Augustine was a troubled young man. He was brilliant, but lacked direction. He was gifted, but often found himself feeling miserable. He was passionate, but to a fault; he may have been especially dominated by lust.
His father was not a believer in Christ. Meanwhile, his mother Monica was a fervent disciple of Jesus who regularly prayed for her family. For much of his early adulthood, Augustine found himself caught somewhere in between. He was fascinated by many aspects of the Christian faith, but refused to leave his sin behind and serve God. He found Christian theology intellectually stimulating, but stubbornly resisted Christ’s Lordship over him.
But one day, as Augustine sat under a tree, weeping – a mental, emotional, and spiritual wreck – he heard the words “Take up and read. Take up and read.”
He figured the words came from a child in a nearby house, but he didn’t know for sure. He interpreted the words as a command from God, found his Bible, and read the first words he turned to:
“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:13-14)
Augustine records: “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”
I share this story simply to illustrate the power of God’s Word. Pastors like me, and Christians like us often nod our heads in agreement with this idea; it’s not exactly controversial or uncommon to hear those words uttered in a church building, or read them on a church website. We often say that we believe the Bible is “inspired”, “authoritative”, “infallible”, and “inerrant” – and rightfully so! We really do believe all these things, and believe that God’s Word has a unique, divine power to convict nonbelievers, equip believers, expose sin, heal wounds, comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable, challenge, inspire, and teach.
“Taking up and reading” the Bible is a wonderful practice. Its history is fascinating, its stories are just as interesting as any great novel, its wisdom for life has proven the test of time, and its artistry is stunning.
But more than anything, Christians love the Bible because it’s God’s primary way of graciously making himself known to us. It’s in the pages of the Bible – faithfully handed down to us from the Apostles themselves – that we find the glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, our hope in both this life, and the next. There’s a lot we can learn about God by looking at the world he has made; but we learn far more about God by reading his Word. As the psalmist says eloquently:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path…Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” (Psalm 119:105, 111)
So then – if Christians believe all this stuff – why don’t we “take up and read” it more?
There could be any number of answers to this question. Some might say its because we’re too busy. Some might say its words are inaccessible or irrelevant to modern readers. Some might simply say we’re lazy.
But rather than trying to diagnose the cause of our lack of Bible reading (though I do have theories of my own), I’d like to spend the rest of this post giving a few EXTREMELY practical suggestions about how to grow in our discipline of reading God’s Word.
- Buy a Bible you like. There are NUMEROUS Bibles out there – from the most basic traditional Bible, to the “Working, Mid-40’s, Suburban, Mostly Conservative But Still Occasionally Unpredictable Mom’s Devotional Bible” (I made that up – but there really are some overly specific Bibles out there). The main point is to find one you like. Get a Bible with big enough print to read easily, compact enough to pack in a purse, suitcase, or backpack, and of enough quality that you genuinely enjoy reading it (and it can take a beating). Whether its hardcover, softcover, single column or double column, cheap or expensive – find a Bible you like.
- Find a translation you can understand. Not all translations are created equal; some really are better than others in terms of accuracy and doctrinal soundness. But within those healthy boundaries, find a Bible translation that matches up with your reading ability. For example, while its wording is breathtakingly beautiful in some sections, I wouldn’t recommend a first time Bible reader pick up the King James version.
- Build in time. This goes for any discipline you want to pursue – whether it’s journaling, gardening, or exercising. You can start slow, reading for five minutes while you drink your coffee, eat lunch, or before bed. Keep your Bible somewhere you can see it (maybe even in a designated reading chair, or under your keys where you can’t miss it when you leave the house). If something matters to us, we will find ways to shape our schedules around it.
- Develop a plan. You may read one chapter a day, straight through one book. You may read some of the Old Testament, and some of the New. You may read one verse each day, chew on it, and memorize it. You may write notes in a separate journal, or highlight verses directly in your Bible. Do what works for you.
- Don’t go it alone. Ideally, God’s Word is not read in isolation (though private “quiet times” with Scripture are certainly useful). Find a group of fellow believers to read with. They may have more knowledge and experience than you do. They may have different perspectives than you have. They may notice things in the text that you wouldn’t have noticed. And of course, they can hold you accountable to the plan you formulated above. Reading with others can be incredibly enriching.
And finally, one not-so-“practical” suggestion: pray. Pray that God would give you a deeper desire to read Scripture. All the steps above will help; but none of them can replace a Spirit-driven yearning to know God better.
So if you’ve fallen by the wayside in your Bible reading, repent of taking this wonderful gift for granted, knowing that your sin is paid for by Christ; implement some of the steps above as needed; and pray that God would restore within you an earnest desire to “take up and read”. If you’ve never really read your Bible to begin with, take some of the steps listed above, get some guidance from a trusted, more experienced reader of Scripture, and pray the same prayer – that God would instill in you a hunger for his Word. As we read in the passage Jesus quoted in the wilderness as he was tempted by Satan:
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
If you’re stuck at home during this pandemic, looking for something to do – perhaps even trying your hand at baking bread – use some of that time to “take up and read” your Bible. You won’t be disappointed.