“If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.” John Owen
As believers, all of us desire to be in the Bible more often than we are and with greater depth and intimacy than we do. But we don’t all struggle with the same challenges with our Bible reading.
For one person, their biggest obstacle might be not knowing how to read, interpret, or understand the Bible. They’ve never been equipped to do so, which results in regular frustrations of putting the Bible back down without having a clue what they read. For others, it might be distractions from a phone blowing up with emails and text messages. Each of us have unique circumstances, varying levels of maturity, and our stages of life might differ. This is important because if we want to go deeper in God’s Word, we have to diagnose what’s personally keeping us back. We need to ask, “What are my biggest obstacles to more consistent and more meaningful times reading God’s Word?”
The more insight (which requires honesty and humility) we have about our own hindrances for rich, rewarding Bible study the more we can then adjust and plan accordingly. If it’s a time issue, then you don’t know more help on how to study the Bible, you just have to do whatever’s necessary to create a little more margin to prioritize it. Know your own challenges and then fight back with what will help you get into the Word.
Below are some of the most common challenges. This short list might get you thinking and be a first step towards moving forward with more meaningful Bible study.
- I don’t really know how to read and understand the Bible on my own. (It’s an understanding the Bible issue.)
- It gets pushed out because I don’t prioritize Bible reading and study in my calendar. (It’s a time or priority issue.)
- When I do read, there are too many distractions so it feels ineffective. (It’s a distractions issue.)
- I read the Bible but don’t know how to apply it to everyday situations. (It’s an application or response issue.)
- I feel too discouraged or condemned when I read so I hesitate to do it. (It’s a guilt issue.)
- God feels distant from me so I’m unmotivated to read or think I can’t. (It’s a relational issue.)
- It doesn’t feel like it’s been profitable or useful so I’ve given up. (It’s a discouragement issue.)
- I lack the discipline to do it on my own and would benefit from doing it with others. (It’s an accountability issue.)
What would be your top two challenges? After identifying them, come up with three practical ideas to take a baby step forward in addressing and fighting back against the problem.
Cultural Challenges Today
In addition to the common challenges–that are probably true across cultures and time–I think there are also some additional cultural values and behaviors that make deep, meaningful study of God’s Word difficult to us in the West.
- Busyness where schedules are full, and a fast-paced culture where we move from thing to thing without ever entering into where we are or being present, including with our thinking. Being unhurried is key to Bible study and meditation.
- Social media, TV and movies, the internet, email, and smart phones, all of which compete for every free moment of our thinking. Distractions are now a norm we turn too out of deeply engrained habits.
- The combination of having a glut of constant information available and offered to us, as well as greater laziness and weakness in discipline with using our minds to think critically and for extended periods. We can’t focus our attention and thinking for long and often don’t try to do so. Few thoughts sit on us deeply or for long.
- The need to always learn more, read more, listen more, do more. The sense of always having to consume. We feel like we all need to be Jeopardy candidates so we read tons of information to know a little about a lot. We would do well to read less but go deeper in what we read and be more reflectively about it.
- We are also hard-hearted and sinful, meaning we choose to spend our time and give our affections to the things of the world rather than the Word. We reject or resist some of what we read because of our idols.
- Lack of biblical literacy today makes reading the Bible more difficult because there’s a longer trajectory for learning how to read, having doctrinal categories and truthful knowledge in place to rightly interpret Scripture, and unfamiliarity with biblical history and stories creating a great gap in the contextual barriers.
- A greater disconnect between what we read/hear and knowing how to or being committed to applying it personally. This probably arises from several factors, including the cultural tendency to take in lots of information that we quickly and easily move past, the hurried-pace where we move on to the next thing, and a lack of personal reflection (taking time to do it and knowing how to do it).
Again, as we identify reasons reading, studying, or reflectively meditating on Scripture feels difficult to us today, the goal isn’t to give us an excuse but to better prepare with a game-plan for moving forward.
“If we settle for a poor quality intake of hearing, reading, and studying God’s Word, we severely restrict the main flow of God’s sanctifying grace toward us.” Donald Whitney