The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

When to Stop Reading the Bible

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For those of you who would really like to hear from God and have been told that reading the Bible is a guaranteed way to get Him to speak, what is the deal? No matter where you break open the Book, you find passages that are either dry as dust or very upsetting. And we don’t mean upsetting in the sense of edifying, helpful conviction. We mean beat-you-down condemnation that leaves you feeling insecure that God even likes you anymore. What does it mean when the Bible starts sounding like a microphone for demons? Does Satan actually talk through the Bible? He most certainly does.  We’ve been using verses to justify our rebellion as long as there have been verses available, and Satan has been equally busy with using the Bible to promote his own nasty agenda.

Satan hates us because God loves us.  If Satan could attack God directly, he would, but since that plan is sure to fail, picking on us is the next best thing. Once you cross the salvation line and he knows he can’t trap you in Hell, Satan goes to Plan B: keeping you spiritually stunted. Since confidence in God is essential to developing strong faith, it’s your confidence that he goes after. First he’ll try to get you to doubt that you’re really saved. There are plenty of juicy verses in the New Testament to help him accomplish that goal. At the same time, he’ll try to get you all messed up about the idea of serving God. How much of it is works and how much is faith? Should you be striving and stressing or trusting and resting? Again, there’s an arsenal of verses at his disposal which give contradictory advice. But keeping you confused about how you should approach God isn’t good enough. Satan also wants you to be insecure about who God is. Everyone says He’s love, but what about all those stories in the Old Testament where Him nailing people with His wrath? One false move, and the Divine hammer comes smashing down.

If you’re desperate to hear God’s Voice, Satan’s ready and waiting with his best God-impersonation act. Whatever passage your eye falls on, he is quick to twist it into some bit of harsh criticism that he tries to tell you is coming directly from the Holy Spirit. “If you love Me, you will obey My commands,” Jesus said, and since you’re clearly failing to obey all of His commands, you obviously don’t love Him very much. “Whoever disowns Me before others, I will disown before My Father in Heaven”—there’s one that never fails. After all, you disowned God when you avoided mentioning that you were a Christian the other day at work. So according to the Bible, you’re going to Hell. Aren’t you glad you’re doing those daily devotions?

There comes a point in the lives of certain Christians when the Bible needs to be set aside for a while. You know that it’s time to take a break when Satan is the only one talking through those sacred pages. In this world, nothing is sacred. By God’s own design, He allows Satan to use the Bible for his own nasty ends.  When you sit down to read it, God does not temporarily tape the devil’s mouth shut so you can have a focused moment. Why not? Because there’s a whole lot more to growing then studying the Bible and memorizing verses.

There’s a popular metaphor for Bible reading that gets put out by the Church. The two covers of the book are like God’s lips: if you want to hear God talk, you need to open His mouth for Him. Every time you do, it’s guaranteed that God will talk to you.  This is how we’re taught. This is a very irreverent metaphor which tries to reduce the Creator of all things to some puppet who we can manipulate at will.

A far better picture is that you’re sitting in a room with the Holy Spirit. He’s staring at you, and you’re staring at Him. You say, “Is there anything You’d like to say to me today, Lord?” He just stares at you. This is real life. This is what happens to us a lot because God is not like a radio which immediately broadcasts some sound as soon as we turn it on. If God is not in a talkative mood, nothing we do will force Him to say something, and that includes reading the Bible. Perhaps we read until we’re totally depressed, receive no word from God, then get in the shower and suddenly some helpful thought will appear that has nothing to do with what we were reading. Why does God so often refuse to speak on schedule? Because we need to learn how to adjust to His schedule instead of trying to squeeze Him into ours.

Just as God will not be told when to speak, He also won’t be limited in how He speaks. God’s Voice comes to us in many forms: as thoughts, through the mouths of other people, through a song on the radio, through something we read, through something we see–the list goes on and on. Certainly God speaks through Scriptures, but He never said He would only speak through Scriptures. If God sees that you’re an eager soul who’s wanting to know Him better, He’s going to want to teach you to recognize many different forms of His Voice. He is also going to teach you that He is the One you’re in a relationship with, not a Book.

If all the Bibles in the world were suddenly vaporized and your memory of Scripture was somehow erased, what would happen to you? Would you be in great spiritual danger, certain to go astray? No, you’d be like Noah and Adam and Abraham. They had no Bibles, yet somehow they managed to figure out who God was. How, without the aid of written Scriptures? Because they had God Himself. Let’s remember that God is the Source of any truth that we find in the Book. To say that we can’t know God without the Bible is ridiculous. Just as no human could be fully described in a book, the Bible doesn’t come anywhere close to being a comprehensive manual on God. The Bible is merely a teaching tool which God has given us much like a supplemental textbook in a college course. It’s great, but it’s not essential. God Himself is essential, and we must be careful never to put the Book above God in importance.

