If you enjoy reading books and reading for an extended time and getting lost in a story, thank God for this gift because it is not a gift all Christians enjoy. For many believers, reading is made painfully hard by dyslexia, as is the case for a podcast listener named Henry, who writes in to us. “Hello, Pastor John! I recently discovered that I suffer from a learning disability that impairs my reading ability. I can only read a short amount of material. I lose my concentration after a few minutes and then develop serious headaches from reading on past that. At first, I thought I was just lazy, but it is actually a learning disability I’ve had almost my entire life. I want to read the Bible, and read it fully, but I find it incredibly difficult. At times, it’s almost impossible. How can someone who can only read for very short amounts of time read the entire Bible and glean truth from it?”
I recently wrote an article I called “Sanctification and Senility.” The question I raised was “How do you fight for faith and the obedience that comes from faith when your memory has weakened to the point where you don’t remember the promises of God after you read them?” Part of my answer was that we should see senility, the loss of memory, the loss of eyesight, the loss of the ability to read, the loss of hearing, and perhaps being in a coma as a progressive state of disability. Henry is drawing attention to disability and that we not be be passive, but multiply our personal efforts as much as we can and make up the difference for what we’re losing.
I also noted that we involve other people, the precious friends in the body of Christ, to do for us what we can no longer do for ourselves, like bending over us in our final coma and with a loud voice (I remember doing this with my grandfather) shouting into our ear, “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).
Everybody thought my grandfather was gone — he wasn’t even there. He probably weighed ninety pounds and curled up like a fetus or a viper. He hadn’t spoken for weeks, and his eyes were all crusty. When my father and I got done shouting our prayer in his ear, his whole body convulsed and he said, “Amen” — which so shocked me I’ve never ceased to pray and read into a comatose ear.
Never Cease Hearing the Word
All that to say, if it gets that bad, don’t even give up hearing the word of God then. Surround yourself with people who can help you. Maybe I need to make explicit an assumption about the importance and means of sanctification because I don’t know where Henry is on that. Henry may be only asking about how he can read the whole Bible as a kind of spiritual discipline, but I want to stress that hearing the word of God from Scripture by whatever means we can is not a mere discipline — it is a matter of life and death.
“Hearing the word of God from Scripture is not a mere discipline — it is a matter of life and death.”
We live by faith or we don’t live at all, and faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus said all of that and more about hearing and depending on the word of God.
Faith cannot be sustained without the word of God. Holiness comes from faith, and holiness is essential for salvation, like it says in Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
So you can see, Henry, that for me, the question you are raising is not peripheral. It’s not marginal. It goes right to the heart of what it means to be a Christian and how to sustain faith.
There are huge obstacles standing in the way of hearing the word of God. Those huge obstacles are there for all of us — not just those with learning disabilities. The big ones are sin, indifference, love for the world, and spiritual blindness to the glory of Christ. These are all huge obstacles to hearing the word of God.
But there are also obstacles like senility, and in Henry’s case, a learning disability. So, I take Henry’s question very seriously. How do you, Henry, maintain faith — what Paul calls fighting the good fight of faith? How do you fight for holiness that comes through faith when there’s a learning disability standing between you and hearing the word of God? Let me just make four suggestions.
Reading to See
First, be sure that your mindset is not simply to put a certain amount of time in on the Bible or read a certain amount of the Bible, but to feed your faith on the blood-bought promises of God. Faith lives by standing on the gospel and trusting the promises.
The goal of reading the Bible is to know God, to know what he’s done for us in Christ, and to know what he has secured for our future. Whether it’s five hours or five thousand years from now, we need to see the beauty and the glory and the certainty of spiritual things in the Bible.
The goal is not just to put in a certain amount of time or to cover a certain amount of material. The goal is to see and savor God, his ways, and his promises. The goal is to fight for faith and to walk in obedience by faith. Be sure to keep that mindset. Go to the Bible to get food for your faith.
The God Who Heals
Second, earnestly ask God to help you — to give you wisdom in dealing with your learning disability or whatever the obstacle may be. Ask him for supernatural help.
“I’m dismayed how many Christians are fatalistic, materialistic, and humanistic when it comes to their disability.”
I’m dismayed how many Christians are fatalistic, materialistic, and humanistic when it comes to their disability. Don’t just think in terms of medicines. Don’t just think in terms of therapy. Don’t just think in terms of human discipline. Those are all important.
Think in terms also of what a sovereign God can do if he acts on your behalf supernaturally. He may not take away the disability. He usually doesn’t, but who knows what he may do if you ask him in regard to reading the Bible to cure your disability?
Third, settle it in your mind that with a disability you’re going to have to work harder than most people to attain the same ends. All of us have weaknesses that are different from other people’s. If we spend our time in self-pity, treating those weaknesses as excuses, we will waste our lives.
There are some strengths we’ll never have and some things we’ll never accomplish. But, oh, what amazing things people with disabilities have accomplished by refusing to be dominated by the negative implications of their weaknesses. It’s amazing.
For example, instead of reading the Bible for half an hour, you may need to read the Bible three minutes ten times a day by setting the reminder on your smartphone. Or, you may work harder to memorize Scripture so that you have it in your mind and heart when you’re not reading.
Fourth, don’t neglect the use of audio Bibles. They are a glorious gift of modern technology. You may discover that turning on the audio of your Bible on your iPad or smartphone or CD player and following the text with your eyes may actually overcome some of the negative effects of your disability. I do that. When I’m especially tired, I let the audio read for me while I read with my eyes.
“Your mindset is not simply to read for a certain amount of time, but to feed on the blood-bought promises of God.”
You can just shut your eyes and listen, or you can listen in the car, or you can listen while you’re making dinner, or you can listen while you’re going to sleep, or while you’re waking up. I think that’s really important. Go to sleep and wake up to the Bible instead of goodness knows what else people use to go to sleep on.
Lastly, I would say by all means spend a lifetime cultivating deep friendships in the body of Christ and in your family. Do this so that when you’re old and can’t do hardly anything for yourself, others will be there for you to read to you, and to perhaps, in that last comatose hour, say glorious words really loud into your seemingly deaf ear. “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).