Developing Bible Intake Habits

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NOTE: This post was copied from The Gospel Coalition. You may read the original article here. The Gospel Coalition has a lot of helpful information and application for the Christian life.

Atomic Habits and Bible Intake: How Tiny Changes Add Up
March 13, 2024 | Blake Glosson

In his best-selling book Atomic Habits, James Clear tells the story of a friend who lost over 100 pounds through diet and exercise. Clear’s friend began with a goal of going to the gym for five minutes daily. (He even set a timer and faithfully left the gym each day after five minutes.) By making his goal achievable and repeatable, he became someone who went to the gym every day. Once this practice became a habit and lifestyle, he began tweaking it over time (for example, he started exercising for longer than five minutes). Eventually, his exercise and diet habits led to transformation.

Like physical transformation, spiritual transformation is the gradual reward of consistent habits. Even when you don’t immediately feel the effects of your Bible intake, you can be confident your spiritual fitness improves little by little each time you engage with God’s Word.

1. The first two minutes are the most important.
Clear notes the heaviest weight in the gym is the front door. The same is true of most habits: it’s not the habit itself, but starting the habit, that stops most people.

Clear encourages readers to replicate his friend’s minimalist approach to habit-building, even starting with two-minute routines (rather than five minutes) to make starting and replicating behaviors simple. (He calls this the 2-Minute Rule.)

If you don’t already have a rhythm of Bible reading, commit to reading for two minutes every day. Make daily reading as achievable as possible. By doing this consistently, you’ll become someone who reads the Bible every day. That’s a huge step. From there, you can tweak the habit as you wish. Clear observes, “A habit must be established before it can be improved.”

You cannot improve what you don’t already practice.

2. The most rewarding outcomes are (almost always) delayed.
Clear notes that our outcomes are a “lagging measure of [our] habits.” We’re who we are today largely because of the habits we’ve built over the past few weeks, months, and years. It’s not what we’ve done most recently but most consistently that shapes us.

One workout or protein-rich meal won’t drastically strengthen your bones. Yet a consistent exercise routine and calcium, vitamin D, and protein intake over months and years will improve bone health significantly. Likewise, spiritual health is a lagging measure of what we train and feed on consistently. Bible reading isn’t only for the here and now but also for how it forms us over time.

Beyond the cumulative benefit of Bible reading, you’ll be surprised at how often God blesses you (and others through you) a few days or weeks after you read a certain passage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a section of Scripture and closed my Bible without thinking much of it. But then a few days later, I was in a conversation or situation where that passage was exactly what I needed. We must never measure effectiveness by what we think or feel immediately after reading.

3. Feelings aren’t (always) an accurate measure of effectiveness.
You won’t feel your brain, heart, liver, kidneys, and skin strengthening as you eat healthy meals—nor will you always have happy emotions while consuming nutrient-dense foods. (Perhaps you even remember uncomfortable feelings while eating veggies as a child . . . or as an adult!)

A lack of immediate pleasure doesn’t mean the meal failed to provide vital nourishment. It’d be silly and dangerous to give up on healthy eating if you didn’t feel happier or stronger as or right after you ate. (It’d also be silly and dangerous to consume only foods that give rushes of pleasure while you eat them.)

The same is true of Scripture reading. We shouldn’t measure success entirely by whether or not we feel pleasure as we read. Not every Scripture passage should cause even the healthiest Christian to feel surface-level happiness. For example, some texts are intended to make readers hate sin or grieve the world’s brokenness.

“But,” you say, “what if I feel nothing when reading the Bible? No pleasure, no hatred, no grief—nothing?” Remember two truths: First, apathy is a feeling too. And God wants us to come to him and worship him with whatever we feel. Second, not all disciplines (physical or spiritual) are primarily meant to make you feel something but rather become something. Don’t chase after a feeling; chase after nearness to Christ, which will, in turn, make you into the person God created you to be.

4. Memory isn’t (always) essential for growth.
I once heard a pastor say, “You probably don’t remember what you ate for dinner one month ago today, but that doesn’t mean the meal was pointless. Your body functions today because of meals you ate months ago, whether or not you remember them.”

Some meals are special, becoming memories we cherish for months, years, or even a lifetime. (My first time having Chick-fil-A nuggets comes to mind.) But memory isn’t required for a meal to have benefits. Most meals bring some pleasure then quietly nourish your body, content never to be remembered. Healthy people are formed by countless mundane, even unmemorable, meals.

Similarly, some times spent in God’s Word are special. Christ speaks to us or meets us in a uniquely powerful way, becoming a memory we cherish for months, years, or even a lifetime. But not all times in God’s Word are consciously remembered for long periods. Many times spent in God’s Word are like water soaking into the roots of a plant. The water may no longer be visible, but it nourishes and strengthens the plant nonetheless.

We should pray for joyful encounters with Christ through his Word and make efforts to remember what we read. But don’t get discouraged or think you’re doing something wrong if you don’t always have remarkable feelings or conscious memories about every passage. The Lord is pleased every time you seek him through his Word, and he’ll always bless your efforts, even when the blessing isn’t immediately visible (see Isa. 55:10–11).

Variety—like Consistency—Is Your Friend
Just as we enjoy different workouts and meals in different locations with different people, Bible intake is most enjoyable when it contains variety. Blessing comes every time we consume God’s Word—whether through reading the Bible; listening to an audio Bible; praying or singing the Psalms; studying a passage with a friend or small group; hearing God’s Word preached on Sundays; reading books that exposit Scripture; or listening to podcasts, lectures, or audiobooks that exposit it. Don’t limit yourself to only one method.

James Clear notes that we become our habits. This is (largely) true both physically and spiritually. Let’s patiently and diligently pursue a consistent intake of God’s life-giving Word, trusting he’ll use our habits to reveal and form Christ in us.

Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois. He is also an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church. Check out more of his work on his website.