When I first started reading the Bible regularly, I read in energetic bursts. I read because I felt I needed to. It seemed that every few verses, God was speaking to me. I would press my finger to the page, running it over a line of text, as if I could absorb it better that way. I was scared, so I memorized a psalm about God keeping me safe. I was lonely, so I lingered over Jesus’s intimate conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. I used the cross references to other passages to explore the connections between the Gospel of John and the Psalms, between Hebrews and Leviticus, between Isaiah and Revelation. I read the Bible at my kitchen table, and it unfolded like a beautiful map. I eagerly followed its themes and patterns from one passage to another. I was full of wonder at what I was reading.
For the first time, spending time in Scripture felt necessary. I looked forward to reading, excited to see what God would show me.
Delight in God’s Word
It’s been a long time since then. I now have days when I’m not excited to read the Bible. Though I have a routine of reading, my enthusiasm occasionally sputters. At times, studying the Bible in the morning feels like I am checking off an item on my to-do list, but not like a real conversation with God. Sometimes I read the Bible and don’t hear God speaking in a special way. It sounds like white noise, or like good advice, or information in an article.
I don’t want to read the Bible for good advice or for information. I want to hear God’s voice, even if I am not feeling desperate. In fact, sometimes I feel indifferent. I can’t rely on my feelings to motivate me to read God’s Word, or to ensure that I will learn something from it.
I’m learning that making the effort to show up, Bible in hand, cannot by itself lead to life-altering moments with God’s Word. It takes more than just opening the book. Instead, I need to be open and ready to hear God’s voice. I need to invite God to speak.
So I ask God for help.
Pray before you read
Whether you’re full of enthusiasm for God’s Word, or are wondering why you don’t get more out of reading the Bible, ask God to help you read. Here are three prayers that I say as I begin my Bible reading time. Try them and see if they are helpful.
“Open my eyes”
At one point in my reading, I came upon a person in the Bible whose feelings mirrored my own. In one of the most famous prayers in the Bible, David prays, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). That’s what I wanted! I wanted to see amazing things in the Bible—things that had direct bearing on my worries and my questions. I wanted my reading of Scripture to result in natural and spontaneous praise. In order to do that, I needed God to make me see. Now, before I open my Bible, I pray, “God, open my eyes.” Or, in another phrase from David’s prayer, “Teach me.” This is one of those prayers that I’m confident God will answer in the affirmative. As Jesus opened the physical eyes of the blind, so does God’s Spirit open “the eyes of our hearts” (Ephesians 1:18) teaching and speaking to us through Scripture.
“Incline my heart”
But even when I pray to understand what I’m reading, I can sabotage myself by becoming distracted. When I sit down with a cup of coffee and my Bible, pray, and begin reading, I suddenly remember all the other things I have to do that day. I think about the conversation I had with a co-worker yesterday. I worry that I’ll forget to reply to my sister. I recall that sweater sitting in my online shopping cart. These distractions are only the surface of the problem. At the root, my heart is pulling me in different directions because I want other things more than I want to learn from God. David had a prayer for that, too: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:36-37). I love the word incline. It’s more than merely turning. It speaks to orientation; our strongest desires would be to hear God’s words. And those words lead to life. When my heart is focused on God, and not myself, God gives me life in its fullness. God satisfies me. When I focus on God, I stop being worried. I stop thinking about what I lack. My problems and tasks appear small beside what God wants to tell me.
“Let me grasp”
What does God want to tell me? Is it worth going to the trouble of reading a book that’s often hard to understand? If all I see in the Bible is wise advice for living or tips on how to be happy with myself, I could just watch a feel-good daytime talk show. That’s why I pray a third prayer when I read the Bible: “Let me grasp how broad and how deep, how high and how long, is Christ’s love towards me” (Ephesians 3:18). Open my eyes, keep my heart focused … on this: The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). The thing that keeps me coming back to the Bible, working and praying through moments of distraction or confusion, is that I believe God has a message of love for me. Sometimes that’s hard to see, especially if a verse or passage isn’t directly saying that. But I’ve learned that God’s message of love permeates the Bible. It’s on every page. I need to see it, to focus on it, and to believe it.
Watch and see how God responds
As you try praying these prayers, watch and see how God answers you. As I added the discipline of praying before reading, regardless of how I felt, God answered by increasing my desire to read. Now I often fall asleep praying with David, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust” (Psalm 143:8a). You can hear God’s message of love for you. Just ask him.
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