When it’s hard to read the Bible and pray

Written by Daniel Zekveld

Have you ever considered how someone can become exceptionally talented at a specific skill? Imagine a musician, and the years of practice they put into playing their instrument. I have been playing the piano for almost 15 years, and the clarinet for ten. I don’t always enjoy practising. Neither do I feel like I make progress every time I pick up my instrument.

I think, Can’t my time be better spent doing something else? But I know that if I fail to keep practising, I will lose some, or eventually even most, of the skill that I have developed as a musician. On the other hand, while it doesn’t seem like I improve from one day to the next, my overall quality and skill increases.

This is how I think about spiritual disciplines. All of us have times we don’t want to take part in spiritual disciplines. We are too tired, or we don’t think we have enough time. There have been numerous days when I have done my daily devotions, reading the Bible and prayer, because I had to. My parents told me I had to, and ultimately God said I had to.

Yet, God does not tell us to learn spiritual disciplines as an arbitrary rule. Rather, He tells us to pursue what will benefit us. Spiritual disciplines are a significant part of our spiritual lives, and they require practice so that we can develop as Christians. 

What do we look for when trying to find healthy spiritual disciplines? They must be more than spiritual habits, more than merely spiritual in the sense of Hindu meditation or a psychic séance. Rather, they must be deeply rooted in the Word of God, things that God commands in His Word because they serve a purpose in our Christian walk.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:23-24, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” This is how we should focus our spiritual disciplines. Are the ways we pursue spiritual disciplines increasing our knowledge of God and His Word? Are they deepening our relationship with God as we seek to grow as Christians?

My pastor once said, “You may not remember what I preached about on Sunday morning three weeks ago, but it fed you.” Likewise, I often do not remember specific instances from passages I read, or even specific prayer requests that may or may not have been answered. But I am convinced that pursuing spiritual disciplines has helped shape me as a child of God.

In addition to weekly church attendance, I have created a habit of daily Bible reading and prayer. Sometimes I have not felt like reading the Bible or praying, and other times failed to focus effectively. Although I still struggle to remind myself to do my daily disciplines for the right reason, the daily practice has helped increase my knowledge of the Bible and my personal relationship with Christ.

One tangible way spiritual disciplines have benefitted me is by increasing my trust in God. The Bible is a narrative, a story, and all the parts fit together. The more I’ve studied and read, the more I see how everything works together in God’s plan of salvation.

Prayer, on the other hand, is my way of thanking God for what He has done for me. As I have prayed over many years, I have begun to see how God has answered my prayers. Sometimes He has said no, sometimes yes, but His answers are always for my good.

Both the Bible and prayer have really helped me trust God more, recognizing that He knows what is best for me. I have seen how He has provided in the past, in my own life and throughout history, and I have greater trust for the future.

As with learning an instrument, we often cannot point to specific times when we have grown and developed most through our spiritual disciplines. But, as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. In reality, our spiritual disciplines are far from perfect, but God uses them to help us grow in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.

It’s hard. But it becomes more enjoyable as we look towards the purpose these disciplines serve, and as we strive to grow as children of God.