Don't let the devil's perfection be the enemy of Bible-reading progress
My wife was just telling me about about a Bible reading plan she has in an app on her phone. She was also telling me how it comes up with the particularly unhelpful, slightly hectoring, statement of how many days you happen to have missed.
You have missed 3-days. Eep! You have missed 10-days. Yikes! You have missed… just close that there.
The problem with this is that we tend to look at that and think we’ve blown it. What’s the point of maintaining a Bible-reading plan now? I’m just too far behind. Unless I maintain it perfectly, or keep it within an easily claw-backable amount, I may as well give up altogether.
Now, I’m not a Bible-reading plan zealot. In fact – and hold onto your hats my conservative Evangelical friends – but you’ll struggle to find a single command in the Bible that tells you to read your Bible. Dwell, meditate, conform yourself to, etc, yes. But read it? Actually, no.
Now, thinking about that for two-seconds offers its own fairly obvious reason. Most Christians, throughout most of Christian history, haven’t been able to read. If the Bible insisted we are all to read it, it inevitably forces large swathes of those who follow it into immediate sin.
In fact, I think it is a very clever trick of the Devil to have instilled an strong pharasaic legalism over reading your Bible. Not (just to be clear), if you can read (which if you’re reading this, is you), that I don’t think you ought to read your Bible. I mean, that is evidently a good and healthy thing to do. But we have managed to create a culture that nigh on insists on it when, as I already said, the Bible itself doesn’t. Which does beg questions about a lot of Evangelical insistence on regular quiet times (or, if you’re American, morning devotionals) and the view propagated by some that this alone is a measure of your spiritual temperature. I mean, it might be, but I wouldn’t want to draw a straight line from that in isolation to a lukewarm, saved as through fire, Christian.
So, why do I say this is a clever trick of the Devil? Surely the Devil doesn’t want you to read your Bible? That is quite true. He wants to keep you from the truth and so keeping you from your Bible is evidently not going to help that. But this sort of legalism is, indeed, a very effective way to do just that.
Just see how quickly it happens. I must start my reading plan. Day 1, check. Day 2, check. Day 3, forgot. Never mind, I’ll catch up tomorrow. Day 4, snowed under with the kids. Day 5, the app is now telling me I’m two days behind and, including today, that’s three to catch up. I’m not sure this is working. Close the app, close the Bible, call the whole thing off.
The solution to the conundrum – particularly if you find this problem with frequency regarding reading plans – is first to throw the reading plan in the bin. The second thing is to remind yourself that the Bible – the Lord himself – does not command you to read scripture. Yes, you will get to know him better as you read it, but he calls you to meditate on it and you can do that without necessarily forcing yourself to read a certain segment a day. Third, don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. If you pick up a plan, or decide to read the Bible on whatever schedule (or, without a schedule) don’t allow the Devil to convince you that having not done it every day is a reason, therefore, not to do it any day.
Hold these two truths together: (1) it cannot be a failure – as the Lord deems failure – to not have opened your Bible today because he doesn’t actually demand that you read the Bible every day. (2) Don’t buy into the Devil’s lie that because you haven’t read your Bible every day this week, month or year that the times you have read it haven’t done you good.
If you want to hear the Lord speak, we cannot avoid the Bible being involved. The Lord speaks through his Word. And for some folks, structures like daily quiet times and Bible-reading plans can be immensely helpful. If they work for you, have at it. But my plea is to not place more store on those things than the Bible itself does. The Bible calls us to mediate on it and be formed by it and, whilst we must know what it says to do that, at the same time that is not a command to read your Bible at set times every day.
But the Devil is so very clever and what sounds ostensibly like it can only be good (i.e. read your Bible lots) so quickly becomes a legalistic burden which, ironically, can have the very opposite effect of causing us to give up because – as Paul so often pointed out – the law does not bring life. Satan so quickly convinces us of the utmost importance of something good so that it becomes such a burden to us that we give up because we can’t do it properly.
Instead let us see reading the Bible as a good, something by which we can know Christ more and better. But let’s not see it as a law by which we live and die. After all, the Bible is not the object of our faith but Christ alone. Yes, we know him through scripture, but we can meditate on Him and the truths of the Bible without having necessarily read it that day (I trust that is what many Christians throughout history have done). And when we read it, don’t let perfection in not knowing Christ as well as we might like be the enemy of progress in knowing him better. That, dear friends, is what the Devil wants.