Article by Kendra Gerbrandt
I am often surprised that things which are good for me are hard. Getting stronger is great, but after 10 reps I feel like I might collapse. Playing beautiful music is so rewarding, but it can take years of intentional practicing to become proficient. Reading the Bible is life giving, so why do I struggle so much to find time to sit down and concentrate on it? It can be discouraging when we know that something is good for us, but that thing doesn’t come naturally or easy. If we aren’t prepared for the challenge of taking on that good thing, we can grow too discouraged to continue. Reading the Bible is legitimately hard, and I’ve given a non-exhaustive list below of eight reasons as to why. But if the Bible is truly life-giving, maybe we should read it anyway?
1. We are easily distracted
Our phones are always next to us, with flashing and noisy reminders every time anyone wants our attention. While I’ve been writing this, I’ve had five dings and one call, all of which have distracted me. Even though none of them were urgent, I responded immediately. The next notification is always right there to rip us away from the thing we want to be focusing on, including the pages of Scripture.
2. We don’t read a lot
Without a habit of reading many kinds of books on a regular basis, not only will our reading attention wane, but we will find it harder to comprehend what we read in Scripture. If we only have a palate to take in 34 characters of sound-bits, we will struggle to comprehend and follow the unfolding story of Scripture as we will be less skilled at evaluating literary features like plot, character, flow, context, tone, grammar, all which are necessary to understand and interpret what we read in the Bible.
3. It’s unfamiliar
The books of the Bible were written in a different language, at a different time in history, to a people of a different culture. It feels foreign and unfamiliar because it is. It’s not as intuitive for us to pick up the book of Haggai, as it would be for us to pick up The Lord of the Rings or scroll through a weather app. There are certain things that we have a natural understanding to read and understand. They are part of our culture, and we don’t even have to think to understand what they are communicating. Reading the Bible is different. It’s quite unfamiliar.
4. It’s too familiar
We know the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”. When it comes to reading the Bible this familiar feeling can tempt us to read on auto-pilot, with our minds turned off and our eyes glazed over. If we feel like we’ve “been there and read that” we can stop paying attention to the details as we read the Bible, stop reflecting on the gospel connection of every passage, and stop asking God to reveal himself to us in the familiar story of his majestic truth.
5. It seems hidden
The Bible records many things that happened in a time period that we struggle to relate to. There were wars, customs, laws, and sacrifices that all made sense to the people who lived at that time. But they seem so hidden from making sense to us on a first read. It can be hard to understand and hard to interpret some parts of the Bible without some understanding of the culture and context.
6. It doesn’t let you hide
God’s Word is living. It is active. It is sharp and it cuts those who expose themselves to it (Hebrews 4:12). God intends that His Word will teach, rebuke, correct and train people in righteous (2 Timothy 3:16). If you open the Bible genuinely wanting to hear from God and know him, you will not leave unchanged. Truth will be revealed and sin will be exposed, and there will be no place to hide. That isn’t an easy feeling.
7. We forget what it is
If we come to the Bible thinking it is a “book of inspiration” we will certainly struggle to read through it. Numbers. Joshua. Judges. Lamentations. Joel. There’s not a ton of obvious joy or inspiration in those books. But that’s ok, because the Bible was never intended to be my personal book of inspiration or happiness. It is a book that reveals God, who he is, and how he acts. It’s jolting to realize that the Bible is not a book that centers exclusively around me, but rather exclusively around God.
8. We are at war
Perhaps the most important and difficult reason reading the Bible is hard is because it is a spiritual activity that our enemy Satan does not want us to do. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul told the Church that, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The Bible reveals God to us, his character and his eternal promises. It teaches us about God’s plan of redemption, gives us assures us of the forgiveness of sins, the power of God to save, the strength of the Spirit to overcome sin. These things are all made known in the Bible, and they are all things that Satan does not want people to know or trust. He will do anything to keep us from reading the Bible, because that will keep us from growing in knowledge and trust of God. What an evil scheme, from an evil enemy, who wants us to drift away from God and be separated from him forever.
It’s hard, but read anyway!
I would love to say that I find reading the Bible really easy. But I don’t. Do I find it necessary, enjoyable, essential for my growth in God? YES! But I also find it hard. I make decisions every day to pick up the Word, to settle my heart, engage my mind, and to read. For a lot of my life, I never heard people acknowledge this challenge. There are other hard things Christians will acknowledge: fighting sin is hard, forgiving those who wrong us is hard, radical hospitality is hard. Reading the Bible is also hard, and it’s ok to admit that. What is not ok, is not to do it.
It is helpful to have realistic expectations when it comes to reading our Bible. If physio tells me that recovery of an injury will take 3 months, I’m ready for the work ahead of me. If no time frame is given, I guarantee I will tap out of my exercises after 3 days of not seeing any improvement. As people, we need realistic expectations so we don’t grow discouraged in a task, whether it be rehab or Bible reading. Saying reading the Bible is hard should not send us running away from this task, but should help us set our mind towards the goal, prepared to work for what is worthwhile.
Sometimes I think it sounds more spiritual to say that reading the Bible is a natural joy, that it just happens every day without me even thinking about it. In reality, it actually doesn’t matter if we find it easy or hard. What matters is if we read or don’t. The true spiritual work is hearing God’s voice by being in His Word.
So, it’s ok if it’s hard to pick up the Bible and settle your heart to read and respond to God’s Word. The question is, with acknowledging that it’s hard, will you read anyway?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily held by everyone at Christ City Church.