All posts by Jon Swanson

About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

just reading can be hard.

After we decide to make some time, there is a second reason it’s hard to find time to read the Bible. We simply don’t know where to start in this great big book.

IMG_2529In the old days, when books were only on paper, the Bible always had the thinnest paper and the smallest print. It felt like a scheme to make us think it was smaller than it is. But then we would read a little bit, like a verse of the day or a story of Jesus. And we would look at the little bit we read and then at the  whole big book and feel overwhelmed.

Can I tell you a secret about reading? Unless a book is a textbook, you don’t have to read it all at once. In fact, if a book is like a collection of stories, or an anthology, we don’t even have to read it from front to back. We can start reading our favorite author. Or our favorite style of writing.

I do believe that the Bible is the collected works of God, which means some intention to the books that are included. But I find as much liberty to read in a variety of different orders as I do to read from front to back.

Now I have a confession.

Having said that we can read with many approaches, I recently realized that I may not be helpful when I create a set of videos describing 25 different ways to start reading. Because I know from research on choice, that the more choices you offer the more likely people are to choose nothing. And giving you make options could be less helpful than saying, “Let’s talk together for a week and I’ll help you get started.”  Because I’m concerned that the “just” in “just read it” can do an injustice to novices.


For an example of the many ways to read, see “The Bible for my friends episode 5: Reading and Feasting


IMG_0973Sometimes the reason we are too busy to read the Bible
is, quite simply, that we are too busy.

For anything.

For anything more than we are doing.

Because when we have a moment to stop and think, we think of all the things that aren’t done yet. Or all the things that we’ve failed at. Or all the expectations that face us. And we want to mask that, or distract ourselves from that. So we turn to screen-based content or novels or self-help books or games or almost anything that can occupy our short-term thinking and block our hearts and the voices.

And for most people, the Bible isn’t at the top of the list of distractions. Which is probably okay.

Because the Bible almost never blocks our heart. In fact, when we can sit still long enough to listen quietly enough, it pries open our hearts to people who hurt. Like the childless woman facing the disdain of culture around her. It invites us to consider the flowers and trust their designer rather than our boss’s designs on our time, and our parents’ expectations for our lives.

And we simply don’t have enough time to consider a complete recalibration of our existence.

And so we are too busy to read the Bible.

What if I told you that the recalibration would come gradually rather than suddenly, more like a daily exercise program than a surgery? What if I could show you a couple simple ways to rearrange your time and attention just enough so that you could read the Bible in ways that could distract you from all the things that aren’t done yet? From all the things that you have failed at? From all the expectations?

Would you give me fifteen minutes a day for a week?


I do have a video about 6 ways to manage time and attention, if that’s what would help.

The challenges of making time

Some of my friends talk about reading the Bible. They use language like, “I know that I should, but it’s hard” or “I can’t figure out how to fit it in.”

Some of my friends aren’t worried about trying to figure it out. They use language like, “It doesn’t really matter to today anyway.”

Some of my friends read the Bible and argue about it and obey what they understand.

I love my friends.

For the first group, I started thinking about the sentence, “I’m too busy to read the Bible.” And I came up with a list of six possible reasons that lie behind that statement, six things that people might actually be saying.

I understand that these likely don’t apply to the second and third groups of friends. So if you are reading this and are part of those two groups, would you humor us for a bit while we talk about the six reasons?

So, when you say, “I want to read, but it’s had to set aside the time,” I have a feeling that there may be something else happening. And I can help you think it through if you can identify if there are other reasons for what you are feeling. So I’d like to suggest some possibilities. And you don’t have to answer here in public. I’m going to talk about all six. But I just thought it would help to see them.

  1. Because I am just too busy for anything.
  2. Because I don’t know where to start in a big book.
  3. Because I don’t want to feel lost like last time.
  4. Because I don’t have anyone to talk with about it.
  5. Because I don’t like to read anything.
  6. Because every time I start, I get confused about how to read it. 

Make sense?

We need each other’s stories.

After my posts about running last week, I heard from my friend James May. He expanded on the idea of needing each other and graciously allowed me to reprint his letter. 

I heard an interview on CBC with Zelda Gamson, who was a hard-core addicted smoker. Although she knew it was bad for her, and wanted to quit, she kept going back to smoking.

Then in a determined, impulsive moment she made a rash promise: “If I ever smoke another cigarette, I’ll donate $5000 to the Ku Klux Klan!”

What she did, according to an expert on the radio, was to up the ante. Now the long term good that she wanted had a friend to keep her on track: the reprehensible thought of supporting an organisation that she despised. That thought was more powerful than the powerful craving supplied by the nicotine addiction; she had brought the struggle into the present. Rather than dealing with the conflict between the immediate pleasure Zelda would get from smoking and the possible future pleasure she would get from being free from the addiction and the possible avoidance of further damage to health, she was faced with the immediate decision; this small comfort, or this present evil- in many respects, an easier choice.

Jon, the Christian life is a relationship, but we can be smart about how we discipline ourselves. You have showed us that in running with a friend, and sticking with it. Our public radio, the CBC has showed us that by showing us Zelda, who used to smoke. AA shows us that by pointing us to “a higher power.”

We overcome sin by Jesus’ blood. That is how we are saved.

The rest of the journey is also by God’s grace, BUT there is a ton of room for self-discipline, which ironically doesn’t happen alone.. That’s why we need the host of witnesses encouraging us. It’s why we need our 2×4 friends. And it’s why we need to listen to each other’s stories.

Brotherly love.

The other night, our men’s Bible study spent an hour on one phrase. In a paragraph in 1 Peter 3, Peter writes to a group of Jewish Christians exiled from Rome, living in Turkey. He says show “brotherly love.”

rob and meWe don’t always take an hour on one phrase, but it seemed important to talk about what it might mean to look at other followers of Jesus and to love them, with the family connection of brothers. Once we got past the idea that brotherly love in some families is less about affection and more about fisticuffs, we had some great conversation.

We talked about the challenge to be proactive in our love rather than just reactive. It’s easy to see a person with a car problem and offer to help. It’s more challenging to build relationship before there are problems.

And we noted that Peter’s early history wasn’t particularly loving. Think through the people Peter was in community with, in the first group of disciples. Peter and his brother Andrew were among the first three disciples. Andrew had time to hang around with John the Baptist, Peter ran the fishing business. In the fishing business, Peter competed with John and James, who were known for their intense personalities. Peter would have had to sell fish and pay taxes to Matthew, another disciple. Peter argued with Jesus, Peter denied knowing Jesus.

I’m not picking on Peter. In fact, many of us have exactly the same personality and positional conflicts with the dozen or so people who sit around the table at Bible studies with us.

When Peter says “show brotherly love”, he knows the challenge we face. And his life reflects a commitment to the one person who can bring incompatible people together. Peter’s letters, and his life, are full of Jesus.