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One of the biggest challenges in my spiritual life has been building a close friendship with God, instead of following religious rituals or routines.
Even reading the Bible can become an empty habit if we only read it for self-improvement, rule-following, or emotional comfort. Quiet time reading the Bible each day is a great way to learn how to grow closer to God, if we learn how to read the Scriptures spiritually.
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This is what the LORD says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches.  But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken!Jeremiah 9:23-24 NLT
Most of all, God wants us to know him, and that is what it means to read the Bible spiritually. This is by no means a definitive guide, but if you want to learn how to grow closer to God when you read the Bible, here are some things for you to consider.
Read the Bible for faith, not just self-improvement
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.Romans 10:17 NIV
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.Hebrews 11:6 NIV
Faith is important to God; we can’t please him without it. He wants us to believe he exists and that he rewards us. He also teaches that the way we get this kind of faith is by hearing his Word.
A friend told me once that the way he measures the quality of his quiet time with God is by how much faith he has the rest of the day. This may sound like an obvious measurement, but I have often read the Bible and walked away more focused on myself and my feelings than on having faith in God. These feelings can be:
- guilty for what I’m doing wrong,
- resistant to areas I need to change, or
- Self-assured because I checked off my religious duty of daily Bible reading.
Usually, this happens when I have been reading the Bible for self-improvement rather than faith in God. The Bible is useful for improving our lives in many ways, and I do believe our lives get better when we live by it. For example, the Bible corrects us when we might be going wrong (2 Timothy 3:16), guides us (Psalm 119:105), and helps us avoid sin (Psalm 119:11).
But if we don’t read the Bible to build our faith in God, we can become self-focused and use it as a behavior guide instead of a way to become closer to him.
Read the Bible to get a heart for God, not to create a habit
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,  yet you refuse to come to me to have life.John 5:39-40 NIV
As a young Christian, I had a great friend who instilled in me the importance of setting aside time to read the Bible and pray daily. I took her advice to heart and diligently made this “quiet time” a part of my morning routine.
And while I certainly think including God’s Word in my daily routine has been helpful to my faith, there was a problem. I saw reading the Bible as an important habit, much in the same way I thought of brushing my teeth. I diligently studied the Scriptures because I knew it was the right thing to do, and I even enjoyed getting insight from them intellectually. But I didn’t see these morning devotionals as time to connect with God.
This has led me to feel very frustrated over the years, because I read the Bible and pray regularly yet struggle to experience the power, strength, peace, and courage that the Scriptures say should come from spending time with God.
I am learning now that God wants my heart, not a habit. He wants me to diligently study the Scriptures so I can learn about him, love him, come close to him, and gratefully help others get to know him too.
Do you tend to read the Bible out of habit, or to genuinely learn what God thinks and feels, and to learn to have a heart that pleases him?
If quiet times have become a habit for you, try focusing your Bible study on learning how to become closer to God and how to have a heart to please him. Check out our top 16 books of the Bible that will teach you some essential lessons about God and how to walk with him.
Read the Bible to obey it, not just feel better
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”John 8:31-32 NIV
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.Ezekiel 33:31-32 NIV
God wants his words to be put into practice in our lives. He doesn’t want the Scriptures to be just “beautiful love songs” that we enjoy for a moment but neglect to apply to our lives. For example, sometimes I have found beautifully comforting scriptures to calm my fears and worries, but snapped at my spouse the moment I closed the Bible.
I don’t mean to say that our goal should be perfect behavior, but I do think God wants us to let the Scriptures penetrate our hearts and change the way we live. He wants us to put his words into practice in our homes, relationships, jobs, and lives. This is how God wants us to show our love for him:
In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome …1 John 5:3 NIV
Obeying God should not be a religious performance but rather a grateful response to his love for us, as we learn from 2 Corinthians 5:14-15:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NIV
So, if you want to know how to get closer to God when you read the Bible, consider that you’ll need to do more than read and believe Scriptures. You’ll need to read the Bible with an open mind and heart, looking for ways God wants you to change your heart or life to match the Scriptures.
- Do you tend to read the Bible more for emotional comfort or to let God show you areas he wants you to change?
Read the Bible to find truth, not to flatter yourself
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.Psalm 139:23-24 NIV
In Psalm 139, we see an important part of David’s personal relationship with God: he asks God to search his heart for anything offensive. He’s not trying to hide or deny or justify any of his sins; he wants to see them so that he can be close to God.
Part of being close to God is wanting him to show you anything in your heart that could be distancing you from him. That means you don’t deny truth, justify sin, or flatter yourself too much to detect your sins. You read the Bible in wanting God to show you any “offensive way” in your heart, so that no sin will separate you from him (Isaiah 59:1-2).
These are some examples of ways I flatter myself when I read the Bible and don’t want to see the truth in my heart:
- “I don’t think I really do that,”
- “I used to do that, but I don’t think it’s really that bad anymore,”
- “At least I’m not as bad as that person,”
- “This would be a helpful scripture for (insert friend’s name here).” Note: finding scriptures for others is great, but not if you avoid looking at how the scripture applies to you as well. Read Matthew 7:3-5 for a little more insight about how to help yourself before you help others.
When you read the Bible, do you want God to show you any way your heart might be going astray? Pray to be open and receptive to seeing any sins and guilt in your heart before you read the Bible so that you can grow closer to God.
Read the Bible to love God, not follow rules
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?Romans 2:4 NLT
God’s kindness is intended to lead us to change. I’ve often looked to the Bible when I’ve been in need of help changing things about myself, like pride, fear, and deceit. And the Bible does have some incredibly helpful wisdom on these topics.
But if you read the Bible only as a rule-book or a behavior manual, you will probably end up exhausted and discouraged because no one can ever get right with God by following all the rules (Galatians 3:2-6 MSG). You may even give up trying to follow it because you will inevitably fail at trying to be perfect all the time.
Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O LORD, do not abandon those who search for you.Psalm 9:10 NLT
God wants us to get to know him, and those who know him will trust him. As you read the Bible, ask yourself questions like:
- What did I learn about God today?
- What do I like about God?
- What do I admire about his character?
Just as you like certain qualities of your close friends, reading the Bible should help you discover things you love about God. And when you love God, you will want to change anything that could make you closer to him.