Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1–2, ESV).
Let’s take an informal survey. Question: Who’s in favor of reading God’s Word?
Most of us would respond “absolutely.” Reading and studying the Bible on a regular basis is a widely accepted spiritual discipline, and most of us would agree that it’s good for our souls. Yet how easily we turn the freedoms offered by a discipline into guilt-ridden hypocrisy driven by legalism.
It’s like the earnest, young Christian who sets out on a quiet time campaign. He’s so motivated at first and feels such a sense of accomplishment as he checks off the days he reads. And then he falls behind on his pace. One day he oversleeps, or he’s sick, or he’s traveling, or . . . and before he knows it, he’s fallen so far behind that he has to do three or four “quiet times” a day in order to catch up. The joy and freedom of the spiritual discipline of reading God’s Word give way to guilt and a sense of being enslaved to a checklist.
Deep down, he might even suspect he’s missing the point. God never said, “Seven days you shall have a quiet time, and you shall not rest from it.” Relationships are regular and intimate, but they are not mechanical. A healthy pattern isn’t rigid. My wife likes to have a date night each week, but if we miss one, she doesn’t hate me. There’s much more at stake in my relationship with my wife and in my relationship with God than slavishly keeping a calendar. Regularity is an important factor but not the whole picture.
So if reading the Bible every single day without fail isn’t a realistic goal for everyone all the time, then what is a healthy goal? Based on my own experience, I’d propose that a person who averages five, solid times in God’s Word each week is growing in his/her faith, but that may look different for you during different seasons in your life. The Scriptures don’t lay out a definite schedule, so the patterns we make for ourselves need to serve the purpose of consistent time with God in His Word. If they become a threat or a discouraging weight, then they are not serving their purpose: to facilitate growing to love our heavenly Father more and more.
Ultimately, we want to saturate our minds with God’s Word so it can be increasingly true of us that our “delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law [we meditate] day and night.” The goal is saturation, meditation, immersion, growth, and ultimately love—not legalism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, compulsion, or guilt.
The disciplines of a sincere faith are not intended to be an intimidating obstacle between you and God but a way of deepening intimacy with the One who has called you His child and wants the best for you. And this Book is a gift from God to His children. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this Book.”
The first step in developing a discipline of personal Bible study is to pick it up. We don’t want to get lost in what others say about the Bible; we want to experience it for ourselves.
This post originally appeared on Dr. James MacDonald’s daily devotional Our Journey and was republished with permission.
James MacDonald (D. Min. Phoenix Seminary) is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, leads the church-planting ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship, teaches the practical application of God’s Word on the Walk in the Word radio and television programs, and is a gifted author and speaker. You can find out more about James and his ministries at WalkintheWord.org.