I watched, amused, as my husband prepared to go to work. He checked to make sure he had his wallet, keys, backpack, and water, then he kissed me goodbye.
But then he remembered something else he needed, or something else he needed to do, before he left. He’d run through his checklist again—keys, wallet, backpack, water, wife—and remember something else he needed to get. He went through this process three times, ending each time with kissing me goodbye.
I suppose I could have gotten upset that he forgot he had already kissed me goodbye several times, that kissing me was part of the routine. Or I could have reveled in getting four kisses instead of one.
But I was amused because I have similar routines.
Some routines arise to help us remember what’s vital. When I get out of the car, I stop to check for my phone, purse, glasses and keys, saying each one aloud. This routine grew out of having locked one or more of these items in the car in the past (all of them one time when one of my then-young children closed the car door before I was ready).
I also have a checklist before I leave the house to make sure I have those same items and have turned off the oven and burners (because I have accidentally left one on for hours, though thankfully not while I was gone) and have locked all the doors (because I have come home to a forgotten unlocked door).
Routines also help us get into the right mindset. Michael Phelps had an elaborate routine before races to prepare both his mind and body. A basketball player preparing for a free throw will usually dribble the ball a few times before aiming for the hoop.
Routines also save us time and brain power by not having to think through everyday decisions. We follow more or less the same schedule with eating breakfast, brushing teeth, showering, dressing. Routines can help us avoid distractions and give more time to creative thought.
But operating on automatic pilot gets us into trouble. I don’t know how many times I’ve missed a turn while driving because I was following my usual path instead of remembering I was going somewhere different that day. Or I’ve gotten to the end of my shower and forgotten if I washed my hair.
When I read articles about establishing a regular quiet time of Bible reading and prayer, I find many authors encourage setting up a routine. If we plan a quiet time at the same time and place with the same tools every day, soon it becomes regular and we don’t have to stop and think about whether, when, or where we’re going to have devotions.
Well and good.
But I’m sure you’ve had the same experience I have of running through your quiet time as a routine and then forgetting what you read five minutes later. Or looking at the same prayer list with a bit of dismay at praying for the same things over again.
I like to start my prayer time with what we call “the Lord’s prayer” and expand from there. But when I look at those same words every morning, sometimes I am in danger of running through them thoughtlessly.
How can we help our spiritual practices not to become so routine that we move through them on autopilot?
Remember who we are interacting with. Warren Wiersbe said in With the Word “The end result of all Bible study is worship.” He meant Bible study isn’t an end in itself: it should lead us to worship of the God in its pages. But it helps to start Bible reading with worship as well, to rejoice in the fact that the God of the universe wants to talk with and hear from me. The Bible says His thoughts are precious to us, highly valuable (Psalm 119:72). Stopping to think about who He is and what a treasure His Word is helps get me in the right mind set. Sometimes I do that with thought and prayer, other times by reading or quietly singing a hymn or reading a psalm or two.
Pray. Sometimes I just stop in the middle of what I am doing and ask God to clear the cobwebs and wake me up spiritually. Sometimes I’ll read through parts of Psalm 119, which is mostly prayer, like verse 24″ “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors,” or 25: “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” Verses 36-37 are good, too: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”
Change up the routine. It helps sometimes to change the order in which we do things or the translation or study method we’re using. Maybe go out on the patio or somewhere else in the house instead of our usual spot. I mentioned starting with the Lord’s prayer. But some years ago I made a list of other biblical prayers like Colossians 1:9-12 and Philippians 1:9-11, and I’ll use one of those instead.
Find study aids. If boredom comes from not understanding what we’re reading, a study Bible or simple commentary will help.
Examine our hearts. I think boredom in spiritual routines is often the result of familiarity or fatigue. But if we always feel bored when we read the Bible or pray, something deeper might be wrong. Maybe we’ve gotten our focus off the Lord or we’re harboring some sin. We need to ask Him to examine our hearts and show us anything that displeases Him. The Israelites were in worse trouble than they realized when they complained of weariness in the spiritual routines of their day.
Do it anyway. We shouldn’t let the feeling of boredom and routine stop us. Often, once we get going, we find something special in the day’s reading. One former pastor said one of his best times of prayer occurred when he started out confessing to the Lord that he didn’t feel like praying. Sometimes at the end of my quiet time, I’ve prayed, “God, you know I didn’t feel these things as fully as I have at other times. But you know I mean them.” Feelings help, but we do right whether feelings are there or not.
If over-familiarity with the Bible is a problem, these reasons to keep reading it might help.
God understands our human frailty. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). He’s not looking for a stellar “performance” in our time with Him. He invites us to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Do you have any other tips for alleviating boredom when reading the Bible or praying?
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