Do I still have to read the Bible?

“How much should you read the Bible?” our pastor asked rhetorically. After explaining briefly, he concluded: “God is not mad at you for not reading the Bible. And no matter how much you read the Bible, God will not love you any more than he loves you right now.”

Which raises this imaginary question by a hypothetical church member:

When I started to follow Jesus, people told me I should read the Bible every day. But now I hear that spiritual growth is mainly about what God does. So here’s my question: do I still have to read the Bible?

Here’s what I think: Hollywood makes the motion pictures; do you still have to go to the cinema? Farmers milk the cows; do you still have to go to the supermarket?

In other words, if you want what the Bible offers, then you have to read it.

Another analogy: Imagine you’ve just joined a cross-country team. This is no ordinary team, though; the coach takes everybody who wants to join, and he isn’t very interested in winning any competitions. What he wants is for everybody to do as well as they can. So he provides an exercise program and a training schedule. If you don’t show up, he doesn’t get mad, though he will be disappointed.

Do you have to do the exercises? Do you have to go on the training runs? If you want to run well, then you do. But you don’t do it to avoid the coach’s wrath; you do it because you want the results.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, reading the Bible and thinking on what it says will help prepare our minds for whatever comes next. The Bible isn’t magical; it’s a book that will help us run a better race, as the Apostle Paul says.

So, how much and how often should I read it? That depends on how much I want my thoughts to match it. I don’t think everybody needs to read it half an hour a day, but if you close the Bible after church on Sunday and don’t open it ’til the next church meeting the following week, and that happens week after week, you’re probably not getting quite enough of it.

Something else: a web search on the phrase “sacred pathways” will lead to a self-assessment quiz and survey materials that describe various ways of approaching God — because different people will prefer different ways of meeting God. Some sense God’s presence by being outdoors; some meet God in reading the Scriptures and other books; and so on.

But even if the Scriptures aren’t the way you prefer to meet God, some regular input from them is needed to help us stay on track. “How can a young man keep his way pure?” asks the psalmist. “By keeping according to thy word.” He then continues, “Do not let me wander from thy commandments. Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:9-11 New American Standard; NIV here) And Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish….” (John 15:7) and “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35) and he prays in John 17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Read and re-read it to grow, to know God better, to run a better race. Don’t read it just because you think you “have to” or because some pastor or blogger or anyone else tells you to; read it for yourself, read it to know how God thinks.

Yes, it’s easy to start reading the Bible for the wrong reasons; indeed, any spiritual practice can become unspiritual, a burden. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is willing and available to help us live abundantly, every hour of every day. As the Lord himself said, “Come to me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). And we can be sure that the Spirit of the Lord wants to help us to do the will of the Lord.

Let us seek him earnestly, early and often, and listen carefully to the life-giving words of his Spirit.

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