Turn Off the TV and Read the Bible

reading-bible-2

by John Ellis

From where I’m sitting, I count twelve Bibles in my living room. According to polls from 2012[1], 84% of Americans own more than one Bible. The poll respondents who claimed to regularly read the Bible own an average of 3.6 Bibles. That actually means that I’m not that far off from the average, assuming that 2017 numbers haven’t changed much from 2012 (I highly doubt that they have). Recognizing that twelve is quite a bit greater than 3.6 in this context, allow me to explain.

Ten of those twelve Bibles are shelved with my Bible commentaries. And those ten Bibles reflect eight different translations. I have that many different translations (and want more) for study purposes. The translation that I take to church, read the most often, and turn to the most in study is the ESV. I have four ESV Bibles[2]. Four is basically the same as 3.6. I write all this to point out that I’m no different than the vast majority of my audience for this article. In fact, having a pretty good understanding of my core readership, predicting that many of *you* own more Bibles than I do is a very strong limb of claimed prescience on my part to crawl out on.

Sadly, though, in the life of Americans who claim to be Christians, owning all those Bibles hasn’t translated into a commitment to faithfully reading God’s Word daily. Another poll, also from 2012, unveils that 80% of churchgoers do not read the Bible on a daily basis. That number hurts my head and my heart.

Now, considering my primary audience for this article[3], I’m going to assume that I don’t have to make an argument for reading the Bible on a regular basis. I am, however, going to offer a challenge and then give some habits that I’ve found helpful, by God’s grace, in being steadfast in pursuing this challenge for the glory of God and for my sanctification.

Dear readers, prayerfully commit to doubling the amount of time you spend reading the Bible every day.

Originally, I wrote an amount of time, but after considering it and praying about it, I realized that an amount of time assumes to much homogeneity with schedules and life situations. For example, many moms spend their days from early to late attempting to keep their little boys from accidentally ending their own life. By the time their adorable yet stress-inducing little factory of excess energy unexpectedly shuts down for the night, the mom is exhausted physically, mentally, and spiritually. In this season of life, God has placed those mom’s hands on a plow that doesn’t allow for a lot of down time in which to read anything except the instructions on the CDC’s page about what to do if someone, say a little boy, drinks a half a bottle of Windex. In that case, husbands, read the Bible in the evenings to your exhausted, selfless wife. She needs the Word of God, and you can give it to her. Your Savior emptied himself of his glory and emptied himself of his blood for you; the least you can do is to read the Bible to your tired wife instead of watching the game in the evening.

But I’ve accidentally gotten ahead of myself.

Backing up a bit, I think it would be running the risk of placing unfair burdens on brothers and sisters in Christ to craft expectations like the amount of time a Christian should spend reading the Bible. Before God, we all know whether or not we’re redeeming the time well that He has given us. I do believe, however, that for many of us, seeking to double the amount of time we spend reading and studying God’s Word is a good and right goal. Granted, that’s going to take some work and some sacrifice.

Honestly, and adding to the rhythm of those beating the anti-TV drum, and adding to it because, frankly, it’s needed, for many of us, our TV watching habits hold the key. In the last sentence of the previous paragraph, knowing where I was headed, I almost didn’t write the word “sacrifice.” Watching less TV in order to have more time to read the Bible is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sacrifice. If it is a sacrifice, I humbly submit that you may need to get rid of your TV entirely because it’s an idol in your heart.

Beyond the obvious of freeing up time in which we can read the Bible, watching less TV also allows us to get up earlier in the morning. Intuitively, most of us realize that our minds are sharper in the mornings than at night after we’ve spent a day exercising our bodies and brains in work and play. The thing is, because of the new-ish phenomenon of TV binge-watching, it’s so much easier to “accidentally” stay up later than we intended.

The final moments of episodes are designed to create the desire in the viewer to watch the next episode. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing. We are invested in the lives of the characters and we want to turn the page, so to speak. Thanks to streaming sites like Netflix, we no longer have to wait a week to turn the page. All we have to do is click “play next episode.” Be honest, how many times have you clicked “play next episode” even though you knew that going to sleep was the much wiser decision? Going to bed later means that we will be less mentally sharp the next morning, not to mention that we’ll probably be tempted to hit “snooze” until the last possible moment.

If we are managing to drag ourselves out of bed with enough time to read the Bible in the morning, chances are that we are groggy because we went to bed too late. We should desire to do the best we can to make sure that we are mentally sharp for when we read the Bible; that seems obvious. However, there is another bonus to drastically cutting down on our TV watching time[4]. Going to bed earlier means that we can get up earlier. If the morning hours are the most productive[5], and the morning hours are the most productive, redeeming the time God has given us means, then, that we should frontload the day with things that are beneficial and that require a higher level of mental cognition than other activities. Reading the Bible fits as snugly, if not more snugly, within that description as anything else does.

So, go to bed earlier and then get up earlier. Furthermore, spend that extra time in the morning reading the Bible.

Now, if you thought that I was already stepping on toes, I’m about to grind some toes into the dust with my rhetorical Dr. Martens[6].

While reading the above paragraphs, if you were rolling your eyes or had words like “legalist” pop into your head, you should repent. Unless, of course, you were rolling your eyes because you found my writing skills or even writing style poor and/or irritating; in that case, feel free to roll your eyes away. If, however, my commendation to watch less TV in order to free up time to read the Bible sounds unduly burdensome and/or unnecessary to you, well, repent.

