In Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris recounts the story of a South Dakota rancher and his bride who received an expensive Bible as a wedding gift from his grandfather. They wrote a thank-you note and stowed the Bible away on a closet shelf.
As time passed, the grandfather repeatedly asked the couple how they liked the Bible. The rancher was confused as to how to respond. Hadn't he already expressed his appreciation? But the grandfather persisted. Eventually, the young man dug out the gift. As he leafed through it, $20 bills fluttered out, 66 in all—one at the beginning of Genesis and in each succeeding book.
While the rancher had left a monetary treasure waiting to be discovered, he had also left something even more valuable untouched between those pages: spiritual riches. All because he had not opened the Book.
In American homes the Bible has taken on the status of an icon with little practical value. When asked, "What book has most influenced your life?" in a recent Library of Congress survey, respondents awarded the Bible the top position. But only 34 percent of American Christians read God's Word on their own during the week, and of that group, only 13 percent claim to read it daily.
"Americans revere the Bible," says pollster George Gallup, Jr., "but, by and large, they don't read it."
Reading the Bible is not illegal here as it is in Laos. It won't lead to fines and imprisonment as it might in Vietnam. It doesn't cost a week's wages to obtain a copy as it does in the Philippines.
While we do not battle external obstacles to reading the Bible—such as laws or financial restrictions—we face internal barriers every day.
Perhaps you rank among the majority of Americans who do not read the Bible regularly. You've considered it, been exhorted to try it, and even attempted it a few times, yet you can't seem to make it a habit. What can you do?
If we truly believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and that it instructs us in righteous living and equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17), then we should be eager to delve deep into it pages. Unfortunately, even though we understand intellectually that reading the Bible will help us grow spiritually, we can't quite seem to get around those internal obstacles. Here are seven excuses that prevent us from cracking the Book—and how to overcome them.
1. "I don't have time to read."
But we do have time—if we read in spurts. Unleashing Connection reports that in one year, the average American reads 3,000 forms or notices, 100 newspapers, and 36 magazines—but only three books. These trends suggest why the USA Today format is so popular. We like to get our information in short doses that are easy to digest.
"Half the books of the Bible can be read in 10 to 45 minutes each, and many of them can be read in less than 20," says Nashville-based pastor and author Robert Morgan. "The entire Old and New Testaments can be read aloud slowly and with expression in less than 71 hours."
Read just one chapter of the Bible each day, and in a month you will have completed the book of Proverbs (31 chapters) once or the epistle of James (five chapters) six times.
2. "I don't know where to begin."
If starting "In the beginning" with Genesis seems too daunting, flip to the Psalms or Proverbs and start there. Or begin your journey in the New Testament with Matthew. You can also poll Bible-reading friends and ask them what their favorite book is—then try reading it. Or use a Bible with a built-in reading plan, such as The One-Year Bible (Tyndale House) or The Daily Bible (Harvest House). These devotional Bibles present Scripture in manageable portions and work through it in logical sequences.
3. "I just don't get it."
Many of us think of the Bible as a technical manual written in Christian-ese. But there are "biblical help" buttons a reader can push to get some quick guidance:
Translations. Choose an easy-to-read translation, like the New International Reader's Version (nirv; written at a third-grade level) or a paraphrase, like The New Living Translation (NLT) .
Reference tools. Invest in a few basic references, such as a Bible dictionary(an index of biblical-word definitions) a Bible atlas (a collection of maps of biblical lands), and a concordance (a biblical word locator) to bring clarity to the text.
4. "The Bible is so dull."
Not if you enjoy romance (Ruth), adventure (Jonah, Acts), or conflict (Judges). There are tales of conquest and war (Joshua), scandal and suspense (David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel), and deceit and corruption (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5).
God stocked his library with a variety of genres: narrative, letters, poetry, history, and prophecy. If you naturally gravitate to the biography section in a bookstore, start with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). If you love poetry, spend some time exploring Psalms or Song of Solomon.
5. "I don't see how the Bible applies to my life."
The Bible offers practical advice on issues we face every day: love (1 Corinthians 13 ), leadership (Nehe-miah), marital bliss (Song of Solomon), courage (Esther), and investments (Matthew 25). It has how-to articles (Proverbs 31) and time-management models (Matthew 13).
Get a topical Bible (a Bible arranged according to subject) and read every passage about an issue that challenges you. Take notes as you read. Become an expert on what the Scriptures say about that particular subject.
6. "I hear Bible readings in church every Sunday. Isn't that enough?"
"The Bible," says Billy Graham, "is the road map for life." When I examine a map, an expert like my pastor can show me the most effective route to take. But I become more familiar with how to navigate the road—life—when I read the map and follow it myself.
7. "The Bible makes me feel uncomfortable."
Many of us associate the Bible with negative experiences. Instead of examining Scripture on its own merits, we plop it onto a "discard pile" along with dry worship, hypocritical congregations, and insensitive Christians from our past. We'd rather label it and put it in a box than face up to what it might be telling us about ourselves.
But conviction is an important and necessary function of Scripture. "For the word of God is living and active," says the writer of Hebrews. "Sharper than any double-edged sword … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).
As we read the Bible we may find we have to face some hard truths about ourselves and our inner motives. Is that worthwhile? Said the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, "The life which is unexamined is not worth living."
Statistics say that 92 percent of all Americans have at least three Bibles in their homes. Perhaps like the South Dakota rancher, yours is secreted away in a closet. And like him, you don't suspect that there's a fortune hidden within its pages.
There's a priceless treasure within your reach right now. Get it off the shelf and read it today.
Reprinted from Signs of the Times (October 2002), 2002 Kathy Widenhouse.
Copyright 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Reader magazine.
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