Reading the Bible feels like a chore to me

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: (This question is from a young female.) I love the Lord, but, I really find reading the Bible boring. I’m scared that I may not really be saved sometimes because I look at reading the bible as a chore. I want a true love for the Word but can’t deny that I feel like I’m faking it. Does this mean I don’t really love God and that I am not truly saved? 

Answer: Wow — what a question! You sound just like me! And this is funny because of our demographic differences (you are a younger woman and I am an older man). Yet I frequently experience the same things as you. So, to prove that we are kindred in these problems, let me share some of my issues that parallel yours.

First, although I work in Christian apologetics, reading the Bible often feels like a chore. Second, although I have been saved for 48 years, I only occasionally “feel” like it. Third, I do not always have a loving visceral feeling towards God and/or people. Fourth, I often wonder if my habit of “putting one foot in front of the other” to get through my godly chores is a measure of my faith… or is this an indication that I am faking a Christian life rather than living a true one.

How’s that… are we kindred?

Fortunately, there is help for people like us, and I would like to do two things today. First, I want to put you at ease about your salvation/Bible-reading. Second, I will suggest a few techniques to help you shed the feeling that Bible-reading is a chore. Let’s get at it.

Early in my Christian walk, I learned a truth that has served me for decades. And although it has more to do with the Scripture in particular, I use it broadly in life; it readily applies to our common problems. Consider the following.

We should understand our relation to the Scriptures through three words that begin with the letter F: fact, feeling and faith. However, one of these words does not belong in the group. Can you guess which one? Logically speaking, the word feeling is the odd-man-out. My faith stands on the facts in God’s word. The way I feel about the Bible… about people or God-and-the-universe — does not change the simple facts. Salvation comes through faith in the biblically-revealed Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Romans3:22). The only question that remains for any of us is, what have we done (John 1:12) about this man Jesus? Not, how do we feel about our subsequent lives?

So first, dear sister, let me put you at ease concerning your salvation. I believe that you are indeed saved. Why so? First, because you are so worried about it! In the mere 65 words of your question, you indicated this four times! (I’m scared, I feel that I’m faking it. Does this mean I don’t really love God? Does this mean that I am not truly saved?) You would not be so worried about this without the indwelling Holy Spirit — which is the Christian’s DNA (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 4:30).

Second, you’ve expressed 3 declarations of love for God. (I love the Lord. I want a true love for the Word. Does this mean I don’t really love God.) Your question contains the densely-packed diction of a saved woman — but one who has lost confidence in herself. Do not let Satan have that victory. Just as God does the saving, God does the keeping (Romans 8:38-39) — but he does this without relieving us of our humanity. Therefore, emotional variability should be expected in the Christian life, too.

If you feel that you are betraying God because you cannot muster-up-on-queue the mushy feelings that are generally assumed to be part of such a relationship, you have fallen into a trap. No human relationship — not even a relationship with God — is designed for a continual “high.” Let me use a personal example to illustrate this.

I’ve been married for 48 years, and I love my wife desperately. But the thing that best defines our relationship is that we rest in each other’s love... and this is not unlike sitting in a chair (and my wife will forgive me for using such a mundane analog for her love). I always benefit from the faithful support of my chair… but I rarely think about it. In like manner, my wife “holds me up” by her ubiquitous acts of love.

Now, I am indeed grateful for these; her ministrations are not lost on me. But the fact that I “take them for granted” behaviorally is a measure of their effectiveness, not a measure of my heart. How often do I express gratitude by tender affection? Only a small percent of the time. How often do I feel that the administrations which I perform for my family are a chore? Quite often. Could I do better? Yes! Does this mean that I am not married? No. Can I look forward to perfect relationships after I leave this world of sin? Yes — and Amen! Let us now try to look at this from my wife’s perspective.

