If Quiet Time — ‘personal Bible reading’ — is working for you, that’s fabulous. Don’t give it up.
If it’s a constant struggle, there might be a bunch of reasons for that. But there comes a point when you can’t just pin it all on laziness. It might be time to rethink things — because Just Try Harder probably won’t get you anywhere. And I guess you’ve been doing that, anyway.
See, the silent, introspective thing is pretty demanding for some of us. Personal Bible reading is a pretty big ask when you’re just not wired for sitting still, keeping silent, or being on your own. I find it difficult — and I’m an introvert! It’s just. So. Freaking. Quiet.
If that’s you, well — why not try something? Just drop it. Stop trying it for the zillionth time. Give it up.
As I said before, this is not a cop out. I mean, it’s okay to use an approach that suits you — not because it’s the easiest thing, not because it’s what’s simplest, but because it’s the most fruitful. It’s one thing to be disciplined, but to blindly keep persisting with personal Bible reading as if it’s the be all and end all — maybe that’s just foolishness.
Let’s ask the question: since when is ‘personal Bible reading’ the ultimate way to engage with the Bible? Tamie and I often hear people berating themselves that they don’t read the Bible enough, even though they’re engaging with it regularly each week — in church services, in small groups and over coffee with friends. That’s the Quiet Time gene speaking! Reading in private is not the most spiritual, most effective, or most important way.
But, you say, isn’t my relationship with God the most important thing? Well, maybe. It depends what exactly we mean by that. We have a tendency to individualise that, to narrow that down to just me and God. Of course, ‘me and God’ can be a helpful dimension, and it appears in the Psalms for example (well, some of them).
But we need to pay attention to the other dimensions. Christian life is a community thing. The great biblical images of Christian identity are corporate and collective — images of togetherness — like family, body, and temple. When our evangelical heritage stresses, ‘Jesus is in my heart,’ the New Testament says, ‘We are in Christ.’ And the call of God on our lives is not just vertical but horizontal, not just upward but outward. For example, the Bible’s call to holy living is set in community — it usually has much more to do with how we treat one another than an individual’s inner struggle.
Of course, there’s a place for personal Bible reading — and the Church has a rich heritage of contemplative practice that goes way back before mass-produced Bibles appeared. But there is no good reason to expect private reading to be the most important way of accessing the Bible.
Reading the Bible with others is not just acceptable. It’s great. The Bible is a library of community documents crying out to be accessed in all sorts of social ways.
So let’s change the question: What would it look like if we actively treated the Bible as inseparable from community?
The Australian campaign Live light in 25 words is designed to stem the tide of Bible dropouts. But another Bible society is tackling the same problem from a different angle. Have a look:
As Community Bible Experience puts it, the Bible is not just a book. It’s a shared experience. There are a couple of important features tied up with this, which I’ll explore in the next couple of posts. But for now, notice the community focus: starting with groups rather than individuals. And of course, we don’t need a campaign or a program for that — just a change in mindset.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.