I’ve always been amazed by Jesus’ response to Satan’s first temptation: “if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). I picture Jesus there, looking at the stones. His ribs are poking out, and his body is worn away after 40 days of fasting. But even in extreme hunger, Jesus prioritizes spiritual food above our physical food: “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
In other words, Jesus’ response is not simply a rejection of Satan’s offer, but a reorientation of his condition. I might expect Jesus to say, “man shall not disobey the Lord even when he dies of hunger.” Instead, he says, in effect, “even now, as my body wastes away, even here my deepest need is not bread but the Word of God.”
One of the issues that comes up most often frequently when I am discipling others in the church is the struggle to do daily Bible reading. And it doesn’t necessarily get easier for those of us who are in ministry or study the Bible in an academic context—in fact, I think many pastors face the temptation of their teaching ministry from the Bible to crowd out, or altogether replace, their own personal devotional reading of Scripture. But if Christ claims that daily Bible reading is more important to us than daily food, we can’t neglect our own nourishment, even while seeking to feed others.
As I have tried to help guys struggling in this area, and also remain vigilant and creative and fresh in my own Bible intake, I’ve come up with a couple basic ideas that some have found helpful.
1) Plan a regular time and place into your daily schedule
I have found that amid the pace of life, Bible reading (like so many other things) tends to eclipsed unless it is structured into our daily schedule. I used to try to do it first thing when I wake up, but there is a glaring problem with this strategy: I drink coffee. This means that my brain is not at its best when I first wake up. Also, having kids who wake up at different times makes my morning routine less predictable. So I have switched to taking the first few minutes when I first walk into my office. I wait to turn on the computer, and I close the door. If I know there will be a lot of people wanting to talk, I go to the park or a quiet spot in the sanctuary.
Some people have personalities or schedules (or both) that are not conducive to daily time sitting down and reading. So one piece of advice I have given to people in this circumstance is to get the Bible on audio on your iPhone, and then listen to it on your drive to work, or when you go to the gym. But one way or another, it really helps to have a set time each day that is set apart for it. This helps ensure it will actually happen, and also creates a sense of rhythm and regularity to it.
2) Do it with someone else
I don’t mean actually reading the Bible with someone else in the room with you (though that can work, too). I mean have someone else who is on the same schedule as you, and whom you see somewhat regularly in the course of life so you can check in about how it is going, and what you are learning.
Over the past several years, when younger guys confess that they struggle with doing “quiet times” regularly, I have started to plan out my own devotional schedules and then going through it with them. It has been an awesome experience: not only does it provide some built-in accountability, but it also gives the opportunity to dialogue and engage about what you are learning. It is much more motivating to read carefully when you know you are going to have a conversation with someone about what you are reading, and it is also opens up doors to see new things in the text you never would have seen on your own.
I have started doing devotions guides for our church, organized around our sermon schedule, to widen out this experience to the entire church. It is really helpful when many different people are engaging with the same biblical texts and topics: it generates a lot of synergy and conversation.