We’re not reading the Bible (and why it’s a problem)

The Bible has never been more accessible, but this doesn't mean we're reading it more than ever.

Daily time with God is critical to the Christian life.

Jesus said: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Matthew 4:4

We need God’s word like we need food. We simply can’t live without it. What happens when you don’t eat? You’re starved, lacking in energy, irritable, distracted, prone to temptation, tired.

Christianity is about a relationship with God. God speaks to us in different ways, but primarily through His word. Scarily, in recent research, when Christians were asked “How does God speak to you?” the number one response was: “Through my pastor”. Perhaps this is because this is the only time of the week when people spend time in God’s word. Perhaps even more scarily, the Bible came in at number 7.

More and more research is empirically proving what God has told us (and what Christians say they believe) – namely, the Bible is essential for Christian growth.

  • The Center for Bible Engagement discovered that the number one thing you can do for yourself spiritually is read the Bible 4 times a week or more. Read is this frequently, and your life looks completely different to those who don’t read the Bible, or read it less than that.
  • A survey of 1,000 churches came up with this conclusion (via an ice-cream illustration): ”If your local ice cream parlor could sell only one flavor, it would sell vanilla. This isn’t just because vanilla ice cream is the most popular flavor, although that is true. It’s because vanilla ice cream is hugely popular; in fact, it’s twice as popular as the second favorite flavor, which is chocolate. In turn, chocolate is twice as popular as any other ice cream flavor available. So your ice cream parlor would choose vanilla. Hands down. No contest.

Here’s the core discovery from the survey:

“Church pastors have an equally compelling option. If they could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice would be equally clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible—specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives…Reflection on Scripture is the spiritual equivalent of vanilla ice cream because its influence on spiritual growth far exceeds the potential impact of other catalysts.”

I am convicted that there is nothing more valuable for my life, and the lives of other Christians than spending time with God, in His word each day.

However, we’re not doing this. According to the Bible Society, 2 out of 10 Australian Christians are engaging with God on a daily basis. This isn’t 2 out of 10 Australians. This is 20% of Australian Christians!

I feel convicted that increasing the number of Christians who spend time with God each day is the single most beneficial pursuit for our churches. More than more small groups. Or better music. Or outreach programs. It is essential to the spiritual growth of our church members (perhaps the key means, with prayer, of “presenting them mature in Christ”) and the health of our church.

This living relationship with God is the source from which the fountain of Christian fruit (to mix analogies) flows:

  • Giving is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
  • Serving is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
  • Evangelism is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
  • Loving others is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.

It all flows from knowing God and loving Him. If there isn’t an abundant source, there isn’t a fountain. Sure, you might get dribbles or the odd spurt, but these aren’t reliable or sustainable. Worse, without an abundant source, there is a real danger that ‘fruit’ is manufactured through other means – guilt, tradition, etc. The only catalyst we want for fruit-bearing is a daily connection to the source (or, to use the language of John 15 – the vine).

For example, we want people to give because they know God and have understood that God has been exceedingly generous to them, that God will supply all their needs (and more) and it’s their joy to use all they have to make Him know. God wants cheerful, not reluctant givers.

We can encourage people to invite their friends to church or evangelistic events, but if they aren’t fostering a personal relationship with God:

  • They won’t be convicted of the glory of God (God is worthy of people following him).
  • They won’t be convicted of the urgency and sufficiency of the gospel (there is only one way, and people need to repent – urgently).
  • They won’t be empowered to boldly speak about their faith.

But more than an inner conviction:

  • Their lives won’t be transformed and look any different to those around them. This ordinary life won’t commend the gospel to their friends and colleagues. It won’t prompt questions about the hope that they have.

Put simply, unless people are walking closely with God each day, they won’t want to share the gospel with their friends, and their friends won’t be interested in hearing about it from them.

Contrast this with Peter and John in Acts 4. They were ordinary, unschooled men, but their time with Jesus spoke for itself:

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note
that these men had been with Jesus.”

We need to get back to reading the Bible. This is why the Bible Society’s ‘Live Light in 25 Words’ campaign is such a helpful and timely idea.

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Comments

  • http://growahealthychurch.com John Finkelde

    I’m a pastor who reads the Bible more than 4 times per week and has done so for decades so I understand your point and agree with it to some extent.

    However I’m always challenged by the fact that only 10% of people in the first century were literate.

    Thus 90% of the church didn’t read (couldn’t read!) their Bible, notwithstanding the fact that they didn’t really have a Bible as the NT was still being written & certainly wasn’t widely circulated.

    The NT church had its fair share of problems but nevertheless grew & had an impact on the Roman Empire in spite of the lack of Bible reading as we know it.

    So while I practice & promote Bible reading, study,meditation etc I’m not sure it is as critical as you state.

    Personally, I’d place discussing Scripture with others as just as, if not more, important than personal study & reflection.

    Thoughts?

  • Gerard

    That’s a good point, John. Something I’ve thought about before. I haven’t done the research on it, but I’ve thought of a few counter-points to the illiteracy problem:

    1) Oral culture – the 1st C culture was an oral one. I’m not going to agree with Derrida on much, but I think he makes some strong points on the benefits of oral learning over text-based learning (especially having the teacher present with you). Plus, the priority of oral learning enhanced peoples’ abilities to memorise scripture (something sadly lacking in modern culture where we think we’re smarter because we can ‘remember’ something by looking it up on our iPhones).

    2) Community / different uses of time – it would be interesting to study how much time people spent in dialogue with other people in the ancient world compared to now. There wasn’t any reality TV, so how did people spend their time? I think they would have spent a lot more time talking in community. And surely for Christians a big part of that would have been sharing the story of the gospel and the words of scripture with one another, especially with those who couldn’t read. So there were ways for illiterate people to receive scripture.

    Hope they’re some helpful thoughts …

  • Gerard

    One more thought on scripture memorisation. For me, it’s often the (too few) memorised portions of scripture that will deeply affect my daily decision making. Maybe you could say one verse well memorised (and understood!) is worth 50 days of glancing over passages while enjoying a cup of coffee? (Not to disparage glancing over the word of God if that’s all you can manage at the moment – something’s always better than nothing).

    All-in-all, I think the word of God can play a powerful role in the life of illiterate believers. But for us who can read, what excuse can we have for neglecting such a great gift?

  • http://growahealthychurch.com John Finkelde

    Good points Gerard which probably reinforce my view that discussing Scripture amongst friends & in small groups can be even more powerful than private reading.

    Wayne Corderio’s method of discipling he writes about in Divine Mentor centres around private reading while amongst a group followed by group discussion.

    Maybe it’s a case of AND not OR – go for both. Read/meditate/memorise privately but initiate more discussions about Scripture with friends & family.

    By the way who is Derrida?

  • Gerard

    I’ll have to take a look at the Divine Mentor. Sound good! I agree on the AND. But I think we can push our brothers and sisters in Christ in bible reading without the self-conscious ‘the early church couldn’t have done this because they were illiterate’ bugging the back of our minds.

    Don’t bother looking into Derrida. Better not to know him, I reckon :)

  • http://www.communicatejesus.com Steven Kryger

    Great thoughts on memorisation, Gerard. I agree – verses I have memorised have been invaluable in times of trial and temptation. They are embedded in my head, and there to be called upon when most needed. For memorising Scripture, I’ve founded the Fighter Verses app to be particularly helpful: http://www.communicatejesus.com/2011/05/memorise-scripture-with-the-fighter-verses-app/

  • http://www.communicatejesus.com Steven Kryger
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