How can I make reading the Bible a habit?

To hear God’s voice regularly, we might have to give something up.
How can I make reading the Bible a habit?

It can feel like work to read the Bible. Some of us wonder for what reward, but it's difficult to measure the slow, incremental change the Bible effects in the short-term. Our spiritual growth mirrors the development of a child. I rarely notice my own children growing. Their grandparents, however, who see them much more infrequently, are the first to remark on their changes. Similarly, we're too close to our own selves to appreciate the good work the living and active word of God does in us (Hebrews 4:12). But we're growing—even when we can't see it.

At 16, my life altered irreversibly at summer camp when I pledged everything to Jesus. When the preacher advised we all return home and read our Bibles every day for six months without fail, I did it. (According to recent research, this was more than enough time to develop a consistent habit.)

The months became years. The years became decades. Of course, there have been intermittent seasons of foregoing my morning Bible reading for sleep (I do have five children), but for the better part of my adult life, I've stuck with it. Not because I have to—but because I want to.

Research commissioned by the American Bible Society shows that only 15 percent of Americans read our Bibles daily. The oldest Americans and those living in the South do better than most. While more than 60 percent aspire to greater diligence, we all cite the same reason for our laxity: we're too busy.

Citing "busyness" as the reason for not attempting any daily Bible reading is, in the vernacular of my 12-year old son, "a dumb old" excuse. So why aren't we reading?

To state the obvious, we’re distracted by other, seemingly more urgent, reading in our clamorous world. In an article for the New York Times, "The Unending Anxiety of an ICYMI World," Teddy Wayne reminds us that a 24-hour news cycle buries us in "must read" links. Wayne asks, "Can you hear my whisper in these howling winds?"

His formulation reminded me of 1 Kings 19, where Elijah—exhausted after his victorious showdown with the prophets of Baal—is convinced he alone is left of the faithful. "Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord," God instructs him. Listen. At first, there's a strong wind. But God doesn't speak in the wind. And then there's an earthquake. But God doesn't speak in the earthquake. Next, there's a fire. But God doesn't speak in the fire. Finally, there's a holy hush. A whisper. This is the sound of the Living God.

God won't amplify his voice, and the Scriptures won't beg for our attention like breaking headlines. They don't vie for our company like social media, but they will speak—if we quiet ourselves to listen. For us to hear God’s voice, we have to turn down the volume of the media noise. This illustrates a crucial point about the nature of commitment and change. In order to do, we must leave undone.

In this way, every successful resolution is a renunciation. We are busy people. Never busier, perhaps. It isn't likely we'll successfully add the resolution to read the Bible to our daily madness without subtracting something else. If we want to stick with the Scriptures, something has to give. Will it be 15 of the 40 minutes most of us spend daily on Facebook? Could we spare time from the 4 ½ hours we're watching television every day? What trade-off are we willing to make to spend more regular time in the Scriptures?

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, understands the necessity of trade-offs, a concept our culture has long dreaded. "The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. . . . Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities."

Today, it's easy to live by the lie that we can do it all. But maybe the resolution to read the Scriptures would survive if we courageously acknowledged our limitations. We can't read the Bible, listen to Serial, catch up on the past five seasons of The Walking Dead, and keep our day jobs. It sounds straightforward, but it’s true: if reading the Bible became our priority, we would do it first. Then, with the time remaining, we would find room for what we can.

I anticipate some will raise the cry of legalism. After all, God loves us no matter how regularly we read the Scriptures or how regularly we fail. Thank God for the marvelous

grace that endures our inability to do the good we resolve to do. Reading God's Word does not earn his favor—that would make Christ’s sacrifice unnecessary. This habit that begins in ambivalent discipline, however, can grow into the desire of our hearts.

And besides, I can't imagine regretting having kept company with God.

Jen Pollock Michel is the author of Teach Us to Want, Christianity Today's 2015 Book of the Year, which is also produced as an original video series by RightNow Media. Her forthcoming book on the longing for home is expected in early 2017. Jen speaks on topics of practical theology. She belongs to Redbud Writers Guild and INK. You can find more at or follow Jen on Twitter @jenpmichel. This is adapted from an article that originally appeared on Her.meneutics.

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