“You have to be reading the Bible every day. EVERY DAY. You must cultivate the discipline of being in God’s Word and spending quiet time with Him every day.”
“It isn’t enough to pray in your car on the way to work. You have to find the time every day to spend alone with God. He wants to be the most important thing in your life and you have to make that dedicated time for Him.”
“Set your alarm for a half hour earlier in the morning. You need to spend that time reading and praying so that you can start your day out right. If you don’t do this, you will not be prepared for what is going to come at you during the day.”
I have been hearing this kind of message throughout my life. If you are in the church world very long, you will hear it from the pulpit, from your Sunday School teacher, from the youth pastor, from you small group leader, from conference and seminar speakers and from your friends. I have been hearing more than normal lately, and have been feeling guilty because of it. I’ve also been wondering if that’s really what God intends for us.
When I was a teenager, I started getting the message of how important it is to read the Bible every day, read the whole Bible in a year, etc. I asked my parents for a One Year Bible for Christmas, and when I got it, I committed myself to doing it. The whole Bible in one year. I started out pretty well. Genesis and Exodus are interesting. Leviticus was hard because of all the tedious laws about the sacrifices, the different offerings, cleanness and uncleanness, etc. There was enough story in there, though, that I stuck with it and Numbers. I was getting bored, though. All the instructions regarding the building of the temple and ark and the curtains, and altars and tents, and clothes for the priests, and rings to hold up the curtains, and the job of each different priest and rituals for the sacrifices and what to do with the meat and the fat and the blood, and on and on and on. Soon I was a few days behind, then a few weeks, then I had stopped altogether. When I realized I had broken the commitment I had made (to God and my youth pastor and myself) the guilt set in. I tried really hard to catch up, but it was just too overwhelming and I ended up just giving up.
The next New Year, I made a resolution, again, to read my Bible every day. I did well for a couple of months. I was so proud of myself for developing the habit and being disciplined. But then school got harder and finals came and before I knew it, I had not been reading like I wanted for a few weeks. The habit I worked so hard to get into disappeared with no effort whatsoever. Once again, the guilt set in. Why couldn’t I do this? There must be something inherently wrong with me that makes me so undisciplined. God must be so disappointed in me. Other people can do this, why can’t I?
This cycle has repeated itself so many times in my life, that I have sort of accepted that I’m just never going to be able to live up to the standards that God has for his children in this area. I do keep trying, hoping that this time, God will help me and give me the strength to keep going, and finally be the Christian He expects me to be.
The last few months have been a bit of a dry spell for me, in terms of reading my Bible and doing my devotions. Here’s an example of why.
6:45 – Get up. Get the kids up. Get them going in getting ready for school. Get myself in the shower.
7:15 – Tell the kids they need to get dressed and make sure they have clothes picked out to wear. Get myself ready for work.
7:45 – Remind the kids that they still have to get dressed because today is a school day.
8:05 – Grab a couple of granola bars for the kids because they haven’t eaten breakfast yet, give the kids their backpacks and drag them out the door.
8:10 – Drop them off at school. Drive to work and pray that I’m not late.
8:28 – Arrive at work just in time. Begin the work day.
5:00 – Leave work and head home.
5:15-5:20 – Arrive home. Eat some dinner quickly.
5:35 – Start getting everyone ready to go to church for Celebrate Recovery tonight
5:50 – Leave for the church
6:05 – Arrive at the church and rehearse the worship for tonight’s meeting
7:00 – Lead worship for CR and attend the meetings
9:30 – Head home from church
9:45 – Make the kids get themselves ready for bed
10:00 – Get the kids in bed
Once I get the kids in bed, I have a little time to spend talking with my husband, maybe relax and watch an episode of something on tv, answer my email, or read a book and then get things ready for work in the morning and go to bed around midnight. Before bed is usually when I read my Bible. But, I’ve been taught that this isn’t the right way do to it. The “right way” is to do it in the morning. If only I was a morning person.
Every day isn’t like this, but Wednesday is similar. Thursday, too. If I were to get up a half an hour earlier, then I’m up at 5:45 and I’ve gotten only 5 to 5½ hours of sleep (assuming I fall asleep right away). According to the marriage classes I’ve taken, if I want my marriage to work, I should be praying and reading the Bible with my husband every day, so I need to make the time for that in my schedule. I also need to be doing devotions with my children every day or I am neglecting their spiritual development. So I’m failing on that account, too. And, I have to have my own, personal quiet time with God. Every day. I’m not saying it’s impossible; I’m sure there are people out there that know how to make this work. I just haven’t figured out how, and it is a great source of guilt in my life.
Recently, based on something I heard on Air1 (the Christian music radio station I listen to), I’ve been rethinking this whole thing. The DJ said something along the lines of this: “Your relationship with God should be a relationship. I don’t know about you, but I don’t talk to my friends every day. Not even my best friend. There are even days I don’t get to talk to my wife all day, because I’m out of town or something. That doesn’t mean I don’t love her or that she isn’t a priority in my life. If I go for a period of time without talking to a friend, I call him up and say, “Dude, I’ve missed you. What’s going on in your life.” It’s no big deal. They aren’t offended that I’ve been busy. Why do we think that things should be so different with God?”
I’m sure there are all kinds of theological answers as to why “things should be so different with God”. I’ve been mulling this over, though, during the past few weeks. Christians haven’t always had the Bible that they could own for themselves and have the luxury of reading every day. Until the invention of the printing press, even the ministers didn’t have copies of the Bible to preach from. First century Christians only had the copies of the letters that later became the Bible that they passed around between themselves. Generations of Christians lived and ministered and spread the gospel without a Bible. Were they less saved than we are? Were they less sanctified? Did they have less power in their daily lives because they didn’t have a Bible to read on their own, every day; if they could read at all?
I’m not trying to downplay the importance of the Bible or reading it on our own. I absolutely believe in the value of reading the Bible. I feel blessed to live in a country where they are easy to come by and I own several different versions. I have read the whole thing. (Just not in the space of one year.) However, I don’t remember reading anywhere in its pages, “Thou shalt read thy Bible and spend 30 minutes praying every day”, though.
Here are a few verses I did find that are somewhat related to the subject.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give our ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. Deuteronomy 11:18-21
Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11
If there is something in the Bible about the need to be reading it and spending designated time alone with God, and you know where it is, please show me. Most of what I’m seeing, though, involves keeping our minds on the things of God.
I talk to God throughout the day with mental prayers about whatever comes up. I contemplate the things of God while I’m doing my job, caring for the kids or making dinner. I'm sort of inclined to think that maybe that's good enough for Him.
So, what do you think? Are we held to different standards because we do have the Bible? Do you think it’s ok to go a few days without reading it? Is it ok to use commuting time in the car as “quiet time with God”?
Do you think that God intends for us to feel this pressure to “be in the Word” every day or could this be a modern day – evangelical version of salvation by works? Since the enemy is soooo good at taking something wonderful and twisting it around to trip us up in any way he can, could this be something that he uses as a way to convince us that we will never be able to live up to God’s expectations and to keep us striving for something we can never attain and feeling downtrodden instead of resting in the grace of God?
Maybe it’s just something the enemy uses on me, because up until now, it has worked.
I would love to hear your perspective and comments on this subject.