What about the argument that “the Holy Spirit can’t bring Scriptures to mind unless you take the time to memorize them?” This is more silly nonsense. The Holy Spirit is not some dunce who can’t come up with anything original to say, nor is He limited to only choosing thoughts from your personal memory banks. If He wants to quote some verse at you, He doesn’t need you to have read it first. So let’s lose this idea that we have to “help” God talk to us. What God wants from us is not assistance, but submission. When we sincerely desire to know God better, He will satisfy that desire in accordance with His own schedule.

Practicing trust in God is a critical part of growth. When you dare to set the Bible down and believe that God will find some other way of teaching you, you are practicing trust. When you recognize that God isn’t choosing to speak to you through the Bible at this point in your walk, you are learning important lessons about how to discern His leading and align with His will.

As Christians, we need to learn to stay in step with our Shepherd. When He goes to the left, we want to turn with Him, not keep going straight. Too often in the Church we teach Christians to keep reading their Bibles no matter what, and for some this leads to total burnout and discouragement because God takes a break from speaking through Scriptures and they don’t break with Him. Without the participation of the Holy Spirit, reading the Bible won’t do us any good. We need Him to illuminate the passages for us and show us how to properly interpret and apply them. It is critical that we become bold enough to set the Book down when He isn’t talking and reject all of these unfounded fears that we’ll somehow go astray.

Satan loves religious rituals. When we do something over and over again, it can easily become a mundane routine that loses all significance to us. There’s no point in plowing through fifteen minutes of Bible reading just so you can check it off your list of religious duties. When you keep running up against condemning verses that fill your mind with fear and doubt, it is all the more important that you set the Book aside and stop giving Satan such an easy opening. We are quick enough to recognize that we must run away from other sources of demonic attack, but we are very slow to recognize that the Bible can also become a window of opportunity for demons to beat us down. Focusing on the fact that God is a living, vibrant Being who is always right beside us and actively involved in our lives at all times will help us keep the Bible in perspective.

If we were hanging out with a friend, perhaps we’d ask “Do you want to watch a movie?” If they said “sure,” we’d set one up. If they said “not right now,” we wouldn’t. But what if they said “not right now” and we said, “Too bad, because I’m watching one anyway?” Should we be surprised if they then sit there looking rather bored until the movie ends? Likewise, when we insist on routine readings when the Holy Spirit is prompting us to skip it, we shouldn’t be surprised when He doesn’t say anything. When God is trying to teach us to follow Him, He’s not going to reward us for ignoring His promptings. Instead, He’s going to increase our motivation to pay closer attention to Him by letting demons attack us whenever we wander off course. Let’s be clear about motivation here: God loves us and is not out to beat us over the head. But if He knows that we want to hear Him better, we must understand that our desire for Him greatly pleases Him and He will respond to it. The tricky bit is learning to recognize when He is responding and understand what He wants from us.

When God stops talking to you through the Bible, put it back on the shelf and wait for Him to prompt you to read it again. When you try again, if it’s still nothing but negative, then set it aside a while longer. Don’t go around announcing that you’re not reading the Bible to other Christians or they’ll jump all over you with condemnation and fear because Satan does not want you to start getting confident in God’s leading. It’s far better for him if you stay guilt ridden and miserable, pining for God and hearing nothing but lies through those sacred pages.

Realize that God works in seasons. Sometimes He’ll get you so hungry for the Word that you just won’t be able to put it down and you’ll be underlining, highlighting, and scribbling notes in the margins. Other times, you’ll feel totally flat about it and leave it alone for days, months, or maybe even years. Don’t fall for the lie that if you’re not reading the Bible you must be spiritually stagnating. If you’re listening to God and desiring to grow, you never need to worry about getting stuck. The Holy Spirit is always talking to your soul, whether you’re aware of the conversation or not. So long as you are desiring to grow, God will make sure that you are. Many key insights creep over us very slowly and we don’t even notice we’re changing until suddenly we find a new area of confidence and peace appearing in our lives.

There is no better Teacher than the Holy Spirit, and He is dwelling inside of you 24/7. With Him at work inside of you, and your soul eager to learn, maturity is inevitable. As for the Bible—you’ll be surprised at how much He’ll use it when you’re not even reading it. He’ll bring stories to mind that you haven’t read in years and suddenly show you them from a whole new angle. He’ll bring up a verse that’s always bothered you and suddenly clarify it for you so that your theological struggle is peacefully resolved. You don’t need to have a thousand verses memorized in order for the Holy Spirit to use Scripture to teach you. Remember Who it is that’s teaching you: not a mere human who needs props and diagrams to get his point across, but an Almighty God who is holding every atom of your body in place. Have confidence that He wants you to know Him and He knows how to make Himself known to you. When He tells you to read, then read. When Satan steps up to the mic, set it aside. Remember that you do not depend on the Bible, you depend on God. “All of You is more than enough for me,” we like to sing in Church. Be one of the few Christians who dares to actually live out this glorious truth.

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