If you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, it’s still good, right?
Like eating broccoli. If I started eating broccoli every day simply to annoy a controlling neighbor who told me I must never eat broccoli again, wouldn’t my body still benefit? Wouldn’t the folate and vitamins K and C do their jobs, even if my reasons for eating the cruciferous veggie happened to be spite rather than health?
In other words, isn’t doing a good thing for the wrong reasons better than not doing it at all?
Here’s why I’m asking.
I want to read my Bible every day. I really do. I want to do it for the right reasons (for instance, “I’m loving this and can’t wait to dive back in tomorrow!”). But the truth is that I get busy and distracted and I forget. Unless, of course, I make myself a list. Or, better yet, download an app on my phone that keeps track of how many days in a row I read my Bible.
At that point, I’m really grooving. I love watching the number climb—seven days in a row. Then eight. Then nine. Pretty soon I’m in the double digits. It’s a game, and I’m winning. The loser is my busy, distracted sin nature. The numbers keep climbing. One night I finish reading my allotted daily passage literally four seconds before midnight. Woohoo! My streak is unbroken. I feel the rush.
This is good, right? (Almost as good as eating that forkful of broccoli knowing my neighbor can see me through the kitchen window.)
And then I miss a day, and the counter on my phone reverts to one.
The next day I look at my Bible. I look away. I sigh. Now I have to start over. The rush is gone. The fun is gone.
My reason is gone.
It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? But the truth is that I’ve done things not too different than this, and it’s possible that you have, too.
Maybe you’ve never kept track of how often you read your Bible by using a phone app. Maybe you use a calendar or checklist instead. Perhaps there is a sticky-note reminder on your mirror. Maybe you follow a reading plan and feel guilty when you mess up. Perhaps you simply bully yourself into daily compliance because it’s the “right” thing to do and you know you “should” be practicing this daily discipline.
And you know what’s crazy? These tools can work. And when we read God’s Word under these conditions, we can reap amazing benefits. It’s still the Word of God, after all. Those spiritual vitamins still leave our souls stronger and healthier than if we’d never cracked the covers of our Bibles.
But aren’t we missing the point?
Reading God’s Word isn’t about satisfying a checklist, guilt complex, or phone app. It’s about engaging with the Lover of our Souls. It’s about communication. Intimacy. Hearing His voice. Becoming familiar with His very thoughts toward us. It’s about the dynamics of a vibrant relationship, not the consistency of a discipline or the tools of building a new habit.
A number of years ago I was seeing a Christian counselor for help processing a series of painful events in my life. I’ll never forget the Tuesday afternoon we were talking about spending daily time with God and I admitted, “Every day for months I’ve told myself I should start my day praying and reading God’s Word, but every morning I forget. Today I’m going to write myself a note so I remember.”
My counselor said, “Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?”
“Don’t write yourself a note.”
“But if I don’t, I’ll forget again.”
“Writing a note is religion,” he said. “Not relationship. If you want to remember to share something with your sweetheart when you have time, do you write a note? Or do you say, ‘Honey, remind me later to tell you about…’”
“In a real relationship, we say things like that to each other all the time, right? ‘Hey, remind me to water the plants when we get home.” Or “I’m going to try to leave work early Friday so we can spend the evening together, but if I get distracted and I’m not home by 4:00, call me and help me get out the door!’”
I was starting to understand.
He continued, “What if, right now, you prayed, ‘Jesus, I want to spend time in your Word tomorrow morning, but sometimes I get distracted. If I happen to forget, would you remind me?’ That’s communication. That’s relationship.”
I did as he suggested. The next morning as I was brushing my teeth, I felt a small prompting and immediately remembered, “This morning I get to spend time with Jesus and in the Word!” I knew without a shadow of doubt that God had heard my prayer and had indeed reminded me to spend time with Him. And that felt real and intimate in ways that a yellow sticky note never would.
No matter what keeps you reading Scripture, you’re going to benefit. Even if you’re doing it in the flesh. Even if you’re relying on your own efforts. Even if it’s more about following a plan than a fellowshipping with a Person.
But if you really want God to speak to you through His Word, tell Him. Listen for His response. Ask Him to prompt you to read His love letters to you. Invite Him to make the Words come alive in a whole new way.
Your reason for reading God’s Word really does matter after all.