If you’re like a lot of Christians, you may find yourself feeling like you don’t read the Bible enough. Sometimes it just seems impossible to find time to read. There’s a solution to this: listening.
When I first became a Christian, I was a voracious reader of Scripture. I was only reading a couple books of the Bible, but I was reading them over and over. When I went to seminary, I encountered the Bible in many different ways. We studied Scripture in Greek and Hebrew, and there was a heavy emphasis in almost all of our course work.
Oddly enough, though, it was when I first entered into the pastorate that my time reading Scripture actually declined. Of course I was reading a little bit daily. I was also preaching on Scripture, and teaching on Scripture, and I was learning a lot doing so. But even in those daily pursuits, I didn’t feel like I was developing a larger understanding of the Bible.
Admittedly, I felt guilty about this. After all, I was pastor. If I didn’t feel like I was significantly advancing in my Biblical knowledge, how could I possibly expect anyone else in my congregation to do so via my leadership? The truth is, I didn’t know how to fix the situation. So I did the only thing that I could think to do: I prayed. And as is often the case with prayer, I didn’t receive an answer right away, and my frustration didn’t diminish.
The place where I continued to find the most frustration with my dilemma was during my daily commute. I remember sitting in the car in traffic, day after day, thinking if only I could be reading right now instead of listening to this terrible radio station. I continued to pray alongside my grumbling, and then, one day, it happened: God led me to the obvious answer. Listen.
The answer was listening. I had been so busy grumbling, complaining, and asking that I hadn’t taken time to just listen. And ironically enough, when I finally took the time to listen, the answer God gave me was the word, “listen.”
At first, I thought to myself, I am listening, Lord! But sometimes God says something and we take it the wrong way. God was giving me the answer to my problem. And the answer was that I was to listen, literally.
It just clicked. I have never been a huge fan of reading. I can do it, I’m decent at it, but I don’t love it. I love information and data, and books historically tend to be where a lot of that information resides.
But the Scriptures come from oral tradition, and they are meant to be heard. Coupling that with the reminder that God can use me just the way that I am, I realized that I was called to engage Scripture in a way other than just reading it. I was also called to hear it.
Think about all the times during your daily life that you could be listening to something while you’re doing something else: during your commute, sometimes at work, while you exercise, during your morning coffee, when you’re taking out the trash, folding laundry, even doing the dishes. There are so many moments in a day when our ears are free and our heart is longing, but our hands are just busy.
So, I followed through. I proceeded to download a spoken version of the Bible, and I began listening. I was amazed at how differently I encountered Scripture when I heard it spoken as opposed to when I read it. Parts of the Bible that I had never noticed before came alive.
What I have learned in listening to Scripture regularly is that I don’t have to catch every part of every story. I don’t have to understand everything at once. I just have let the words soak in, and over time, I start garnering the broader strokes of the narrative. Over time, more and more of the pieces that I had never sufficiently learned before have come to light.
This became freeing. What I hadn’t realized was that reading Scripture had become something of a burden to me. It had lost its joy for me because it had unfortunately become a routine task. Even worse, it had become another obligation.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be disciplined about reading Scripture; it just means that reading Scripture isn’t the only way to encounter the Gospel. Christians need to learn to not be so snobbish as to think that there is only one way of doing anything. God is bigger than what we can fathom.
The power of hearing the word of God spoken through different peoples’ voices refreshes our understanding as to why liturgy in worship is so important. It reminds us how inflection changes emphasis in a sentence. Hearing Scripture is also a helpful aid so that we might remember clearly that Scripture is both a communal and an individual encounter.
If you are struggling to read Scripture, maybe the Holy Spirit is just telling you that you need to encounter the Bible in a different way. There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s no need to feel guilty. Just get your headphones and, for the very first time, maybe hear a part of the Scriptures that you’ve never really encountered before.
Reality Changing Observations:
1. What do you find helpful or unhelpful about traditional methods of engaging Scripture?
2. How do you think reading or failing to read the Bible impacts your daily spiritual living?
3. What might be some other ways that one could engage the Scriptures to learn more about God?