This question reminds another one. How long should your legs be? Long enough to reach the ground, of course!
But frequently when I hear this question — and I do hear it quite often — I hear a subtext that is asking “How little Bible study time can I get by with and still grow spiritually?” If that’s your question, then let me just say that spiritual growth is not something that happens on a schedule, and as long as you’re looking for minimums you’re going to find that growth is very difficult. You might ask instead how much of your life you must surrender to Jesus. Now it might take a long time for your life to be 100% surrendered, but complete surrender is always the goal.
A better question might be just how can Bible study help with my spiritual growth? How should I go about making scripture a positive part of my spiritual life?
Many people are actually hindering their own spiritual life by trying to study precisely as someone else does, or for a particular amount of time that isn’t tailored to their spiritual and intellectual needs. And before someone reminds me that it’s all about God, we do have spiritual needs, and we need to fulfill them. For example, I can tell a substantial difference in how the rest of my day will go if I cut short or skip my morning devotional time, even if the remainder of my day is occupied studying scripture or theology.
So I’m going to guess that if you’re asking this question you are concerned about your spiritual growth, and you think that more time with God’s word will help. You need to ask not only how long to spend, but what to do with the time you set aside.
Let me suggest three things that may have brought your Bible study to a halt or made it into a task rather than a joy:
- First, you may be studying for the facts or for simple intellectual satisfaction. If you are inclined to intellectual curiosity, you may even be enjoying your Bible study, but still feel that your spiritual life is dying at the same time as you learn more and more. If this is your problem, the prescription is not more time spent in study, but rather a focus on applying scripture in your spiritual life. This can involve increasing your time spent in prayer, in service to others, or in meditation as opposed to working harder on details of knowledge.
- Second, you may be following the Holy Spirit — or you may think you are — but not studying the word systematically enough to let it correct you. In this case, you are probably more experiential than intellectual and analytical. Following the Holy Spirit is both possible and very important in Bible study, but often people who think they are following the Holy Spirit are really just following their own inclinations. The result is that they go over the same passages, again and again, passages that tend to support what they already believe and do. In this case, you may need to spend more time looking at the facts of scripture and reading systematically through larger portions of scripture.
- Third, you may be excessively influenced by your surrounding culture. This is very similar to my second point, but instead of assuming that you’re following the Holy Spirit you spend your time looking for specific texts to support or oppose things in the culture. In other words, your study is issue oriented, and you believe that if you find the correct answers to such questions as homosexuality, abortion, women in ministry, modesty in dress, or any of a number of other issues, you have done the proper sort of Bible study. It is quite possible to have all the right answers to those questions and yet not be a disciple. In this case, you need to look both for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, combining your Bible study with prayer, and also making it more systematic.
The key is to seek God’s guidance through scripture in all aspects of your life. To do so you will need to combine listening to God’s voice speaking to you, looking at all aspects of scripture, and finding those places where God wants to correct you. Once you have the diagnosis of your need, the answer to the question of how much time will come to you easily.