We all have habits – things we do on a regular basis, some of which we do almost without thinking. Some habits are established by accident; we unconsciously do things repeatedly until they become regular patterns of behaviour. One example for me is pushing my glasses up my nose. What started as simply managing a new pair of glasses which kept slipping down morphed over time into a full Ronnie Corbett impression without me realising.
Other habits are set on purpose. We make a decision to change an element of our life, and commit to that change on a regular basis. I have several friends who decided they wanted to get fitter and lose weight, so they established the habit of running. The fact that I can't climb the stairs without getting out of breath is enough proof that I haven't joined in with this.
Accidental habits are easily set and difficult to break. Intentional habits take real discipline to establish, and are easily broken. However, the reward of intentional habits is well worth the effort of attaining them. The Christian life is full of such habits. We call them 'spiritual disciplines.' If you're unfamiliar with the term, some examples of spiritual disciplines would be prayer, Bible reading and fasting. There are, of course, more to be discovered.
Growing up in church, I was very aware that there were things which I 'should be' doing. I should be praying; I should be reading my Bible... when it's put like that, it doesn't sound very exciting, does it? It raises the obvious question: why should I?
Over the years, I've come to understand that 'should be' is an unhelpful way of thinking about it.
In a recent elders meeting, one of our elders made a profound statement about people's approach to Bible reading. She was lamenting the fact that Bible reading is seen by so many Christians as a chore. She said, 'If someone saw eating that way, we would consider it a real problem. We don't say, "Oh no, I have to eat this delicious meal now."'
The metaphor of the Bible being food to us has its basis in the Bible itself. For example, when Jesus was tempted by Satan to turn a rock into some bread, he quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: 'People do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.'
Food is vital for our survival. Without it, we gradually weaken until we eventually die. By drawing a comparison between food and Bible reading, God is showing us just how important the Bible is for us. The Bible is to our spiritual life as food is to our physical life.
Food is also delicious. Think of the most delicious food you've ever had. I'm imagining hot wings from a certain chicken restaurant. We don't just eat to stay alive; we eat for enjoyment. If all of our food was dry and boring, it'd feel like a chore to eat it. Thankfully, it isn't! We have access to delicacies from all around the world, all of which can be sampled for our enjoyment.
The Bible is every bit as life-giving and nourishing to our souls as good food is to our bodies. Imagine if you thought about eating the same way you do about reading the Bible. Would you still eat three meals a day? Would you still snack in between meals? Would you prioritise eating over other activities?
Now flip it around. Try thinking about reading the Bible the same way you do about eating. What amount of time would you need to spend in order to be sustained by your Bible reading? Remember, everybody moves at their own speed; some people eat quickly and others eat more slowly. This isn't about what is right for other people; you need to work out what's right for you.
There is a minimum amount of food we require in order to sustain our life, but if we only eat that amount we will not grow. The same is true of Bible reading. The regular routine will sustain your spiritual life, but more will facilitate growth. Again, you'll need to figure out what is the right amount for you. It might be helpful to begin by imitating someone who has set a good habit in their Bible reading, and use that as a means to discover your own rhythm of daily reading. If you do it this way, remember that the goal is not to copy that person, but to learn from them how to shape your own habit of Bible reading.
Discipleship is a lifelong process, through which we grow to become more like Jesus. A regular, daily habit of Bible reading is an important part of discipleship. How's yours going?
Rev Jack Skett is associate pastor at Elim Church, Selly Oak. He is the author of 'A Better Kind of Intimacy: The Price of Porn and How to Overcome it', published by Instant Apostle. He also blogs on his website, jackskett.co.uk