I can easily name the most important lesson I ever learned about being a Christian. This advice has guided me for nearly 20 years as I’ve walked as a disciple of Christ. And it applies to every single believer.
The Most Important Lesson
My high school youth pastor, Dave, repeated a single, critical piece of knowledge to all of his adolescent charges. He said, “Read your Bible.” So simple, yet so transformative. Over the years I’ve done better at times and fallen far short for seasons. But I never doubted that reading the Bible was good, and I should strive to be in the word as much as possible.
The Shame and Grief of Bible Reading
But as human beings who incline toward perverted worship, we can make a positive spiritual discipline like reading the Bible into an idolatrous activity. The times when I wasn’t reading my Bible daily, for a specified period of time, and at a particular time of day were some of the worst moments of shame I’ve experienced. The voice in my head said, “If reading the Bible is so good, then why aren’t you doing it more? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you love God? Aren’t you a ‘serious’ Christian? Get it together!”
Shame has no place in a healthy discipline of reading the Bible. Don’t confuse shame with guilt. We should saturate ourselves Scripture, and when we realize that we’re failing to do so, we may experience what the Apostle Paul calls, “godly grief.” He says to the Corinthian believers, ” As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief…For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
We can and should experience godly grief when we don’t pay attention to God’s word as a regular devotion. But this grief should lead to repentance and “salvation without regret”. Godly grief brings the freedom of forgiveness and the strength to improve. Worldly grief leads to shame. It causes us to question our justification in the sight of God and pushes us into a spiral of despair.
How do you avoid shame when it comes to reading the Bible? It’s not by telling yourself that you shouldn’t feel shame. It’s not by gritting your teeth and trying harder. Victory in devotional Bible reading comes by the work of the Holy Spirit and by celebrating the omni-directional blessing of Bible reading.
The Upward Blessing of Bible Reading
Reading the Bible demonstrates your delight in God, and God delights in your delighting in Him. Psalm 111:2 says, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” God’s works are seen in nature, but most clearly in His word. The Bible tells us about God’s greatest works—His acts of creation, redemption through Jesus Christ, and the restoration of all good things in the new heavens and the new earth. Reading Scripture invites us to marvel at the singular grandeur of God. This is the upward blessing of Bible reading.
The Inward Blessing of Bible Reading
Reading the Bible brings the inward blessing of God’s character shining through you in ever increasing wattage. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The psalmist hordes God’s statutes in his inmost being so that he can live pleasingly in God’s sight. Jesus Christ himself prays to the Father about His disciples saying, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Scripture leads to the heart cleansing that pleases God. The inward blessing of Bible reading is becoming more Christ-like in thought, word, and deed.
The Outward Blessing of Bible Reading
Reading the Bible brings the outward blessing of being used by God for His kingdom-building work in the world. Paul says to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible leads to our sanctification. God uses His word to cleanse us internally so that we can be used by Him for good works. As a surgeon requires a clean scalpel for surgery, so God requires a pure-hearted believer to do His work. The inward blessing of Bible reading is being bathed in truth for God’s use.
The Blessing of the Holy Spirit
I mentioned above that getting past the shame of failing to read the Bible comes through celebrating the omni-directional blessing of Bible reading. But I also said that it comes by the work of the Holy Spirit. It would be easy to make celebrating these blessings into another “work” where we exert effort and God obligatorily pours down blessings. It doesn’t work like that.
Even though we have to exert every possible effort to devote ourselves to learning and living God’s word, the power resides in Him alone to change us. As we strive to experience the blessings of Bible reading, we also need to rest in the power of God’s Spirit working in us both to will and to work His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). The blessing of reading God’s word is discovering that we become who God wants us to be by trusting who He is first.