Do you remember those church offering envelopes with the check-off boxes? One of them was “Daily Bible Reading.” My generation was encouraged to do it all, check all the boxes, and score 100% for the week. I remember some pastors who studied the reports and often included statistics in their sermons. Only 42% of you read your Bibles this week! I was a 100-percent guy almost every week. I did sometimes have problems with that box labeled “Contacts”; but I finally figured out that a guy couldn’t get through a week without some kind of “contact.” Of course, I knew that “contact” meant “evangelistic contact,” but, hey, a contact is a contact. Right?
That’s about as right as suggesting that looking at the pages of the Bible is Bible reading. Yet, some days are just so busy that the best one can do is a hurried glance, a fast read of the Bible. Better fast than not at all, right?
There really is more to Bible reading than reading. Reading it from cover to cover may be an accomplishment, but one wonders what has been accomplished. Did God really speak to you as you read through the begats? Was the list of laws from Leviticus deeply inspiring? How about the numbering in Numbers? Do you feel more spiritual having counted your way through?
I’ve read the Bible through—from cover to cover—more than once. I don’t think I’ll do that again. I’ve found a better way to read Scripture. I still read it almost every day, but I no longer beat myself up for missing a day or two.
My better way is to read more slowly, to savor the words I read, and to attempt to enter into dialog with those words and the Word behind them. Once in a while I will hang up on one passage, sometimes even one verse, for a whole week. Can one ever completely fathom the depths of the words of Psalm 139: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me . . . and are acquainted with all my ways”?
Productive Bible reading is not about how many verses or chapters we read per day. Productive Bible reading is the reading which brings us into the presence of the Living God and finds us daring to enter into dialog, a dialog in which honesty prevails and growth ensues. Bible reading done right becomes prayer. In rare and truly holy moments, Bible reading becomes the doorway to the mystical moment in which Jesus’ prayer (John 17) becomes true, at least for the moment: We become one with him and with God. When that happens, no one needs to tell us that Scripture “is breathed out by God. . . .”
Read your Bible, if not today, tomorrow; and when you read it, don’t rush. A good conversation always has some moments of silence.
Read more from Michael R. Duncan at his new blog.