The Unexpected Delight of Listening to the Bible Using audio to get more time in God's Word July 2nd, 2018 Lydia Sheldon
The Unexpected Delight of Listening to the Bible
The Unexpected Delight of Listening to the Bible Using audio to get more time in God's Word July 2nd, 2018 Lydia Sheldon
Bible Engager’s Blog

I used to read my Bible every morning with a cup of coffee and a journal full of notes and prayers—a scene worthy of Instagram. That habit of consistent Bible study filled my heart with God’s voice.

But I’m not there right now. After a recent change in my schedule, I began struggling to find that kind of time to sit down and read the Bible. And I started to feel the effects: I complained more, I felt less hopeful, I wasn’t praying much. A subtle absence of joy characterized my thoughts and conversations.

I asked God to give me more time for his Word. That’s one of those prayers that I was sure would be answered with a ‘yes,’ so I kept looking around for how God would do it.

God’s provision didn’t fit my expectations for what daily Bible reading should look like. But I did start hearing God speak to me again … through a set of white earbuds.

Why Listen to the Bible?

I’m the first to admit that listening to an audio book isn’t the same experience as reading words on a page. But they’re the same words, the same message. And when it comes to the Bible, we want to hear the message any way we can.  

Tentatively, not convinced that I’d like experiencing the Bible this way, I started listening to Exodus while I walked to work in the mornings. I navigated through trash bins and traffic while I heard Moses approach Pharaoh and present his demands. God sent locusts and gave instructions for the Passover feast; I dodged a stroller and nodded to a crossing guard. Was I distracted? A bit. Were the instructions for building the tabernacle hard to keep track of? Yes. But I absorbed the narrative of the Israelites’ rescue much more quickly than I would have if I had been reading at my desk, checking notes, and pausing between chapters.

While listening to instructions for tabernacle furnishings and the detailed codes for social justice, I focused by asking myself: What can I learn about God’s character through this? As I heard the story unfold, I saw that God cares about beauty, that he values our worship, that he looks out for the marginalized. Listening to God’s truth made me hopeful, more contented as I started my day. My commute seemed to go by faster.

How to Listen to Scripture

You don’t have to have forty minutes of city walking to carve out time to listen to the Bible. You can do it while you make your dinner, while you’re driving, while you’re getting ready for bed. If you’re distracted, just listen to that section again. Or move on. If you want to hit pause and think about what you heard, do it.

We’re living in a good moment for audio Bibles. Here are a few options for you to consider:

  1. YouVersion’s Bible app is straightforward. It offers reading plans and highlighting options. You can read along as you listen, or do either option by itself.
  2. If you have kids, try Faith Comes By Hearing’s app. It’s a dramatized version. Moses’s and Pharaoh’s exchanges are heated; the sound of a horde of flies buzzing underscores the horror of the plagues.
  3. Biblica offers the NIV Bible read by actor Max McClean, whose deep resonant voice emphasizes the weightiness of Scripture.
  4. The new Dwell app is scheduled to be released this year (2018). The voices you’ll hear reading Scripture are those of ordinary people who love the Bible, enhanced by original music.

Listening Made Easy

Listening to the Bible through speakers or earbuds can’t replace the experience of studying it slowly with a paper and pen, distractions set aside. It’s not a substitute for reading Scripture out loud with someone else or in a small group. But I’ve found that God’s Word is abundant and life-giving, no matter how I’m receiving it.

For Bible users in America, the biggest barrier to reading is not having enough time. But beyond having more time or having the perfect journal and pens, we want to approach the Bible with the expectation that we’ll meet God there. Even when I’ve had the time, my thoroughness in study can become a performance I’m setting before the Lord, attempting to prove to him and to myself how righteous I am. But when I’m needy, thirsty for God to speak to me, then I’m excited to meet God in his Word any way I can, even if it’s not worthy of Instagram.  

My new way of engaging with the Bible didn’t fit my expectations. When I began listening to Scripture, I wasn’t sure that it would work—that I would learn about God and hear God’s voice. But I realized that whether I listen to Exodus through earbuds or study a passage with a commentary and notes at my desk, I can be drawn into God’s presence and guided with God’s Word. David writes that when he keeps his focus on God, then God is present with him (Psalm 16:8). “You make known to me the path of life,” David continues, “in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11 ESV). Like David, I noticed that my joy grew as I regularly listened to Scripture.

In John 15 (ESV) Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you,” and connects “abiding” to engaging with his Word (see verses 47). And, true to David’s experience, Jesus promises that abiding in him will bring us fullness of joy (verse 11). That’s what we’re listening for.

Read more posts about: Getting StartedReading the Bible

Lydia Sheldon
Lydia Sheldon

Lydia Sheldon served as a Scripture Engagement Writer at American Bible Society. She is a graduate of Gordon College (B.A.) and University of Pennsylvania (M.S.Ed.). Lydia has lived and worked in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Thailand, and Philadelphia. She loves the Adirondacks, George Eliot, and falafel.

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