When I was a kid, reading was almost as natural as breathing. I was an “early reader,” and I reaped all the benefits that come in a world that revolves around reading. When I discovered God’s Word, I was hooked—I spent hours reading and felt so close to him as he communicated with me through the pages of my kids’ study Bible. The words of Scripture are the backbone of my relationship with him.
Now I am 23, a recent college graduate, and reading the Bible should be easier than ever—but it’s not. A chronic illness that I’ve harbored for years has recently developed neurological symptoms, making my brain foggy. A foggy brain plus the extreme fatigue that comes with this disease make a deadly duo for reading anything challenging, including the Bible.
I am experiencing for the first time how people who aren’t “readers”—either because of a learning difference, or because they just don’t love to read—find it challenging to read the Bible for sustained periods. I am realizing more and more that in our churches, college ministries, and small groups, we lean heavily on reading and writing instead of teaching the range of spiritual disciplines.
But what if reading and journaling are things you hate to do? What if comprehension and analysis are things you struggle with? How then should we connect with the Lord? Here are a few truths and strategies to consider that may help us connect with God, even when reading is hard.
God doesn’t want empty performance—he just wants you.
Do you feel exhausted from trying to meet with God in ways that don’t come naturally to you? Then take a deep breath, friend, because Jesus calls us to freedom. You are saved by his grace, not your own works, so please lean into his love here. God desires to meet with you and delights in his relationship with you! Period. If we consciously or subconsciously tell ourselves we are failing God when we put pressure on ourselves to read a certain amount of chapters a day and don’t, that is self-righteousness.
I remember when, in the thick of the storm of illness, I was in constant depression as my brain fought to function normally. I could only cry out to God in one word or one sentence sometimes, and could only read small passages or one verse at a time. Feeling like we are not doing “enough” can often cause us to assume God must be thinking, “Ugh, if only she could just pull it together and get through this chapter. She clearly isn’t trying.” But that is not his character. Zephaniah 3:17 says that God delights in his people and “will rejoice over you with singing.”
Think of a father with his small children. They come home from school and present him with Father’s Day cards they made in class with misspelled words and stick figures. He looks at the first card and says, “Really? You got my hair all wrong, and that is not how you spell ‘happy.’” We laugh as we read this because we know some of our dads would be delighted with a card like that and it would be ridiculous to criticize a first grader’s drawing skills. If your earthly dad was not kind to you and you are not laughing at this example, I am so sorry—I know it is so hard to hear God talked about in fatherly terms when your idea of a father is so painful. But God is not like us, always hurting another—he is holy (1 Samuel 2:2), which means he cannot sin against you, and he says he is love (1 John 4:8). A father who can’t sin and is the definition of love would respond to those handwritten cards in a very different way. Imagine God scooping you up in his arms and telling you that he loves you after a quiet time that didn’t feel fruitful or “long enough.” God wants our hearts, not empty performance.
How do you enjoy God?
A friend asked me this question in high school, when reading wasn’t yet challenging for me, and I said, “Um…reading the Bible?” The answer to everything in Sunday school seems to be, “READ YOUR BIBLE AND PRAY!” It’s an excellent answer. God gave us the great privilege of prayer (think about it for a moment—direct access to the King at all times? Wild.) and the great gift of the Bible (we know what God says about himself, about us, and about life, which is also wild and very helpful). But how we read the Bible and how we pray is up to us, and we can have great freedom and joy in that creativity!
You can’t get far in the Bible without reading about the Bible’s importance. Just read Psalm 19 or 119. The Bible is our lifeline, our light, our joy, and our wisdom. It is how we hear God speaking to us. Giving up entirely on reading the Bible is not the right answer. Consider changing how you read your Bible!
Do you retain more when you listen? Download an app and listen to any version of the Bible, anytime, for free.
Do you want to bump it down a few Lexile levels? Try the New Living Translation.
Do you feel like you have to read a whole chapter and the thought overwhelms you so much you just avoid your Bible entirely? Well, throw any unrealistic expectations out the window and meditate on one verse throughout the day. Note: it is interesting to me that spiritual disciplines like meditation come in and out of style. Please don’t just follow the trends that popular Christianity is pushing—find what works for you and the Lord and do that!
Are you having trouble focusing as you read your 6-point font, double column teeny tiny Bible and don’t know why? Buy yourself a large print, single column Bible and rejoice! (Not enough white space and small font size are some of the silent killers of reading, and are some of the simplest to fix.)
Do you love art? Draw Scripture.
Do you love music? Sing or play Scripture.
