Your coffee’s hot, the room is quiet, and a candle is lit as you sit down to welcome a bit of Instagram-worthy encouragement for your day. You flip open the thin pages of your Bible, ready for an experience that will leave you beaming with joy or, at the very least, with a smile on your face.
We set high expectations for our time in the Word. Without even realizing it, the posture of our hearts bends in the direction of self. What will I get out of my Bible reading today? How can my quiet time help my present circumstances? How will the moments I’ve set aside give me pleasure and comfort? We subtly succumb to the appeal of instant gratification, and we set our hope on a quick word, a simple solution, a phrase to inspire us the rest of the day. In our pursuit of time with God, we’ve ultimately made it about us, a dilemma which even the Bread of Life could never satisfy.
Our quiet times fall short of the glory of our expectations, and we close our Bibles disheartened. We don’t feel lifted or comforted. We still feel unprepared for our circumstances.
Before we give up on reading our Bibles after a series of less than enlightening experiences, here are five reasons to dispel the myth that our quiet times should always be encouraging.
1. The Bible pierces our souls.
Scripture describes itself as a double-edged sword with intent to pierce (Heb. 4:12). Piercing never evokes pleasure, but rather pain. The Word of God exposes the horrifying reality of our sinful nature, impure thoughts, and idolatrous desires, intruding on those places we’d rather keep hidden. The double-edged sword creates a bloodbath, never allowing us to live in a façade of righteousness apart from the blood of Christ.
2. The Bible presses us to respond.
The Bible makes the undeniable claim to be the authoritative Word of God. No other category will suffice to describe it. The Holy Scriptures are not a self-help book, a devotional, or merely a set of interesting stories. When we open the pages of our Bible, we will be confronted with such claims as:
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
- “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior” (Isa. 43:11).
- “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19).
The words contained in this Book press us into an uncomfortable place. They have no intent to be simply put back on the shelf but demand that we respond. Will we receive these words as Truth and thus see our lives transformed? Or will we reject them? The Bible will force us to wrestle with our unbelief rather than allow us the comfort and ease of staying as we are.
3. Understanding the Bible is a process.
Surely it has happened to you before. The pressures you’re facing and the worries you're carrying consume your mind. You’re desperate for encouragement, and you flip to a random verse. Maybe you land in Isaiah, where the words of the prophet read:
Instead of perfume there will be rottenness; and instead of a belt, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty (Isa. 3:24).
The look on your face communicates a mix of confusion and disappointment. You’ve stepped into a world you not only don’t understand but also feel extremely disconnected from. The truth is, we too often live in a reality apart from the governing and enlightening of God’s Word. But gaining a biblical worldview requires endurance, as you delve into the hard and mysterious work of studying and uncovering Scripture’s story. A lifetime of faithful study could never provide complete understanding; thus, knowing the slow nature of the process, we must embrace humility when God reigns high above our understanding and choose to worship rather than walk away frustrated or shamed.
4. The Bible tells the painful story of sin.
The unfolding events of the Fall can leave us tense and overwhelmed, no matter how many times we read it. David’s lack of remorse for the intentionally crafted murder plan of Bathsheba’s husband should make us weep. The crucifixion narrative is meant to cause anguish not easily swallowed. The Bible showcases the way sin ravages the heart of man and leads him to rage against his Creator. This sight is a shock to our systems, resuscitating us from the world’s blinding and deadening efforts to convince us that we are more or less good, able to live decently moral lives apart from dependency on Christ. The Word of God unveils the true nature of our sin, producing grief in the heart of the one who looks intently at Scripture and confesses solidarity with its characters.
5. The Bible tells the painful story of separation from God.
When immersing oneself in the Old Testament, do not be surprised by feeling despair, aching, and longing for salvation. The laws of Leviticus demonstrate our inability to commune with a holy God. Watching the Israelites forsake the God who delivers, redeems, and endlessly loves them time and time again leaves us reeling with frustration. Reading through the prophets cultivates a certain heaviness that lingers and leaves us longing. Witnessing life apart from Christ ought to elicit these types of affections. They are good for our souls, for from these depths, a well of gratitude and rejoicing springs up and overflows when we grasp that Christ has come, that He is ours, that we never have to live apart from Him.
Persevere . . . When Quiet Times Aren’t Encouraging
While each of these realities may lead to the ministry of encouragement, the initial experience can be something quite different, something more akin to the opposite. Much like the pangs of growing and birthing a child must precede the joy of holding one, so will these painful and less-than-pleasant times spent in Scripture produce a harvest of peace and righteousness if we endure beyond our personal preferences. Be not discouraged, dear sister. Let us forsake our expectations that entering the presence of the Divine through His Word will be more about us than about Him, and let us worship Him with humble hearts in the many different ways His Word evokes.