every one of them.”
“Do you ever read them over again after the first time?”
Jeff nodded solemnly, “Yeah, sometimes I sit down and read them all in one sitting. It helps me feel close to her, almost as if she’s sitting across from me and we’re talking.”
Suddenly he stopped and squinted at John. “Wait a minute.” He exclaimed. “I see where you are going with this. But the Bible is not the same, John. It’s just a collection of old stories and sermons from 2000 years ago. It’s not the same as Tina’s letters which are personal and written to me in modern English. I mean reading the Bible makes me sleepy. Not Tina’s letters.”
John laughed, “Okay, okay. But let me ask you, if you didn’t know Tina very well, do you think her letters would be as interesting to you? I mean, what if your friend Tom read you the letters from his girlfriend? Would you find them as interesting?”
Jeff groaned. “Man, he has read me some of her letters. They are so boring. I had to tell him they were too personal, he needed to keep them to himself so he wouldn’t read them to me anymore. But he reads them all the time.”
“Exactly!” John pointed his finger at Jeff for emphasis. “It’s your relationship with Tina that makes her letters so interesting to you. That’s why you have no problem reading them over and over again.”
Jeff frowned. “So are you saying that I am not a Christian? Like, I don’t have a relationship with God?”
John’s Shares His Struggle
John held up his hand, “Hear me out.” He put his hand down and sighed. “Listen, I know what it’s like not to enjoy reading the Bible. I struggled with that for most of my life. I knew I needed to read it. It was ‘the Christian thing to do.’ But I found it boring. I used to force myself to follow those Bible reading plans but if I started in Genesis, I rarely made it past Leviticus.”
Jeff groaned, “I know. I have never made it through Leviticus.”
“And if I started in the New Testament, I ran out of steam by the time I got through Acts.”
Jeff laughed, “That’s because that’s where all the exciting stories end and the sermons begin.”
John nodded, “I suppose so. But even when I was reading the stories, I had a hard time keeping my mind from wandering. Often, when I reached the end of a chapter, I had no idea what I just read.”
Looking down John chuckled self-consciously and then continued, “And I really did use it at night when I couldn’t sleep. It usually put me to sleep within 20 minutes.”
Jeff looked surprised and laughed too. Then he turned serious, “Okay. So what changed?”
John looked down at the Bible thoughtfully and ran his finger along the edge of it. “To tell you the truth, it wasn’t just one thing, it was a lot of things together that made the difference. But over time, it has made the Bible come alive for me. Now I cherish it like you cherish your letters from Tina.”
Jeff searched John’s face for a moment. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” He asked. “You actually enjoy it?”
John nodded, a slow smile turning the corners of his mouth up. “I look forward to spending time reading my Bible because it’s like having a conversation with God.”
Jeff sat back. “Okay. Okay. Now I’ve got to know what your secret is! Having a conversation with God would really take the yawn factor out of Bible study.”
Let’s leave John and Jeff to their conversation and let me ask you:
Have you ever felt like Jeff?
I know I certainly have. For years, I read the Bible because I was supposed to, but I had a hard time connecting it with my life in the 21st century, much less letting God speak to me through its pages.
The language was archaic. The stories were so condensed, it was often hard to identify with the people, or to make a connection between their life and mine.
Numbers and Leviticus were so dry, I could never get through them. And Paul’s writings are so convoluted, I thought you had to be a theologian to understand them. And don’t get me started on the minor prophets!
But things have changed for me, just like John.
Before I share the tips I have learned for turning Bible reading into an engaging encounter with God, let me share a couple of prerequisites.
Like John, in the conversation above, I have discovered that the key to enjoying reading the Bible is to develop a relationship with its Author. (For more on this, see Why is Prayer and Bible Study so Key to a Relationship with God)
The Bible is the most direct way to get to know God. So when you are reading it for your devotional time, focus on getting to know Him. Pay attention to His likes and dislikes, His passions, His attitudes, His character traits, just like you would when you are getting to know a new friend. (For more on this, see Change the Focus of Your Bible Study and Prayer)
Practical Tips for Turning Bible Reading into an Encounter with God.
Before you begin reading, ask God to speak to you through the Bible.
Spiritual things are spiritually discerned, just as 1 Corinthians 2:14 says,
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.
Accordingly, if we want to understand the Bible and to connect with God while reading it, we must pray for the Holy Spirit to not only help us understand it but to speak to us through it. As Jesus said in John 14:26
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.
Do not read the Bible without sincerely praying for the Holy Spirit to open your mind and heart to receive His teaching, and to tune your spiritual ear to hear Him when He speaks to you.
Believe that God wants to speak to you through His Word.
Many Christians believe that the only way God can speak to them is through His written Word, and it is His primary method. He will never say anything to an individual that does not agree with the Bible.
However, God also wants to speak directly to us, to reason with us, to guide and direct us in our daily life.
Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD.
Isaiah 30:21 “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”
John 10:27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
God wants to speak to us. However, if you don’t think He does, you won’t be receptive to any of the methods He may choose to speak to you with. If you’re not listening expectantly, how can you hear the “still small voice” of God?
Hebrews 11:6: “For he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
After praying for the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Bible, trust that He will.
Focus on one passage, story, or verse.
Don’t read a chapter, pray and begin your daily activities. Instead, focus on a passage, a story, or even a verse. Most Bibles divide chapters up into sections with subheadings. Just focus on one section.
Reading whole chapters at a time introduces too many ideas to be able to focus down and grasp a specific message. But focusing on a passage, a story, or a verse, allows you the space and time to dig in and pull out the nuggets of wisdom it contains.
Meditate on your selection.
I know that meditation has received a bad rap in recent years. However, there is a biblical type of meditation that God intends for us to use.
Joshua 1:8: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it.
Psalms 1:2: But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
What is biblical meditation? Let me explain it this way.
When you eat, how do you get the most nutrition and the most enjoyment out of your food:
by swallowing it whole?
by chewing it well before you swallow?
I am sure that you would agree that to taste your food, you need to chew it. For your stomach to digest the food well, you need to chew it before you swallow.
The same is true with Bible reading. If you want to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalms 34:8), then you must take time to chew on what you read before you swallow it.
Reading straight through a chapter or two, praying, and rushing off to work is the equivalent of swallowing your food whole.
Taking the time to reflect on the passage, to seek to understand it at a deeper level than a superficial reading would allow, and listen for God to speak to you through it is chewing your food before you swallow it.
If you want to turn your Bible reading time into a conversation with God:
- Commit to spending time with God daily and focus on getting to know Him.
- Pray for Him to speak to You.
- Believe that He will speak to you.
- Focus on one passage, story, or verse.
- Meditate on what you read.
All of this together makes space for God to speak to you. However, meditating on what you read is essential. That’s why I am going to use my next blog to explain biblical meditation more fully and give some tips to help you effectively meditate on your selected passage.
However, like all things, it takes time to develop new skills. Don’t expect to hear God’s voice tomorrow if you utilize the tips I have shared. You might, but learning to distinguish His voice takes time.
For me, it took a lot of practice to learn to meditate on passages of the Bible and to pay attention to God’s still small voice at the same time. So be patient. Be consistent. You will reap what you sow.
(All Bible texts quoted are taken from the New King James Version.)