Do you need to move to think? A woman in my church said that when she was younger, she would set up an obstacle course in her basement to run through as she yelled Scripture aloud. You can take a walk and listen to the Word or just memorize a verse as you walk. Memorization is another spiritual practice that slips in and out of popularity.
As far as prayer goes, if you can’t focus while praying, pray the Psalms. They are prayers that God wrote himself! The Common Book of Prayer is another good resource.
If you focus better on paper, write out your prayers like you’re writing a letter to God. This can keep you from realizing ten minutes into your prayer time that you’ve been thinking about movie plots and what you’re doing this weekend for nine of those minutes.
Sit in silence with God, focusing on his presence. This can be extremely hard for some people, but it comes so naturally to others. Meditate on God’s characteristics.
God has designed you creatively. Connect with him creatively! Sing songs with him, play piano or viola or drums with him, bake your neighbors dinner with him, take a walk with him, study the central nervous system with him (he designed it, after all), watch a movie with him—just dwell with God. As his child, God lives in you, so why do we feel like we can’t bring God into all of our life? Everything is richer that way.
These examples are not exhaustive. Seeing as God made everything, there are never-ending ways to connect with him!
Pray for God’s Help
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14 NIV). God knows what is best for us because he created us, and therefore, knows us better than we know ourselves, and if we ask something according to his will, he will give it to us.
Last June, I had almost given up on reading the Bible. I was having a rough week with my chronic illness and I felt like I couldn’t concentrate on anything, let alone my 6-point font, double column teeny tiny Bible. I opened my journal and stared, paralyzed, at an empty page. It had been a long time since I felt connected to God.
And quietly I breathed, “God, please increase my attention span for spiritual things.”
It was like a light turned on, illuminating the pages. That is what the Holy Spirit can do. For about a week, it was easy—I breezed through the Old Testament prophets and enjoyed it. The rest of the summer wasn’t that simple, and I’ll never know exactly why God gave me that week of freedom, but I wonder if he was showing his power and love for me—kick-starting my time with him again. Jesus said to his disciples the night before he died, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26 NIV).
The point is: the Holy Spirit helps us understand God’s Word. Have you tried asking him? I’m not asking if you prayed about this once six months ago. Have you talked to God consistently about this? Whether or not he takes away your reading challenges, the Holy Spirit does help us interpret Scripture, and God wants us to spend time with him, so ask him to help and motivate you to persevere through the distractions and challenges. He is so worth it.
Lastly, what if you don’t want to connect with God? When I find that I don’t want to give my heart to God, I simply say, “God, I want to want You—help me!” We would do well to remember the father who brought his possessed son to Jesus and said, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 NIV). Avoiding God when we aren’t repentant is not good, since he is the only one who can change our hearts. We have to be honest with him.
My prayer for you (and me)!
Psalm 34:8 encourages us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” I pray that you are encouraged, equipped, and inspired to take refuge in God, not necessarily in the way that you are telling yourself you have to, but in a way that excites you. The deepest delight is found in the Lord—open yourself up to that delight. God delights in you (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV). Rest in that.
Reflection and Application
- How do you enjoy God? You can refer to the section titled “How Do You Enjoy God” for ideas, but think about how God made you and what you enjoy and go from there. Ask God to give you creativity.
- Are you feeling unnecessary shame around reading the Bible? If you are, ask yourself what lie you are believing. Do you believe that God will only love you if your quiet time looks a certain way? Do you believe that you have to earn righteousness? Ask the Lord to replace these lies in your heart with truth from his Word, like in Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This proves that his love is not dependent on anything we do, since he died for us before we even accepted him, and Jesus’ death on the cross is the only thing that makes us righteous.
- What do you need to ask the Holy Spirit to do in your heart? Do you need him to increase your attention span for spiritual things, open your eyes to understand Scripture, help you desire God, or something else? Ask a trusted friend to join you in praying for these things regularly.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for a large-print Bible, be sure to check out Hosanna Revival’s ESV Large Print Journaling Bibles. Our CSB Notetaking Bibles also feature a larger, comfortable-to-read font. If you’re looking for a prayer journal, please consider Hosanna Revival’s One Thing I Ask 5-year prayer journals.
Alicia Lynn Hamilton and her husband Jack are planted in beautiful New Hampshire where they serve the youth at their church together. Alicia's days are spent doing college ministry at her alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. Her favorite Bible verse at the moment is "Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him" (Psalm 34:8 NIV). God has written so many little blessed stories in her life through chronic illness and other life experiences, all with one central theme: "God is the Best Thing." Also, she loves cannolis.