There are seasons when life wearies us, when it seems like we’re too tired and busy for any kind of meaningful engagement with our Bibles. Such is the current situation for Elaina, who writes us today.
“Hello, Pastor John! I live alone. I work long weeks. I find it nearly impossible to keep up with my Bible reading. Cooking, cleaning, exercising, running errands, getting food, shopping, on and on — by the time I get home, I’m exhausted. I schedule times to read my Bible, to pray, and to be alone with God, but I feel as if I am giving God only fifteen minutes of my day, and I don’t want that. But I have to pay bills to live. I feel stuck. When I’m reading my Bible, I’m half asleep. The only real time I get now is the weekends. But it’s not enough. In what practical ways can I beat back the busyness of my life to ensure I make time for him?”
I hear Elaina putting her finger on three things that are frustrating her time with God in the word. First, she feels stuck. Second, she feels exhausted, like she’s going to fall asleep when she’s reading her Bible. And third, she’s incredibly busy with many pressures, pushing the Bible out to the edge of her life. Let me say a word about those.
I watch people get stuck in the snow outside my house. I live on a corner, so they have to stop and then pull out in the street. Some people sit there in the same place for ten minutes. I’m looking out there, saying, “Okay, I’m going have to go out there and push them.” They just spin, spin, and spin as though doing the same thing over and over and over again is going to get them unstuck. Snow is part of the problem, but just doing the same thing over and over again is also part of the problem.
“Don’t leave the word to fill the cracks. Force other things into the cracks.”
So getting unstuck might require putting it in reverse. It’s kind of counterintuitive — going back and forward to rock that thing out of there. Or you might have to shovel. You get out, shovel the snow away from the front of your drive wheels. Or you might ring the doorbell of the Pipers and say, “You got any men here?” which has happened. My sons and I have pushed a lot of people out of the snow. The point is, getting unstuck sometimes requires counterintuitive, new efforts.
One Thing Necessary
What might that be in relation to busyness and exhaustion? Elaina lists cooking, cleaning, exercising, running errands, getting food, shopping. Those sound to me like classic, good, valuable things that tend to fill up your life. But Jesus was in the house of a couple of women who had different responses to these things. You remember who I’m talking about — Martha and Mary.
Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40–42)
Now I know Elaina says, “Look, I need to pay my bills.” That’s what she says. But I think if Jesus visited her home and watched her schedule, he would probably point to some things and say, “No, that doesn’t have to consume quite that much time. No, you don’t have to devote that much time and energy to that. One thing is needful — more needful than your pattern of cooking, more needful than your pattern of cleaning, more needful than your pattern of exercising, more needful than your pattern of errand-running and shopping — it’s just plain more needful.”
In Luke 8:14, Jesus warns that one way the word is choked out is by ordinary, good busyness, right? He says, “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”
“The cares of life” — oh my. Don’t we all have them? Then he reminds us, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
My encouragement is for Elaina to sit down and make a list of the ways she’s spending her life. I mean, she’s already got it itemized in this question she sent to us. I’m talking about the details of her life that seem to be robbing her of what she really wants to do. She should ask about each one. Is the way I do it the best way, and is it more important than spending time with God in his word? Is there a way to readjust the time spent on these things to make time for the word?
“If you’re sleepy, take your Bible, get up out of your chair, and walk around the room in circles reading your Bible.”
Very specifically, I would say, set your alarm 45 minutes earlier in the morning. Then take your usual shower, get dressed, and put the word of God before any busyness. Don’t leave the word to fill the cracks. Force other things into the cracks. They will get done. You will pay your bills if you read your Bible — you will. I promise you.
Now, I’m suggesting getting up 45 minutes earlier. She’s probably shaking her head right now and saying, “Are you kidding me? I’m already dead tired.” She said she is falling asleep when she is reading her Bible. And who hasn’t done that? Here are three practical suggestions:
- Go to bed earlier than you usually do at night in order to feel more rested, especially for the word. You can force yourself to go shopping when you’re tired. You probably can’t force yourself to stay awake when you’re tired. But you can go shopping when you’re tired.
- In the morning if you have to, go ahead and make your coffee and let that caffeine do its magic. I don’t drink coffee, but I get what caffeine does. I drink Diet Coke and tea.
- If your body insists on getting sleepy, take your Bible in your hand, get up out of your comfortable chair, and walk around the room in circles reading your Bible. There’s nothing sacred about sitting, and it's much harder to fall asleep while you’re walking. I did it just the other day.
Perhaps more important than these nitty-gritty practical suggestions is the foundational experience that the word of God is more precious than anything.
Remind yourself of this by preaching Psalm 19:9–10 to yourself. Preach it to yourself. “The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Don’t let gold, and don’t let food, feel more valuable or more sweet than the word of God. They’re not.