Even with brutal trials, agonizing strongholds and constant temptations pressing in on all sides, the number one spiritual frustration expressed by many Christians is a lack of motivation to spend time in God’s Word. And I get it. Because I’ve had an on again/off again love affair with the Bible for 25 years. But for the last 4 years, my time in the Word has been more consistent and deeper than it’s ever been. So I thought I’d share the four main obstacles in my life and how I’ve learned to move past them.
#1 Lack of Time
Probably the most obvious and often cited by us ALL is time; our busy lives just don’t afford adequate time for any kind of meaningful, deep communion with God through the study and meditation of His Word. We all know we should, but we just can’t seem to fit it in. A major shift occurred when one of my spiritual mentors suggested that I make a simple change in self-talk concerning things that are for my own growth and good. I made a slight change in wording from “I have to” to “I get to.” Rather than, “I really need to be reading my Bible,” I say, “I get to interact with the Creator God through the study of His Word!” With the subtle shift in wording, I am acknowledging and affirming that it is worth my time and effort to make decisions for my own good. Believe it or not, it’s made a huge difference for me!
Another helpful perspective is remembering that spending time in the Word will always cost us something. Whenever we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to everything else. If I believe it is worth it, I am willing to sacrifice the lesser things to gain the greater thing. Sounds a lot like maturity… When my Bible study time grows shorter and less frequent because I am feeling overwhelmed with my “to do” list and busy schedule, I ask myself the hard questions about where my time is really going. Do I spend any time at all on Facebook, Pinterest, watching television, reading other books/magazines, exercising, going to the movies, shopping, etc.? There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with any of these things unless I am doing them in place of spending time in the Word of God. If this is the case, those things are wrong for me until I make time to engage God through the Bible.
I had a serious addiction to television that began in my childhood. It was a means of escape for me. So four years ago, I completely gave it up and replaced it with time in the Word every single night. I have since been able to bring it back into my life in moderation. Substitutes for communion with God can be time on the computer, cleaning the house, working, fellowship with friends or family, even sleep. Whenever I begin to make excuses, I think of my friend with a special needs child who requires a great deal of attention. She gets up at 5:30am every single morning because she values God’s Word above all things!
The truth is that I am accountable for how I spend my time, so where am I investing it? I want to spend it investing in the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world. “For all flesh is like grass, and its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord abides forever” 1 Peter 1:24. I’m getting too old to waste my brief time here on this earth on that which will not last.
#2 Lack of Understanding
A second obstacle to spending consistent time reading/studying Scripture was my lack of understanding. So often, I just didn’t understand what I was reading and would give up in frustration! I found two things to be extremely helpful in getting over this major hurdle. First, I quit relying on my own intelligence to discern that which is from the mind of God. Instead, I started praying. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” James 1:5. “Give me understanding according to your Word” Psalm 119:169. Now, every single time I open up the Word of God, I ask His Spirit to give me eyes to see and ears to hear. I am consistently blown away by the treasures He shares from His Word that I completely missed before I started praying this prayer. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” Jeremiah 33:3.
Second, I didn’t give up, but I asked for help. “He who walks with the wise will be wise” Proverbs 13:2. I found women and resources to teach me how to study and understand the Bible. One of the most helpful was attending a local Precept Bible Study class. The median age in our class of 60+ women had to be at least 65 years of age. Talk about wisdom! These women showed me how to dig for truth in God’s Word like a hidden treasure and to apply it to my every day life.
#3 Lack of Community
This leads to one of the most critical components for me in maintaining consistent time in the Bible, and that is community. I’ve learned that I need connection to the body of Christ in order to stay connected to His Word. My friends and I constantly share what God is revealing to us and how He’s teaching us through particular stories and passages in Scripture. We motivate each other to keep seeking truth.
In addition, I stay involved a weekly women’s Bible study group. Because I NEED IT! During times of complacency, apathy, and depression, when I might not otherwise have any motivation to go to God’s Word, I’m in it because I have committed to show up to a discussion group that week. And without fail, I am encouraged and challenged by what God is teaching those around me. This community aspect in no way replaces my individual immersion in the Word, but it supports it in a powerful way.
#4 Lack of Intimacy
Over the last two and a half decades, I believe the biggest obstacle to God’s Word becoming my daily source was that I had an INTIMACY PROBLEM.
“There is a way of reading the Bible that seems to leave God far away, off in the shadows somewhere. It is all information and technicalities and knowledge, but it feels like you’re sitting with your back towards God. You come up against a difficulty or question, and you go to books you ask pastors, friends, strangers on the internet, anyone but Him. Gradually God gets smaller and dimmer.” –Unknown
That was so often how I felt when I read the Bible, like my back was towards Him. Engaging the Presence of God requires vulnerability, surrender and trust. I wasn’t really that great at those things in my human relationships, much less with a God that I couldn’t see, hear or touch. My own woundedness and pain created a wall. If I really engaged the Word, I would be engaging God and I would have to face my brokenness. I wanted to escape my pain, escape reality, not deal with any of it. A wise and highly skilled Christian counselor was instrumental in helping me open my wounded heart to the only One capable of healing it.
My renewed passion for God’s Word was birthed out of a place of deep pain in my life. Trials seem to be the one fail-proof way for most of us to move past obstacles and immerse ourselves in God’s Word. This time, however, God led me to people and resources that brought great healing. In addition, I was given tracks to run on that enabled me to develop consistent daily practices for the first time in my life. I transitioned from sporadic fits and spurts to a pretty consistent 5-8 hours per week in the Word of God.
Journaling was the jumping off point. It became a non-threatening way for me to begin a dialogue with God about His Word. I could simply read Scripture from a disconnected distance, but when I began to journal my thoughts and feelings about it and what I thought I heard God saying to me, I was drawn so much closer to His heart.
Next, the historical church exercise of Lectio Divina became a bridge to a passionate love of the Bible. (http://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2012/09/lectio-divina-divine-reading/) This practice taught me to quit going to God’s Word simply for knowledge, but to go God’s Word simply for God. It taught me to slow down, meditate, contemplate and LISTEN to the Spirit! It was awkward at first, but after a few times, I was hooked. I began to hear God’s still small voice and interact with Him, rather than just the words on a page.
From journaling and Lectio Divina, I transitioned to Precept Bible Study and even more in-depth contemplation of the Word of God. A mentor walked me through 9 months of St. Ignatius’ 19th Annotation. It was radical and life changing. You can read more about it at ignatianspirituality.com or in the book The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Exercises of St. Ignatius in Daily Life.
Through the prompting and power of the the Holy Spirit, I have moved past these obstacles to rely on His Word as my daily source of strength and hope. Jesus was VERY clear about the importance of Scripture in the lives of believers. “If you continue in my Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” John 8:31-32. I am so thankful for God’s Word. It is life because He is life. It is truth because He is truth. It is light because He is light. May we run toward the light of His Word, where we find healing and freedom. And most importantly, we find Him.