Each Christian, desiring to grow in knowledge of God and his Word, can go quickly and often to the Bible. Bibles are abundant. Nearly 90 percent of American families have a Bible in the house. In the United States, the average number of Bibles per household is 4.7.
And at the commencement of a new year, many will latch onto plans to be more diligent and driven in pursuit of the Word of God. (Or, in some cases, the goal is an ironic “less is more” approach.)
We know God’s word is “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12). It is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It “endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8). It is nourishing (Matthew 4:4), light-giving (Psalm 119:130), eternal, and eternally good (John 1:1).
So for the benefit of our souls and bodies, and for the glory of God and the proclamation of his name, let 2018 be a year of living in the Word.
And for all its abundant goodness—humbly accepting and delighting in the Word that has saving power (James 1:21)—let us be aware of the dangers that accompany the good endeavor to make a daily habit in the Word. Here are four potential traps, modeled after dangers proposed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who created the now famous RMM Bible reading plan a couple centuries ago.
1. The Formality of Habit
All routines can become stiff and lifeless. Reading the Bible is no different—not because the Word diminishes over time, but because we do. “The tendency of reading the Word by a fixed rule may, in some minds, be to create this skeleton religion,” wrote M’Cheyne. To be sure, there is such a thing as a good habit. Our eagerness may vary by days or seasons, but our willingness and deliberateness must not wain. We must not let our daily reading have a form of godliness, but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). Develop routine, but don’t let it become robotic, thoughtless. It would be better to genuinely, wisely, curiously read the Word once per week than to read it mindlessly, forgetfully once per day.
We are told not to boast in anything except Christ our Lord. That means we do not boast at reading his Word. What would we boast in anyway? It is not we who prove ourselves faithful due to our own righteousness, but God who is faithful to us, calling us back in every moment. It is a great victory to daily enter the wisdom and divine presence of God’s written and embodied Word; it is a result of Christ’s victory in us. Let’s not be complacent or self-congratulatory, but rather seek Truth and Life more and more.
3. Careless Reading
M’Cheyne says that “few tremble at the Word of God.” He is right. Reading the Word is not always reading the Word. The difference is in our posture, in our listening and seeking to understand. Do not approach the Bible like you approach your favorite novel. Let the Spirit counsel you in your reading of Scripture. For “the unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). If we come to the word carelessly, it will appear as foolishness. Instead, approach the Word with the mind of Christ, for your mind is being renewed daily and you are called to use it.
4. A Heavy Burden
Whether you devote two minutes or two hours to the Word each day, it may some days prove challenging. Time has a way of passing us by. Work and “life” have ways of keeping us from the better things. But the Word itself gives life, so why do we struggle to go to it? Committing to a Bible-reading plan may quickly seem like an over-commitment. We may grow disheartened. We may fall behind or feel we are not able to meditate, learn, or grow in our reading. M’Cheyne warns some “may find conscience dragging them through the appointed task without any relish of the heavenly food.” So what are we to do? Not give up, surely. Nor do we need to double-down. But pray, persist, and “throw aside the fetter, and feed at liberty in the sweet garden of God.”
May you be encouraged in your reading of the Word. Approach it wisely. Be wary of the earthly traps of spiritual disciplines so that you can guard against them and return daily, moment by moment, to the Word of Life.