Exercising regularly does not come easily to me. Growing up I was always involved in sports: soccer in the fall and spring, basketball in the winter, swim team in the summer. My life was a constant workout, at least it felt that way. But then I got older, had a job, became a Mom, and when organized sports were no longer in the picture neither was exercise. Any kind of regular workout routine was a chore. And I could come up with all the excuses in the world as to why I just couldn’t make this a priority in my life.
Last fall I decided to train for a half marathon. I wanted to finally get off all the baby weight and get in good shape so I could take better care of my family. Training for a long run seemed like the best way to motivate myself and find a regular rhythm of running. But let me tell you, I had some hurdles to overcome. Any time Bradley would offer to watch the kids so I could go for a run I would rattle off one of the lines that was playing in my head. From “It’s too hot” to “I need new shoes” to “I already took a shower today”, my excuses were many, the list of obstacles growing because I knew how hard it would be to get into this rhythm and the goal I had in mind felt unattainable.
I recently sent out a survey to my blog readers and asked them to answer the following question:
When it comes to reading and studying your Bible, what are the biggest obstacles for you to overcome?
The responses I received were not surprising, as all of them were ones that I’ve struggled with over the years. It requires effort and intention to make any discipline a regular part of our lives, and inevitably there will be some sort of obstacle standing in the way of accomplishing our goal in that particular thing.
Reading and studying God’s Word is no exception. If we believe that the Bible is the actual Word of God, then we know that it has significant value to our everyday lives. When we grasp the weight of this reality, we will make it our aim to overcome any obstacles that stand in our way of being able to rightly handle the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
This list of obstacles is not exhaustive, but it holds honest answers from people who desire to have a consistent rhythm of Bible reading and study, but are struggling to make that a priority. I hope this will be an encouragement to you, first of all, to know that you are not alone if you struggle with these things. And secondly, that these are hurdles that can be overcome. God has given us his Word, he wants us to delight in it and if this is his goal, we should make it ours as well.
Obstacle #1: TIME
We all have the same amount of time in a day. If we were to keep track of our time usage each day, there would most likely be chunks of time spent on superfluous things: social media browsing, Netflix binges, reading books, talking on the phone, etc. And these things aren’t necessarily wrong. But if they are replacing what is most important in life, or are being used as an avoidance of what we know should be done, we may need to make some changes.
As my own life has felt busier over the years, I’ve tried to be careful about saying “I don’t have time” to “I haven’t made the time.” Nine times out of ten it’s not a lack of minutes in my day that keeps me from something, it’s the choices that I make in the use of all those minutes. We have enough time; we just need to prioritize it well.
How do we do this? These three things will help.
- Order your days. Make it as detailed or as simple as you want, but having a general structure to your day will enable you to organize your time and be efficient with the use of it.
- Rearrange your schedule. I would much rather run in the morning so that I can shower, do my makeup and fix my hair for the day. Bradley’s work schedule doesn’t allow time for this, so a regular running routine means running in the evenings, being sweaty while I make dinner, showering after the kids are in bed and going to bed with wet hair (which meant having–what I considered–sub-par hair the next day). My schedule had to change in order for exercise to happen and a little sacrifice was made on my part, but it was worth it.
- Pray for discernment. I make a plan and I hope to stick to it, but things come up, temptations arise, and I’m constantly needing to reorient my heart to be in line with what the Lord wants for me in that moment. Sometimes it means saying no to a distraction or a ‘not-best-right-now-thing’; other times it means continuing on my course and sacrificing what I really want in order to do what is most important. The Lord will grant you the wisdom you ask for if you desire to honor him with your time.
Obstacle #2: INABILITY TO FOCUS
Your mind drifts to all that needs to be done, you look around and see a mess, the kids are loud, the worries of your heart are pressing, or you are just too tired to think coherently. I have found myself in all of these scenarios and it can be so frustrating. The following simple practices have helped.
Remove any external distractions. Sit in a place where you can’t see the mess or the unfinished project. Set your timer for 5 minutes and clean up as much as possible in the space where you want to sit and study. Turn on the TV for the kids in another room or, if it’s at all possible, read and study your Bible when they are sleeping.
Write down your inner distractions and pray. Almost every day, I begin my time of Bible reading by writing in a journal. I write out whatever is on my mind, basically a stream of consciousness. It’s not great writing and many times it’s not spiritual, but it clears my head. God knows the anxieties of our hearts and we would do well to spend time in conversation with him; this is just as important as studying God’s Word. It’s always a two-way conversation. Cast your cares on him and pray that he would enable your mind to focus and be transformed by whatever time you can spend in the Word. I talked a little bit about this toward the end of a Facebook Live video last week, which you can watch here.
Read one verse if you keep falling asleep. Read it over and over again allowing its truth to penetrate your heart. You’d be surprised at how powerful one simple thought, inspired by God, can shape your heart and mind. Write it on an index card or print it out to place somewhere you’ll see it on a regular basis. The Holy Spirit will bring the truth to your mind; you have to trust in the work he will do.
Obstacle #3: NOTHING IS HAPPENING IN MY HEART
Growing up my Mom would often use the phrase delayed gratification. She spoke of this in various areas of life, and I’ve grown to see how this is true for my walk with Christ as well. There are times when I feel like following God and I pursue him wholeheartedly. I’m eager to pray, read my Bible and I see the effects of his work in my heart in a tangible way. Then there are seasons when I can sense that my heart has grown somewhat cold, distant, or my faith seems dry. It’s in those times when I have to remind myself that this life in Christ is a decision that I’ve made, one that I will stick with no matter how I feel. I can walk in confidence knowing that growth will come, the passion and fire will return, but I might have to press in a little bit further and wait for it.
Seeds sit in the dark for a long time before they germinate, but that time in the dirt–pushed way down where nothing is visible–is not wasted. Life is there and eventually it will burst forth. Any kind of growth is a process; we need to embrace this process with our faith, believing that the Holy Spirit is doing his transforming work.
Obstacle #4: READING MY BIBLE FEELS LIKE A CHECKLIST ITEM
During my teenage years, our youth group had a program that incorporated Bible reading, Scripture memory, acts of service, and other areas of spiritual growth into our weekly gatherings. We were placed in small groups with a youth leader who would ask us each week if we had kept up with these daily practices. It was a checklist system, and there were incentives for being consistent. But you know what? I believe that this accountability and structure provided a framework for what is now a daily rhythm of my life.
At first, you might need to make Bible reading a checklist item. Our feelings are fleeting so we can’t always wait for them to change before we launch into something we believe is important. If I waited to feel like loving my children before doing things for them, a lot would be left undone. I make conscious decisions everyday in order to live a life of sacrifice for my family, and when the feelings aren’t the initial motivation, they eventually follow. The checklist mentality will be replaced with a feeling of necessity as we continue on, moving forward in consistent habit of Bible study.
The list of obstacles I kept rattling off as to why I couldn’t run was long, and eventually I had to overcome each one. I lived for months with hairdos that weren’t my favorite. My knees hurt and I made dinner most nights while wiping sweat from my face. Did I always feel like running? No! Did I feel better after after each completed run? Absolutely. I had to throw off the things that were standing in my way and move forward with diligence, effort, and discipline. But I did it. I eventually ran 13.1 miles without stopping and it was so worth it.
In the same way that I had to overcome these obstacles, pushing through the hurdles that stand in the way of your Bible reading will result in great delight. Investing in what we know to be important for our growth in Christ is so worth it.