If your Bible spends a lot of time on the shelf, you’re not alone. And if you do read it regularly, the likelihood is that you know many Christians who struggle to do so. So what can we do to change this?
In 2011, Josh Bartlett was volunteering at a Scripture Union holiday camp and a member of staff shared some research about Bible use. Josh was shocked by the fact that it was so low even amongst Christians. He began to explore where God might be guiding him and attended a Wycliffe Bible Translators storying weekend. He now works with Wycliffe in Australia to help English speakers to engage more deeply with God through the Bible.
Translation is just the start
Wycliffe’s vision is universal access to the Bible. Today, 1.5 billion people are still waiting for the complete Bible in the language that speaks to them best, and we are working with communities around the world to translate the Bible into their own languages. However, Bibles won’t do any good if people don’t use them. God’s Word doesn’t enter hearts and lives by sitting on a shelf, so we also work to help people engage with it in ways that make sense to them in their daily lives. And just as this is true for people in Papua New Guinea or India or Mozambique, it also rings true in the UK. We have had the Bible in English for hundreds of years, but we need to engage with it if it’s going to be any good to us. As Josh says: ‘the work doesn’t finish when a translation’s complete.’
Josh has three suggestions for people who want to grow in passion for the Bible and encourage others to grow, too. Firstly, pray: ‘Jesus’ instructions to the disciples when he said, ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ were, ‘therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest.’… And while this challenge has been daunting, we serve a big God.’
Secondly, we should work together. ‘Don’t keep quiet if you’re struggling… If we remain silent about the issue, nothing’s going to change. And my hope and my prayer would be that as we pray about this issue and talk to each other about it, God would give people ideas about what they can do in their context.’ He also points out that for thousands of years, people engaged with Scripture in community, reading publicly and discussing it together, and many people around the world still prefer to study the Bible in this way rather than studying by themselves. ‘We could do well to learn from oral communities and oral traditions.’ Indeed, in Deuteronomy 6.7, we are commanded to discuss the Lord’s teaching at every opportunity.
And thirdly, he continues, we need to put it into practice. Jesus says: ‘Anyone who listens to these words and puts them into practice is like a man who built a house on a rock.’ This also has a ripple effect on our families and churches and communities. ‘People who have seen Bible use modelled in the community and in the family growing up … and seen people not just reading the Bible but applying what they’ve learnt in their everyday life – this has a huge effect on how well those people can then apply it in their own lives.’
Wycliffe Bible Translators believes it is vital for every person to be able to access the Bible in a language that speaks to their heart so that, no matter what language we speak, we can ‘taste and see that the LORD is good!’