Lots of us struggle to concentrate when we read our Bibles. What can we do about it?
– sharpen your resolve. Do you believe this book is more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10)? Do you want to hear the voice of your good Shepherd (John 10:3)? Has God attached the promise of his blessing when you read any other book or website (Rev 1:3)?
– keep track of your progress. The Bible is a big book, and the goal has got to be to read the whole thing. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16). If we just treat the Bible like a lucky dip, and only ever flick to our favourite verses, we’re not really listening to our Shepherd. So, record what you have and haven’t read. You could write the date you finished a Bible book on the contents page. There are tons of Bible reading plans online; you can print one out and tick off when you’ve read a particular book. However, you do it, plan to work through the whole Bible.
– start small. Don’t be too ambitious. You don’t need to study the Bible for ages. If you think you’re going to be able to concentrate for 30 minutes on a Bible study when you’ve never done it before, it’s probably not realistic. If you focus for 5-minutes to start with, that’s great! Remember, the tortoise and the hare. Better to read 12 verses a day and work through the Bible in 7 years, than to monster through half the Old Testament in a month, and then quit. As it becomes more of a rhythm, you can get more ambitious.
– use a paper copy. If you’re not concentrating when you read your Bible, this is a no-brainer. Screens are good for skimming the surface of text, but not for scuba diving and getting below the surface. Screens also provide you with the immediate potential for distraction, which your brain’s circuitry will find hard to handle. Buy yourself a good quality copy of the Bible; it’s more valuable than what you’d spend on a home entertainment system, right?
– plan the place and time to read. Regular, focussed Bible reading won’t just happen. So, when and whereare you going to do this? Before breakfast? Before you take a shower? After your evening meal, after you’ve brushed your teeth at night? Where will you sit? Do you need to inform a spouse of this new plan? I’m currently reading my Bible first thing in the morning, at the kitchen table, after I’ve made a strong cup of coffee, before the children are up.
– remove distractions. Again this might sound obvious, but remove the things that are stopping you concentrate. Put your phone on silent, or leave it in another room. Switch off any screens, or music. Get somewhere quiet. I remember someone telling me they had to lock themselves in the toilet to read their Bible without their brother interrupting!
– use a highlighter, or a pen or pencil to underline verses that seem important. Don’t be afraid to “spoil” the pages of your Bible. It’s much better that your Bible gets battered as you get to know it, than it stays in pristine condition but unread. If you mark your Bible up, you’ll start to find your way around it much quicker; our memories have a significant visual component.
– get physically active. Concentration is a task of the mind, but God’s given us bodies too, and our bodies influence our concentration. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Be alert to the physical aspect of reading. It might help to read out loud (or in a whisper, under your breathe!). It could help to write out a particular verse from your reading, on a little card, and carry that with you during the day. Sitting rather than slouching is going to help.
– use others. Often, a lack of concentration is a result of just struggling to understand the meaning. Isaiah describes people finding the Bible like a “sealed book”, which they cannot read (Isa 29:11-12). There’s nothing more de-motivating than trying to read, but not understanding it (Acts 8:30-31)! But God hasn’t designed you to go off and master the Bible on your own without anybody else’s help. So, involve others. You can pick up a Bible commentary, and get the help of an experienced Christian author. You can make a note of confusing passages, and ask your friends at church what they think it means.
Listening to God’s voice isn’t easy, but the most valuable things in life rarely come easy (Prov 2:1-5). That copy of the Bible in your home is an unexplored diamond mine, which is calling for your exploration. When Christians start to get properly acquainted with their Bibles, exciting things happen!