Answers for Common Obstacles to Reading the Bible
Consistently taking in God's Word is the means of renewing our minds and hearing God's voice speaking to us.
Although we know this in our heads, when it comes time to actually read, there is often an inexplicable resistance that surges up.
The Bible is a spiritual book that requires spiritual insight, and our natural flesh pushes back both at the discipline of consistent reading and also at being told what to do. The mental battle often kicks in at this point with irrelevant excuses which are only variations on the fleshly response, "I don't want to."
However, for the believer, there is also the renewed spirit that truly desires the "pure milk of the Word." And there are obstacles we encounter that we sincerely wonder how to navigate around them. The following statements are ones that I've had or ones I've heard that were made in sincerity and I've answered with what I have found to be helpful in these situations.
"There's so much I don't understand."
(or "I'm not getting much out of it.")
If someone is reading the Bible for the first time, there will probably be sections that feel tedious or confusing. Don't get stuck on these passages. There are a few strategies to help navigate through: one is to pick a plan that has both Old Testament and New Testament simultaneous readings--if you aren't getting much out of the list of names in the book of Numbers, the teachings of Jesus will make more sense. Another is to think about what is happening in the bigger story. Third, focus on what you do understand--even if it is only one thing--and think through the implications for your daily life. And finally, remember that no matter how many times you read through the Bible in your lifetime, there will be new things to discover and new pieces that will fall into place!
"I want to have time to really think about what I am reading."
Bible reading is the first step of meditating on Scripture and doing a more detailed study. But for the one that comes with a sincere heart and listening ear, even "just reading" has it's own benefits. Many times I've "just read" something in the morning with no special "wow" factor whatsoever. When something has come up later in the day, suddenly what I read or heard will come back to mind. God's Spirit uses the Word we read and hear to convict, encourage, and guide us when we need it. It also has a cleansing and renewing effect on our minds that we are often unaware is happening when we are reading.
"I don't know when I would fit it into my schedule."
This is also the number one reason given for not exercising regularly! J
The Bible takes about 76 hours to listen through. At only 30 minutes/day, a person could easily get through the Bible 2x/year. With free audio Bibles at www.biblegateway.com or on the youversion app, it is easy to listen to the Bible while in the car or doing household chores.
"Listening to the Bible instead of reading it makes me feel that I am missing so much."
If you are more of a visual learner than an auditory learner, you might especially feel this. It's helpful to remember that the benefit from regular listening is much greater than sporadic reading.
"When I get so far behind in my reading schedule, I get discouraged and feel like quitting."
For the believer, reading or not reading the Bible doesn't change one's position in Christ! There is no "measure up/fail" system! So when the discouragement comes, first evaluate whether your goal is too ambitious. If you've never read through the whole Bible and you continually are falling behind, try reading through the New Testament by reading one chapter a day, or read through the New Testament in three months instead of a year.
Another strategy to deal with the "I'm so far behind" obstacle is to simply jump in where the schedule says the reading is for that day. Picking back up and moving forward has a greater benefit than feeling a constant (and unnecessary) cloud hanging over you.
I realize that there are many of us who can't just "skip and jump in"! We want to read the schedule in order--so if that describes you as well, then either extend the time it will take you to complete your goal (example: instead of the Bible in a year, what about the Bible in the next 18 months) or double up your readings until you are back on schedule. Remember: the schedule is the guide to help with consistency; it is not the master driving the agenda!
"I don't want to feel tied to a schedule."
(or "I don't want to be legalistic about being on a schedule.")
The only problem I've discovered with not having a schedule is that consistency usually suffers. Regardless of what the plan is, it "keeps us honest" about the time we spend taking in God's Word.
Legalism is a natural tendency we have--especially with any of the spiritual disciplines. The desire to measure ourselves on our performance rather than our position in Jesus and to puff up in pride or sink low in shame comes without effort.
If you feel guilty because you read Scripture in the evening instead of the morning, or because you missed a day and "had to catch up"--it might indicate legalistic tendencies. If so, simply confess the legalism, and reaffirm the truth of your righteous position in Jesus. The best way I've discovered to combat this legalistic tendency is to renew my mind with Scripture.
"I am already reading Bible passages for a study I attend."
This is great! Is the study keeping you consistent and providing a reading plan for the whole week or just for the day before the study? As you can tell by now, I am a big fan of "reading the whole Bible"! One reason is because we become selective about our favorite passages or sections of Scripture and don't gain understanding of the things God wants to teach us through the lesser-trod books of the Bible. Adding a Bible listening schedule that is giving you the overall plan of Scripture will help keep individual Bible studies in their historical context.
"I don't know which translation to use."
Some translations have more merit than others. Those that stay close to the original languages are better than paraphrases. But if the translation obfuscates the meaning for you, then get something you can understand. The bottom line is that if your heart is open to God's Spirit speaking to you through Scripture, then the best translation is the one you obey!