This is the second part in a two-part post, listing 7 common obstacles to Bible study and some practical tips on how to overcome them. You can find the first post here.
Have you ever heard a runner say, “I just NEED to go for a run”? As someone who struggles with a regular exercise routine, this statement always made me skeptical. I would mentally judge them, thinking they were saying this just to sound good and for others to praise the intensity of their commitment. It seemed ridiculous to me that a person would feel like running was a necessity.
When I trained for a half marathon last fall, I was amazed at what my body was capable of doing. In the beginning I couldn’t even run one mile without stopping. But I pressed on, overcoming each obstacle in front of me, adding more distance to my runs each week, and eventually I was able to run 6 miles fairly easily. My ability to run increased and I also started to enjoy it.
The last three obstacles to Bible study are some of the most difficult to overcome, but if you can push yourself, stay committed to your goal, and keep moving forward, it will become easier over time. The discipline will become a source of great delight.
Obstacle #5: FEAR OF CONVICTION & APPLICATION
When you think about all of the commands in Scripture, and the standard that is set for us as followers of Christ, “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16), it can cause you to feel overwhelmed and quite frankly, it can terrify you. Our minds can wander down the path of what if’s: “what if I read something that convicts me and I have to do something about it?” “what if there’s so much there that I can’t keep up with all that God wants me to be and what he calls me to do?” “This feels impossible”. In our own strength it is impossible.
We need to remind ourselves that we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:17-18). We have been given the Holy Spirit who is alive within us, working and enabling us to live according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4-15).
God does have a standard for our lives, he desires our obedience, and he wants us to reflect his glory in all that we do. Because of this he has given us the means by which we are enabled to live for him. It’s not an impossible task through his strength (Colossians 1:29).
Practically, what can you do if you struggle with these fears?
Pray. Confess to God your pride, thinking that you could do this on your own. Ask him to give you a growing belief and confidence in his ability and power at work within you. Walk in complete dependence upon him as you strive to live in a manner pleasing to the Lord.
Get an accountability partner. Talk about what you’ve read with someone else. Tell them how it makes you feel, and even share your struggle to incorporate changes into your life. Allow someone you trust and respect to encourage you and sharpen you in your walk with the Lord.
Slowly take in what you’re learning. If you feel overwhelmed by a large list of things to change about yourself because of what you’ve read, just meditate on one thing. Allow the Word of God to penetrate your heart and don’t get bogged down with all of the ‘to-do’s’ you might find. 1 John 5:3 says, “But his commandments are not burdensome.” The verses leading up to this one speak about how abiding in God will result in obeying his commandments, and then he adds this phrase; maybe he knew we would feel overwhelmed. Our freedom in Christ liberates us to a life of obedience because we are kept by him and so we can then keep the eyes of our souls fixed on him through abiding in Christ.
Obstacle #6: ANGER/INDIFFERENCE TOWARD GOD
When life is not as I would like, the temptation is to retreat from God, try to take matters into my own hands, neglect reading my Bible–because it seems to not do me any good–, and forget to pray about my struggles. Out of a desire for control, understanding, or a different life, you erect walls around your heart, thinking that this will somehow stop the struggles. You run to lesser things hoping that the pleasures of this life will ease the pain. In reality, you’re placing a barrier from the One who will protect and comfort you in the midst of the struggles.
Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” and Proverbs 18:10 says “the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe.” If God is my refuge, my safe place, my strength and my help, why would I settle for anything less?
Just as we should read our Bible as an act of our will when we don’t see change taking place, we must choose to run to the God of all hope even if we feel anger or indifference toward him because of what he is allowing to happen in our lives.
After Mason was born, and diagnosed with Down syndrome, I struggled. The tears came often, the burdens and fears of my heart many, and I sometimes felt anger toward the Lord. I had to choose to run to him. During the months of this struggle, I read through the Psalms. Through reading the raw emotions of the psalmist, who poured his heart out to the Lord–and then reminded himself of the character of God–my own heart found strength. Not because the circumstances of my life changed but because I was reminded of the truth of a never-changing faithful God. I begged him to help me believe, and he answered my prayer. The same can happen for you.
Obstacle # 7: I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START
There are sixty six books in the Bible, approximately 40 authors, several different genres, some passages about the future that are hard to understand, R-rated stories, and a lot of detail about the Old Testament law that doesn’t seem pertinent to life as we know it.
Where do you start? Do you neglect the difficult and uncomfortable? Open your Bible and start reading whatever page shows up first? Search for something that speaks to your right-now life? Follow a systematic reading plan? Buy a devotional study and let someone else do the work for you?
The best place to begin is to choose a book of the Bible and read it start to finish. Then read it again. After you’ve read through it in its entirety a few times, slow down your pace and read a few verses each day, continuing to progress slowly through the entire book. Take notes, write down your questions, write out reflective prayers about what you’ve learned. Keep reading and studying that one book until you really know it, both in your mind and your heart.
The Bible covers a number of topics, but the overarching theme of Redemption is found in each book of the Bible. When you take the time to study one book, verse by verse, you see how it fits into the whole story of God’s Word and it deepens your understanding of who God is and what he has done–and will do–for man, through the life, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus.
By the time I was running an average of 15 miles every week last fall, I finally understood what runners meant about needing to run. Running had become a part of me. It wasn’t something I had to push through every time. My muscles had grown to be dependent upon that regular form of exercise and if I skipped a day in my training schedule, my body would begin to feel the need to run.
The same has happened in my spiritual life. Through years of consistently opening my Bible and prayerfully reading the truth of God’s Word, my soul has grown to be dependent on this time of studying the Truth. On my easiest days, during the most difficult circumstances of life, and all of the in-between moments, it’s been the truths that have been rooted and planted deep within my soul that keep me going. I have experienced Jesus through the pages of Scripture and it has transformed my life. My soul needs to keep studying God’s Word. The discipline has turned into delight.