Tim Alford is alarmed at how few Christians read their Bible regularly and urges us to make it a priority in our routine
In rural Wales, in the eighteenth century, lived a young girl by the name of Mary Jones.
Mary became a Christian when she was eight years old, but due to her socio-economic status her family were unable to purchase a Bible for her, and the nearest accessible copy was in a farm house, two miles away. This was problematic, given that Mary did not own a pair of shoes.
And yet, Mary longed for the Word of God. And so, desperate for a Bible that she could read daily, Mary worked as hard as she could, saving up what little she could earn, until she could finally purchase a Bible of her own.
Then one morning, some six years later, having finally saved enough money, Mary Jones - now 15 years old - set off from home and walked 25 miles, barefoot, so that she could at last hold her very own copy of the Bible in her hand.
And as Mary opened the precious pages of Scripture for which she had worked so long and hard, she would have read words like those of the apostle Paul: ‘All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
One can only imagine the resonance in Mary’s heart, as she read words like these from the book of Hebrews; ‘For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12).
Somehow, Mary intuitively knew what so many of us are too quick to forget; that for the Jesus-follower, the Bible is our final authority; that for the Christian, the Scripture is the primary way that God reveals himself to us and the first and most reliable way in which he speaks to us. Each word of Scripture is the very Word of God, spoken to us, and it is precious.
Hold onto that thought (and onto your hats) then, whilst I tell you that, in a recent global survey of more than 8,000 young people published by One Hope, a staggering 40% of self-identified Christian teens say they never read the Bible. Never. And only 11% read Scripture daily.
What, I wonder, would 15-year-old Mary Jones have made of that?
We’re talking here about the Bible; the revealed Word of God; our plumb-line, our gold standard, our magnetic north. For followers of Jesus, the Bible is how we shape our worldview, how we hear voice of God, and is the primary means through which the Lord reveals his nature and his purposes to us. It is God-breathed, sharper than a double-edged sword, the unchanging truth for all generations… and only 11% of “Christian” young people read it daily.
This is a huge problem, not least because when we underplay the centrality of Scripture in our lives, we undermine the authority of Scripture over our lives. And when we do that, we breed uncertainty and confusion; we raise disciples without a solid foundation upon which to build their faith, leading to a confused and fragile pseudo-Christianity which quickly disintegrates under any kind of challenge or pressure.
I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous challenge: “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”
But when we treat the Scripture as “nothing more than a piece of literature,” instead of the revealed Word of God, Christianity becomes nothing more than another take-it-or-leave-it option on the infinite menu of our post-truth culture; a culture in which everyone gets to determine their own truth, and where each of our “truths” should be treated as equally valid, even if they are entirely contradictory. This is a premise which, though logically nonsensical, is swallowed up so broadly and uncritically in the world, that it is now, to our great detriment, seeping its way into the Church, and into the younger generations in particular.
We are raising a generation with a sort-of Christianity that basically looks like secularism with a sprinkling of Jesus added when it meets their needs. But I am convinced that the way we will reach this generation is not be acquiescing to cultural trends in order to be accepted by the world, but by calling them to embrace a compelling and radically alternative Way of life; a Way of life into which we are invited through the pages of the Holy Scriptures.
But, here’s the problem: Sometimes the Bible feels really hard to read. Sometimes it feels like really hard work. Sometimes, I try to read Scripture and find my mind wandering on to other things; what’s happening in the rest of my day or who Mikel Arteta is likely to select for Arsenal’s forthcoming fixture. (No? Just me?)
Sometimes I get into a rhythm of Bible reading that seems to be going well for a time, only to arrive at Leviticus and I wonder, ‘Why God, why?’, as I begin to feel like I’m trudging through mud.
Perhaps for you this whole topic of Bible reading comes laced with associated feelings of guilt. You know you probably should be reading your Bible regularly, but in truth, you don’t really open it until you have to prepare for your next youth Bible study.
If any of that resonates with you, let me assure you… you are not alone. It is hard. And our busy, often noisy, usually distracted lives do not make it any easier. But friends, if there was ever a message our young people need to hear from us (and see evidenced in our lives) today, it’s this: just because its hard doesn’t make it bad! Indeed, the easy thing and the right thing are very rarely the same thing.
Never is this reality more apparent than in the discipline of Bible reading. Because when we open the pages of the Bible, even when we’re not feeling it, we open our ears to the voice of God, we open our spirits to his renewing work in our lives, and we open our minds to be formed by truth rather than deformed by the aggressive narratives of our secular society.
Maybe you’ve been asking God to speak to you. Maybe you’re waiting on God to answer your prayers. Maybe you’re looking for guidance and direction from God, and you’re wondering ‘Why do I never hear from you God’. But maybe, just maybe, God is saying to you, ’I have already said so much to you that you haven’t even heard yet.’
God is waiting to speak to you, waiting to teach you, waiting to inspire you, waiting to give you guidance about your future, and perhaps, if you were to build your life around reading and obeying the Scripture, you could experience all of those things in your life as you hear from God through God-breathed words of Scripture.
There is an invitation from God over you today to a conversation with him that begins with opening the pages of your Bible.
With all this in mind then, the next two articles will outline some practical tools that you can take away and apply to your life, that will help you and your young people build a consistent, life-giving, Jesus-connecting rhythm of Bible reading. But before we get to those, there is one pre-requisite which we must have in place before we can start getting creative with our Bible reading…
The reason the spiritual disciplines are called ‘disciplines’ is because they are - you guessed it - disciplines. Likewise, the reason the spiritual practices are called ‘practices’ is because they require practice. And just like everything that requires practice, it will feel awkward and unnatural at first, but as we repeat it again and again it starts to become second-nature.
Thus the first rule of Bible reading is to read it! Not occasionally, not “organically,” not when the inspiration takes us, but as a deliberate, unmovable, planned and prioritised discipline.
I once heard Prayer Storm founder James Aladiran, say, “Spiritual maturity is the consistent application of elementary things, not the occasional application of spectacular things.” I couldn’t agree more. The things we do daily have a disproportionate and compound affect on our discipleship trajectory, for better and for worse. As leadership guru John Maxwell writes, “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”
This is where daily reading plans become really helpful. It is all too easy to become so overwhelmed by the myriad options of what we could read that we don’t read anything at all! So take away the pressure on yourself to work out where to read from each day by following a daily reading plan. The YouVersion Bible app has innumerable options, though I would recommend using these plans as a guide and reading from a physical Bible, which aids retention and helps avoid distraction.
The Lord has a whole load of stuff he wants to show you, say to you, teach you, reveal to you, encourage in you and change in you through is Word, but first… you’ve got to read it.
For more from Tim Alford on scripture, go here