Bible reading has never come easy to me. While I have read hundreds of books in my lifetime and have cultivated a habit of daily reading time, it hasn’t always been the Bible that I am most interested in picking up. At various times in my life, I have been more committed than at others to Bible reading and for almost all of my life I have felt a certain level of guilt over this issue. I suspect I am not alone in feeling this way.
This week, a sweeping new study was released that was based on an extensive survey of Bible reading habits in America. The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis conducted the survey and released the 44 page report this week. Here are some of their findings:
· The four-centuries-old King James Version of the Bible is far from dead. Despite its archaic language and a market flooded with newer, more modern English translations, more than half of the individuals and two-fifths of the congregations surveyed still prefer the King James Bible.
- Of those surveyed, African Americans reported the highest levels of Bible engagement.
- Seventy percent of all blacks said they read the Bible outside of public worship services, compared to 44 percent for whites, 46 percent for Hispanics and 28 percent for all other races.
- Bible memorization is highest among black respondents, 69 percent, compared to 51 percent among white conservative Protestants and 31 percent among white moderate/liberal Protestants.
- Most of those people read at least monthly, and a substantial number — 9 percent of all Americans — read every day.
- Women were more likely to read than men; older people were more likely to read than younger; Southerners were more likely to read than those of any other region.
- The percentage of verse memorizers among Bible readers (48 percent) equates to roughly a fourth of the American population as a whole, or nearly 80 million people.
- Psalm 23 — which begins “The Lord is my shepherd” — was the most popular Biblical passage.
- Younger people, those with higher salaries and, most dramatically, those with more education among the respondents read the Bible on the Internet or an e-device at higher rates.
So what is my problem? Far too often, it seems like I approach the Bible with the idea that I have to figure things out. Why did this author write that? Why was this particular book written at all? What is the point of genealogies? Very quickly, I have reduced the Bible to a textbook for study and dissection and not the very word of God itself.
Lately, I have been wondering if I have gotten it all backwards, maybe the point of Bible reading is more about the God speaking to me through its pages than me figuring things out at all. I am certainly not advocating abandoning the concept of Bible Study, but simply that in my attempt to study it so much, it has become cold, dead and distant. The truth is that it is meant to be alive, relevant and transformative and I don’t see it that way often enough.
So here is what I am doing this year to allow God’s word to speak to me:
- Making regular times to read and listen to the text – nothing more.
- Reading from several translations to ensure that I really understand what I am reading.
- Reading whole sections that naturally go together like the gospels and the epistles.
- Asking God to speak to me through the words
- Highlighting and memorizing verses that are particularly meaningful
One more thing – While I enjoy reading the English Standard Version of the Bible, I really love the New Living Translation as well and often read the same passage from both. Later, I will take the time to read the Life Application notes as a help to understanding what I have read and how to apply it. These notes often remind me of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. In this case, it is I that too often needs someone to explain what I am reading.
This year, I am consciously taking more time to let God speak directly to me and trusting Him that His word will interpret itself in many cases. Somehow, spending time with God seems a lot more interesting that reading a text book.