We live in a distracted age. We sneak frequent glances at our phones and get immersed in things that don’t matter in the long run. This has consequences for our work and family lives. It also wreaks havoc on our Bible reading. When we struggle to pay attention, it makes it difficult for us to read God’s word profitably.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can regain our attention span and drill deep into God’s word, but it will take work. Here are four ways you can recover your concentration for Bible reading.
Shut Out Distractions
We probably “read” more than any previous generation, but most of our reading consists of status updates, tweets, and scanning blog posts. We trained ourselves to read short bits of information and avoided thinking through demanding subjects by scrolling to the next thing.
I recommend that you do your daily Bible reading from a physical copy of the Bible instead of an app on your phone or tablet. Your phone doesn’t have a home button, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, or your email. Each person only has a limited amount of willpower, so don’t spend it by avoiding the temptation to scroll through Facebook instead of reading your Bible.
In addition, you may find it necessary to either turn off your phone, put it on “airplane” mode, or leave it in another room. Studies have shown that the presence of a phone erodes the quality of a conversation. There’s something about seeing our phones that reminds us of all the things we could be checking. Instead, cut out this temptation by not having it in sight or within reach.
Most of us suffer from short attention spans and our minds frequently wander when we are reading the Bible. One practical way to fight against this is to read with a pen or a pencil in your hand. Reading with a pen or a pencil moves you from passive reading to active reading. Circle significant words, underline verses that stand out to you, and write down questions or insights that you have along the way. In doing this you will find that you pay more concentrated attention to your reading and remember more of what you have read.
Also, a journal could be useful in your Scripture reading. Take a few minutes and write a paragraph about what you read. You could also write down areas of application or things you need to think through in your personal life after reading. Writing things down after reading Scripture changes the way you read and aids in memory.
Read in a Consistent Place and at a Consistent Time
One of the best ways to establish a rhythm of daily Bible reading is to find a set place and time to do it. For me, I have found that I need to be awake and have eaten breakfast before I try to read. So I work out first thing in the morning, cook some breakfast, and then sit down to read my Bible. When I follow things in this order in the mornings, my Bible reading becomes a natural part of what I do so that I don’t have to wonder whether or not I’m going to read my Bible that day.This is what I have found works best for me, but you are going to need to work through this in your own life and schedule. Can you get up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning to read your Bible, or do you need to stay up fifteen minutes later? Can you make time during your lunch hour, or would reading right after you came home work better for you? Know yourself, your schedule, and when you are the most alert, then make sure nothing interferes with this time.
Having a consistent place where you read is also important as well. Now, there is no such thing as a holy place where Bible reading must be done, but have a particular place where you read so that it acts as a mental cue. When I sit down to eat breakfast at our dining room table, it reminds me to read the Bible when I am done. The same can be true for your favorite chair or desk in your home. Find a place to read daily that signals to you that it is time to read Scripture.
Hone Your Concentration in Other Areas
We tend to think about life like it is a tackle box with little compartments that separate one area of our lives from the others. We don’t see how our habits at work affect our personal spiritual disciplines and vice versa. Instead, we need to see ourselves as whole people and our lives as mixing bowls instead of tackle boxes.
Take your work seriously. When you arrive, give yourself wholly to your work. Don’t give in to constant distractions throughout the day and attack your work with wholehearted diligence.
Invest yourself fully in your family, friends, and neighbors when you are not at work. In the afternoons, put your phone in a drawer and don’t spend the best hours of your day looking at pictures of other people spending time with their families. Be present with your family. Talk and do things together. Apply the same principles to your time with friends. Don’t sneak glances at your phone, but rather immerse yourself in the conversation.
If your habit is to not pay attention to your family, to stare at your phone instead of talking to friends, and to constantly give in to distractions at work, you will not give the focused attention that your Bible reading demands. Learning to focus in your work and family life will pay dividends in your Bible reading. In the same way, as you learn to give yourself fully to the time you spend reading the Scriptures, it will help in other areas that demand your full attention.
“4 Strategies for Bible Reading Plan Quitters“
For Further Reading:
Deep Work by Cal Newport
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart