As the saying goes, we are creatures of habit. We get set in certain patterns and often continue them unaware yet automatically, which frees our brain to think about actions, concerns, and ideas that require more thought and intention. As a believer, this can either work for us or against us when it comes to spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading.
If you’ve been a believer for very long, you’ve likely heard or wondered about the question, “How often should I read the Bible?” Scripture doesn’t speak to this—we’re never given explicit directions on methods, length of time, or frequency. Likely, part of the reason for the Bible’s lack of directives on this topic is that for most of history, people did not have access to their own Bibles like we do, and the common person was illiterate. The only time they could behold God’s Word was through the preaching of it on Sunday (or Saturday) morning.
In light of this, how do we approach this necessary spiritual discipline?
When Bible Reading Becomes Legalistic
For years I read my Bible every day to earn my keep as God’s adopted child. Good Christians read Scripture daily, was my adage. I wanted God to not just put up with me but to be pleased and delighted in me. I wanted a deeper relationship with God that my teachers and mentors always spoke about. So every morning I opened my Bible, took out my notebook, and studied. I believed on the days when I forgot to read my Bible or slept in and didn’t have time to read it, God would set up little interferences and difficulties to make my day that much harder as a “punishment” for my lack of discipline.
I judged others by the same standard. Only a truly devoted Christian would read their Bible every day for at least thirty minutes, if not more. To do any less meant you didn’t love God enough—and He probably wasn’t too pleased with you either.
This practice reeked of legalism. Yet Scripture is living and active, and God is a kind Father, so I still learned a lot during those years (and still reap good benefits from it). I spent months making lists of Bible verses on various topics, and still remember a lot of those verses today. In my high school and college years, I studied many of the epistles and unraveled much of their goodness.
Looking back though, I see how both a legalistic understanding of God’s love and OCD tendencies drove my discipline. It wasn’t healthy, and I needed better theology and counseling to help me work through that—even at my young elementary school age when I started.
At the age of nineteen, the gospel became clearer to me. Bit by bit, God reversed my legalistic theology and practices and gave me fuller confidence in his love and forgiveness. I began to understand that God’s love for me wasn’t based on my discipline, intentions, or behavior, but on Christ’s work on my behalf. I didn’t need to muster up my own righteousness because I wore Christ’s righteousness.
In learning this, I realized that I didn’t need to read my Bible every day. His primary ways of teaching me were through his ordained means of grace: Hearing the Word preached, baptism, and communion. And with proper counseling, I saw how my OCD tendencies were connected to my practice as well, and I learned to let them go.
When We Neglect Bible Reading
But as my pendulum swung from one far side, it swung too far to the other side as I removed Bible study from my daily life completely. I enjoyed my freedoms and feared being caught in slavery again, so I tossed the good out with the bad altogether.
Once again, because God is our good, patient, tender Father, He stayed with me here as well. He didn’t abandon me or make suffering come upon me as punishment. But as He does so well, He softened my heart again to the discipline of reading His Word and helped me learn a better way to come to Him: With a heart of dependence (knowledge and understanding come from Him, not my own hard work) and assurance (I am already loved before even opening my Bible).
Reading the Bible With Freedom
In this freedom, I come not because I must check certain boxes, fill a requirement, or ease any anxiety, but because I know the immense treasure waiting for me when I open the pages of His inspired and inerrant Word. I know the comforts and encouragements, the refreshment and the wisdom, the enlightening and the joy found in this book. I come because I want to learn more about my Savior, be prepared to give an answer, and know the truth when lies come against it.
It’s true that we don’t need to read God’s Word every day to keep us saved—all we need is faith in the gospel and God will bring us safely home to Him. But when we come to Scripture from a place of rest and security, out of gratitude and love for Him, we find the ultimate source of truth, beauty, goodness, and growth in holiness.