“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”
– St. Jerome
We all know that the reading of the Bible is as essential to our Spiritual growth as food is to our physical growth. So why then do we so often neglect the Scriptures going days without opening it and sometimes even weeks? In the quest to answer this question, I sent an SMS to twenty of my friends asking them what they thought the three top obstacles were to reading the Bible. I received twenty replies with three obstacles each which gave me a list of sixty obstacles. After analysing all the responses, I realised that they all boiled down to one of four categories. I would like to share with you these four obstacles and offer some thoughts as to how to overcome these hurdles.
The first and most common obstacle was Laziness in some form or other: “I’m just too lazy to read the Bible” a comment on nearly every response. In fact, Laziness is simply the disinclination to perform an activity despite having the ability to do so. Hence, I believe that laziness is a choice. We choose to be lazy in certain areas of our life. For some people, they are very motivated about their careers but lazy when it comes to fitness. For others, they may spend all day in the gym, but are too lazy to work or study. However, being lazy in our spiritual life is not a choice we can afford to make. If you ask a monk how he spends his day, he will no doubt tell you about his spiritual rule. This rule may involve reciting all the psalms, reading the Bible, praying the whole Agpia and performing a large number of prostrations each day. While their spiritual rule maybe too intensive for us beginners, but it is the concept of a spiritual rule that is important for us. It is an agreed upon rule (with your confession father) that you follow each day without wavering. This should include a certain number of chapters to be read from the Bible and becomes part of your day and is never broken no matter what. Strangely, I learnt this lesson while I was on a holiday with a group of friends. One night we stayed up very late in the night and as we were about to go to sleep, one of my friends whom I was sharing a room with suggested we read the Bible together. As I was exhausted and it was really late, I sinfully suggested that we leave it till the following day. He told me that it is not right to go a day without reading the Bible. He then suggested that I can go to sleep but he will read the Bible out loud so that I could hear the word of God before sleeping. It is this type of dedication that we should have to the Scriptures and to our spiritual rule.
The second group of responses were all around the fact that life is too busy and there is just not enough time in the day. It is true that we all live very busy lives with many areas in our life demanding our time. Busy careers, family obligations, social gatherings, fitness sessions, Kids homework, weekend sports and Church services are just to name a few of the commitments that demand our time. That being said, It is still a cop out to use this is an excuse to not reading the Bible. Because Page 4 simply put, you can always make time for what you believe is important. So the issues is not a matter of time, but more so, a matter of priorities. If your spiritually is a priority in your life then finding time to read the Bible becomes a non-issue. So not having enough time, points us to a deeper problem of priorities.
The third category of responses was centered on the issue that they do not see the value in the Bible. It is very true because we so often read so many books both secular and spiritual but for some reason we tend to neglect the Bible. This does not make any sense for how can we see the value in other books but not in the inspired Word of our God? When Fr. Tadros Malaty was in Sydney not so long ago, I was given the privilege of driving him to one of his appointments. I was very excited that I would get a whole hour of un-interrupted discussion with him and I could ask him all the questions I wanted. When we got in the car I thought long and hard about a good question to ask him. I wanted the question to be an intelligent one, worthy of the person I was asking. I remembered that he really enjoys reading and writing so I thought of the perfect question to ask (well at least I thought it was perfect at the time): “Abouna, what’s your favorite book that you have read” I asked. Without a second to think, he responded “the Bible”. After taking a moment to swallow my pride due to the not so intelligent question, I realised how essential it is for the Bible to be the centre and core of our reading. It is the most life-transforming text you will ever read.
The final most common obstacle was the issue of being unable to understand the Bible and the feeling of not benefiting. There are a number of ways to help you understand what you are reading and benefit from the Bible. Some of us have the practice of just opening a random page in the Bible and reading a small passage. It is very difficult to understand the context of what you are reading with this approach. It is much better to read a book in sequence. Another common factor to not benefiting is that we tend to read the Bible just before we sleep when we are exhausted and the only thing stopping us from jumping in bed is the Bible. We will just rush it to tick the ‘I read the Bible’ box. When we give God our time, we should give Him the best of our time when we are freshest. It is also important to accompany our reading of Scripture with Orthodox commentaries which will help shed light on what we are reading. We have 2000 years of experiences from the Church fathers to help us understand the depth of the Words of God. The final area to help us benefit from reading Scripture is how we should approach reading and with which mind-set. What should be our intention as we read through sacred scripture? Very simply, reading should be approached as a lifetransforming exercise. St. Augustine used the metaphor of fire when encountering any spiritual text; “I was on fire as I read” he would say. If we read with the intension to be transformed, we will be transformed. If we read with the intention of ticking a box, then we will tick a box.
Satan will put in our way all sorts of hurdles to reading the Bible because he very well knows that “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (St. Jerome). But with our eyes focused on Jesus Christ, may we choose to not be lazy in our spiritual life, may we have this as a priority in our lives always making the time, may we learn to love and value the sweet words of God, and may we approach the scriptures to be transformed.