Would my wife rather that my mind stayed on her continually… say, while I am driving — rather than giving the day its proper attention? No. She would rather that I be safe and productive during my daily administrations. But the fact that certain moments are mundane does not mean that I do not love her fully during those moments, and there is no difference between God and us. We must give our daily life its due, and we do this within a love relationship. But the emotional intensity of any such relationship will vary — this, by definition. So, spending some time in the emotional desert is normal; it is not necessarily a signal of trouble.

The imagery of God’s dealing with individuals evokes mountains, valleys… and plains. So, even in a relationship with a God who does not change (Malachi 3:6), emotional variation is normal. In my opinion, having peace with an emotional plain is an indication that you are able to “rest” in the good things that God has given you. And resting in good things (while not losing sight of their source) is the hallmark of a well-adjusted person… and especially of a well-adjusted Christian (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This is not to say that we should cease our efforts to grow more intimate with God (and such a desire is indicated by your question); this is to say that we are all somewhere on that journey — and that the terrain goes up, down… and sometimes straight ahead. But these are normal conditions for strangers and sojourners like us (1 Peter 2:11). Although I am glad that you are sensitive enough to be concerned about these issues, I recommend that you remain prayerfully patient with yourself and with God.

As for making Bible-reading less of a chore, try changing-it-up. I do not know which version of the Bible you use, but it might be helpful to read a version that is designed for readers, like the New Living Translation (NLT) or The Message. We need just a word of caution here.

A Christian should own as many versions of the Bible as he or she can afford. Except for the ones designed by the cults (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation), every English Bible is reliable, and together they testify to the inerrancy of the documents that underpin them. So, as long as you understand the emphasis and the characteristics of a particular translation and edition, you may find yourself “reading with new eyes” by using a different version for a while.

There is another issue that might apply to you, which typically applies to us who “work in the word” professionally (but also includes any persons who sincerely study God’s word as opposed to merely reading it). Since we are continually engaged in reading Bibles, commentaries, lexicons and the like for purposes of advancing our knowledge, it is easy to forget we must read God’s word to advance our spirits, too. This is quite a different process.

So, if you are a Christian who tends to study the Bible while reading (and I am one of these), try turning your brain switch from “study” to “devotional.” I can’t tell you exactly how I do this, but I try to get myself into an attitude to receive impressions rather than information… if this helps you at all.

Another suggestion is to find at least one other person with the same Bible reading “problem” as you and I have, and form an accountability group. Now, please note this well: this would not be a Bible study. So, people should not join this thinking that it is… and that this is how we study the Bible… because it’s not. All we are doing is reading God’s story for joy and impression, then sharing those impressions by way of accountability — but not with the attitude that these are the exegetical truths of the Scripture. Please understand that every Christian remains accountable to the Bible’s exegetical truths, but searching those out is the job of regular Bible study, Sunday-school, preaching, etc. It would not be the purpose of this exercise.

Additionally, I never approach a reading of the Scriptures without asking God to show me something. Even with this, my reading can still be a chore! But when it is, I know that I am being faithful. When it’s not (and there are some times where I am so engaged that I think my brain will explode), am I faithful then too? Sure. Just because the Scriptures are occasionally as entertaining as an action film does not change those moments of study from faithfulness to mere entertainment. But if I expected every session to be like that, I would be frequently disappointed.

As a final word, you said, “I want a true love for the Word” (emphasis mine) — and I believe you. Doesn’t that sound like something God would want for you, too? It surely does! In fact, there is nothing bad about that at all. Therefore, I trust that God will accomplish that in you and with you (Hebrews 11:6). But God’s work in our lives is rarely instantaneous; it is much more often a process… and processes involve time… and time involves patience. Just hang in with God during your dry times.

Remember, God chose a desert habitat for his own people. With that environment, the springs and the rain refreshed them. Contrast that with the flood… which people chose for themselves — and who were “refreshed-to-death” therein. In my opinion, the Bible’s desert imagery speaks to humanity’s essential pathos — and it is this very sorrow that informs our Christian joy. It will be better for you to ride-out a dry spell than to worry about it… but I do appreciate your examining yourself to see if you are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

God bless you, sister.

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