That’s not to say that my exhortation applies to you. Your life may very well demonstrate that you prioritize reading the Bible over watching TV. Statistics point to the reality that the majority of us do watch too much TV and read the Bible too little, but I do know people who should probably watch a little more TV (or engage in other entertainment activities in order to relax and refresh the mind); maybe that’s you. But, I’m willing to bet that if that is you, you are not rolling your eyes at my exhortation to watch less TV in order to read the Bible more. Nor do you find my exhortation legalistic or unduly burdensome.

For Christians, for those of us who are repenting of our sins and placing our faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as our only hope in this life and the next, the argument that we should be reading God’s Word is an argument that is above reproach. Bristling at the notion that Christians should be watching less TV and should commit to doubling their Bible reading may very well be an indication that you are still dead in your sins. That’s why I wrote and write, “Repent.” Search your heart, and if you are repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Jesus, repent of your lack of desire to read the Bible, ask God to remove the idol of TV from your heart, and pray for the grace to love reading God’s Word. If, however, you can’t honestly say that you’re repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Jesus, you need to recognize that apart from faith in Jesus, your sins separate you from your Creator God. And, that apart from faith in Jesus, you are under God’s just wrath and will one day be confronted by your Creator God who will justly condemn you to an eternity under His wrath.

As Christians, we recognize that God has chosen to reveal Himself in and through the story of the Bible. It’s imperative that we engage God’s Word. For those of us who live in America (or the West, in general) we have been blessed with material comforts beyond belief and opportunities for times of recreation beyond belief. The vast majority of us do not have to scrape and claw for our basic subsistence from sunup to sundown. As followers of King Jesus, we should commit to using more of the blessings that God has given us in time spent reading the Bible.

By God’s grace, and collating some of the above paragraphs, a few things that I’ve done in order to double my Bible reading time are – watching less TV (and not just so that I can go to bed earlier – I’ve traded watching TV for reading), making sure that I go to bed earlier, and waking up thirty minutes earlier. I’ve also prioritized my reading time – I read the Bible first and more frequently than anything else. Years ago, I prided myself on reading the Bible through once a year, every year. And then the Holy Spirit revealed to me the stupid truth that I was reading the Bible far less than I was reading books about theatre.

On somewhat of a side yet definitely related note – the ESV Readers Bible has been a big help to me in reading through the Bible cover-to-cover with more frequency than in the past. Without the “stop signs” of chapter and verse numbers, headings, and other impediments to reading straight through, the amount of the Bible I can read in a set amount of time has greatly increased (instead of twelve to fifteen chapters in an hour, with a Readers Bible, I’ve found that I can read a minimum of twenty chapters in an hour). To be honest, when I first began reading the ESV Readers Bible, I wouldn’t have predicted that. Others who read a Readers Bible[7] have made similar discoveries about themselves. To be clear, those “stop signs” can be and are often helpful. In fact, I’m of the opinion that Christians should be reading the Bible cover-to-cover and also diving deeply into specific passages/books. That dual reading schedule, of course, requires a commitment to prioritizing our time around reading the Bible.

Many of us do not make reading the Bible a priority. Today, February 20, is a holiday – President’s Day. Instead of wasting the day by catching up on episodes of our favorite TV show, let’s use today as the launching point in a commitment to doubling our Bible reading time. I promise you that none of us will ever regret reading the Bible more and watching TV less.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] No doubt, there are newer polls. I couldn’t find them, though. Granted, I spent a grand total of about 42 seconds searching.

[2] The ESV Study Bible, The ESV Gospel Transformation Bible, The ESV Readers Bibles, and the ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition which was patterned after Jonathan Edwards’ Bible. Edwards undid the binding, inserted a blank page between every page, and then rebound the book. Not nearly as motivated nor industrious as Jonathan Edwards, I let Crossway do all that for me.

[3] If you do not fit under the umbrella of primary audience that I’m continuing to open and are curious about some of my assumptions/presuppositions, please let me know. Either in the comment section or the email provided in the “Contact” tab. I’d love to dialogue with you about all of this.

[4] Yes, I do mean “drastically.”

[5] Don’t tell me they’re not. Study after study bears out that for the majority of people, assuming normal physiology, mornings are the most productive. Not to be rude, but it you tell me that you’re not a morning person, I won’t believe you. I’ll assume that you think you’re a morning person because you stay up too late.

[6] I have to rhetorically wear Dr. Martens because I no longer physical wear the wondrous boots. A great tragedy (“Greek” tragedy, some might say) that I have yet to wrap my saddened brain around.

[7] You can find “Readers Bibles” in a variety of translations, not just the ESV.

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4 thoughts on “Turn Off the TV and Read the Bible

  1. This post preaches, John. Well done! I think I read somewhere that Americans watch TV, on the average, 36.5 hours a week. Just think if we took even a quarter of those hours to read our Bibles. I find TV to be a wasteland, so I watch very little and read during those hours instead, prioritizing Bible and commentary reading. The related verse for me is Philippians 4:8, which I gladly committed to memory years ago: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think of these things.” (NIV). I love Paul’s rhetorical device of repeating “whatever,” and l love the descriptors God inspired in his heart!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John, on the strength of your post, after walking the Sulphur Springs Trail of Paris Mountain for nearly 2 hours, I went back to another big hunk of Jeremiah, and I find it no accident that I came upon this verse: “‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks the rock to pieces?'” (23:29, ESV). Indeed, when the Holy spirit directs, the Word DOES burn in our hearts, and God’s truth DOES break the rock to pieces like a hammer! I love it when God “triangulated data” (having me in Jeremiah, reading this post, reading another large portion of Jeremiah, and speaking powerfully through me in Jeremiah 23:29)!

    Liked by 1 person

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