I constantly advocate for the average Christian to grow in Bible literacy. I talk about it a lot because a thorough knowledge of the Bible on the part of individual Christians will empower the church to engage our culture while remaining faithful to God. But as much as I encourage Christians to develop Bible literacy, I struggle with the process myself. Studying scripture is hard work, and we each have a multitude of obstacles that would keep us from succeeding. Today, I’ll share a few of the challenges I’ve run into.
Life gets in the way of our priorities so easily. Often times, I find my gas tank empty just keeping up with the demands of life and I fight to delve deep in God’s word. The constant siren call of entertainment or less important things frequently wins. When I sit down, my brain can fog over from tiredness (I do have a toddler) or distraction.
I also find myself distracted within the Bible itself. It’s a big book. One person can’t master everything scripture offers in a hundred lifetimes. So, when I set out to study a book or a topic, I have to discipline myself to follow through and not get pulled about by curiosity. In order to reach a depth of understanding, I know I need to spend weeks focused on one book or one set of questions. Again, this demands discipline, which I struggle with constantly.
On top of that, my personality is not meant to sit still for long periods of time. Take my entire school career as proof. My poor teachers! To this day, my ADHD has me frequently fighting to wrangle my brain into submission to read a single sentence. The deep work of studying, comprehending ideas and synthesizing it into knowledge feels like a miracle.
Can’t it be Easier?
I would love to be spoon fed Bible knowledge. Can’t I just have these things laid out for me in a book or sermon? Can’t I just let someone else with more time, more focus, more discipline, more intelligence, more training do this hard work and tell me what they learned? I receive of the most information in my life that way, so why can’t I just have a newsfeed of Bible knowledge? Wouldn’t that be easier?
Of course, it would be nice if I could learn the deep things of God as easily as I can zone out online. But that’s not how it works.
I read and listen to sermons frequently, so I value those things. However, the most fruitful lessons I’ve learned have not come from books or sermons. They’ve come from me investing the time and effort into knowing Scripture to the best of my ability and applying it to my life. Through these things, God has drawn me into communion with him to enjoy his presence.
The books and the sermons help the most after I’ve done the work to learn as much as I can. I learned this through experience when I studied a passage in Romans. My efforts were faltering and uncertain. I really didn’t know how to go about studying scripture. I just tried my best to keep noticing details and asking questions. When I done what I could to study the passage, I looked up what Calvin’s Commentaries had to say about it. Imagine my shock when my own conclusions stared back at me from the page. I had the same insights into scripture as John Calvin. Granted his were more developed and better stated than the notes I had made. But we had the same insights into the nature of God, conclusions, and applications.
In that moment, I realized that I could actually do this. It doesn’t take extraordinary intelligence or profound reading ability to know God through his word. What I learned from the commentary impacted me and my understanding of God so profoundly because I had done the work of digging for myself. And the other insights about the passage — the things I had not seen — were additional treasures that took me back to the scriptures looking for more.
Where to Start?
I’ve been taught to read my Bible regularly, but when I tried to start studying God’s word more closely, I quickly realized that I had no idea how to go about it. Ironically, I could pick up a novel to read it closely to write a paper analyzing the structure and themes. I could even do that in an all-nighter. Even though I purportedly considered the Bible the most important book in my life, I didn’t really know how to study it. Thankfully, the Lord has provided lots of opportunities to learn and practice.
From what I’ve seen most churches don’t equip people to study God’s word. As a result the average person in the pew can find it difficult to move beyond simply reading every day. Over the next two weeks, I’ll share some of the tips that have helped me grow in Bible literacy. I’ve found that the most important thing is to just keep trying. I struggle daily in pursing knowledge of God through his word, but I keep going because I know how good he has been to me to show me himself in my times of study. I encourage you to as well.