Reading the Bible is a lot like losing weight: It’s good for you, but it requires discipline, and not everyone succeeds at it consistently. If we approached Bible-reading like Weight Watchers approaches weight loss, we might be more successful.
Weight Watchers manages to rank well as an effective diet program because they’ve found an effective balance of certain key principles. The same principles are key to any difficult, long-term lifestyle change:
1. Balance accountability with encouragement
Accountability is important. But people shy away from it because when accountability is not done well, it turns into nagging. Accountability is most effective when it’s balanced with encouragement.
Weight Watchers. At a Weight Watchers meeting, accountability comes in the form of facing the scale—you weigh in each week, and that number gets recorded in your little book. But facing the scale is balanced with encouragement from your leader and from the rest of the group. Are you up two pounds? Ok, let’s talk about why—not to make you feel guilty, but to help you identify what’s working and what’s not, and to help you put a plan in place so you can get better results next week. Every week, you start where you are. You can start over as many times as you need to. No judgement.
Bible-reading. If you’re struggling to read the Bible faithfully, you probably need a group that can offer you accountability as well as encouragement. You need people who will ask you, “What have you read in the Bible today?” or even, “What things are keeping you from reading your Bible?” You need opportunities to identify what’s working and what’s not, and you need someone to encourage you to start over every time you go off-plan.
Which leads nicely to Balance #2—
2. Balance community support with personal responsibility
Americans place a high value on independence, initiative, and self-reliance, often to the neglect of community and inter-dependence. But balancing independence with community improves your success rate.
Weight Watchers. Key to the success of Weight Watchers is the support that group members get from each other. Groups meet weekly, and the best leaders involve their groups in each others’ lives—asking questions, exchanging recipes, cheering for successes. At the same time, everyone knows that between meetings they have to apply what they’ve learned or the scale will tell on them (see #1)!
Bible-reading. Many Christians don’t have a support system. Many believe that “personal devotions” should be, well, personal. But if your “personal” devotions aren’t happening, you probably need some community support. Try it! Not only will your Bible-reading be much richer in community with other people, it will also become more authentic, more effective, more consistent, and more fun.
3. Balance information with application
Sometimes people fail because they lack a certain kind of knowledge. Other times, people already know what they need to do, they just don’t do it. Both information and application are necessary for lasting life change.
Weight Watchers. A lot of people have heard that eating a piece of cheesecake is “bad for you” and eating a bowl of oatmeal is “good for you.” At a Weight Watchers meeting, you’ll spend time learning why. You’ll learn about Points and nutrients, and you’ll realize that using 15 Points on a piece of cheesecake might taste good, but in an hour you’ll be hungry again; while spending 3 or 4 Points on a bowl of oatmeal will fuel your body and keep you satisfied for most of the morning. There’s some science involved—all those secret formulas that help you track what you’re eating and how active you’re being—and group meetings are a good opportunity to share that information. But the information won’t make a difference if you don’t apply it (see #2).
Bible-reading. Some people know a lot about the Bible—they can recite verses and tell you where certain passages are found and win all the Bible trivia games. But they’re not living it. For example, they might know that the Bible says God doesn’t want us to steal (Exodus 20:15), but they come to work late, take long lunches, and head home early, essentially stealing from their employer. Without application, information is useless.
Speaking of application…
I think Weight Watchers succeeds because of these key balances. I think I need to apply these balances to my Bible-reading too.