Spiritual Growth - Living a Life of Faith

Willpower for Reading the Bible and Why It Doesn’t Work

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With the new year upon us, many of us turn our focus onto developing spiritual habits. We resolve we will begin reading the Bible each day, we will pray more, go to church, and a whole host of other spiritual habits we could name off. 

However, like many other resolutions we make, we find that it soon wanes over time. Why? Why is it that we cannot stay focused on the goals we set and why reading the Bible and prayer are so hard to maintain?

Reading the Bible - An image of a white sofa with white books on it and a smaller image of a woman thinking

Developing Spiritual Habits – Why Willpower Won’t Work

Many times the reason our spiritual habits fall by the wayside with time is that we rely on willpower or discipline to keep us going.

Have you ever tried to go on a new diet only to find that in a short period of time you end up giving in to cravings? Or maybe a friend eats a huge slice of pizza in front of you and you give in and grab a slice? Why does that happen?

Because we are relying on our own strength and our own discipline to maintain the diet. Our heart is not in it but rather we are doing it out of a sense of obligation.

We hear it all the time when people say “I HAVE to lose weight”or “I HAVE to go on a diet” rather than “I CHOOSE to…”

When we feel we HAVE to do something out of a sense of obligation, it will cause us to be easily swayed the first time something derails us.

We are relying on one of the aspects of our inner man; our own will.

We are Made in God’s Image

God is a triune being. He is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. 

God the Father could equate to the Soul or the Mind. He is the Creator. He is the Giver of Life! He is in control of all things! It is He that speaks things into existence.

God the Son, Jesus, is the Body. He is the physical manifestation of the Godhead. He physically walked the earth and He physically died in our place to give us eternal life.

God the Holy Spirit is obviously the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, that guides us and leads us in righteousness. It is that still, small voice that tells us when we are on the right or wrong path. He leads us and fills us.

When God created man in His image, He also gave us three distinct parts of our being as well.

The Three Aspects of Man

We Have a Soul or Mind

This is the part of us that "feels" and makes decisions, oftentimes based on said feelings. We hear it often said that we are "soulish" beings, meaning we are sinful, selfish, and inner-focused. It is this aspect of us that the enemy usually attacks (the mind IS the battleground). It is our will.

We Have a Spirit

Our spirit or "heart" is what has us feel love. It is what caused us to seek God in our lives. This is the part of our being that has us do what is right and to follow God's will and not our own.

We Have a Body

And obviously we have a physical body. It feels discomfort, pain, pleasure and will eventually die. It is temporary.

Willpower – Our Will’s Power

When we set out on a godly discipline or to develop spiritual habits, we often rely on willpower to do it and in doing that we rely on the “power of our own will”. In other words, we are relying on our mind and our “soul” to keep us going in that discipline.

And if you have ever gone on a diet just to fall off, you have experienced why this does not work.

Willpower is making a mind-based decision to do something without the heart-based surrender to God that allows Him to work it out in us. It is relying on the power of our will instead of the power of the Spirit. 

We are using that soulish side of ourselves to do that which is really a heart-based devotion to God.

Relationship vs Religion

Our time spent in reading the Bible and prayer is part of our relationship with the Father. Relationships come from the heart and propel us forward in pursuing someone with all we are.

Religion on the other hand comes with a sense of obligation. It is a man-made list of “have to’s” and “musts” and leaves us with a sense of dread and condemnation.

Imagine being in a relationship where someone dictates how you need to speak to them, how often you can speak to them, a certain amount of time you need to spend reading about them. Would that be a fun relationship?

But yet many times that is exactly what our relationship with God looks like. A set of “have to’s” and “must do’s” that leave us feeling condemned when we don’t achieve them.

In the battle between relationship vs religion, relationship will leave you feeling filled and religion will leave you feeling failed.

You Can’t Have a Successful Relationship Without Communication

In any relationship, romantic or otherwise, communication is key. It is this that forms the main distinction in relationship vs religion.

In religion, there is a focus on rules and liturgy and tradition.

Those have no place in relationship because relationship is personal. No two people will relate to someone the same way.

Our God is a personal God. He relates to each of us in His own way. When religion steps in, IT determines how God relates to you and how you need to relate to God, stripping away the free communication between you.

It tells you when and how to pray, what words to speak, how to dress, how to worship, how to relate to others.

God desires relationship. He desires to meet with you in His Word where He will speak directly to you in a way that may be different than how He speaks to me.

This communication can only happen when we spend time in His Word and in prayer.

Developing Spiritual Habits of Reading the Bible and Prayer – A Heart Surrendered to Relationship

So how do we develop the spiritual habit of daily Bible reading and prayer

How to Develop the Spiritual Habits of Reading the Bible and Prayer

Pray to Avoid Distractions

We pray and ask the Lord to keep us from any and all distractions that keep us from spending that time with Him. It never fails! As soon as I sit down to study my phone will ring or something will happen to pull me away. We need to be proactive in eliminating distractions.

Ask the Lord to Fill Your Heart

Ask the Lord to fill your heart with the desire to grow in your relationship with Him by reading the love letter, the Bible, He has given us. Our "feelings" can sometimes get confused with our heart's leading so ask Him to keep the enemy at bay so that you can focus on God's leading and not on how you feel.

Stay Accountable

Find an accountability partner who can keep you on track. Life happens and when we are following good spiritual habits we can get side-railed. A good accountability partner will help you stay in relationship, which is so vitally important when life DOES get out of control. Remember, do not rely on willpower to keep you going in this new spiritual habit! Stay accountable!

Make a Date With Him

Schedule your time so that you have a set time of day devoted to daily Bible reading, study and prayer! One thing I have learned over time is that my day will VERY quickly get away from me if I am not careful about setting that time aside. So make a date with the Lord each day and keep that date!

Sticky Note Challenges

Use sticky notes around your house! Ok this may sound odd but it works. Recently our church did an all church study on habits and each week we had a sticky note challenge that went with that week's habit. Having those sticky notes around where you see them every day can go a long way in reminding you to take that time out for whatever spiritual discipline you are trying to instill in your life!


 Proverbs 28:26

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. ESV

An image of white flowers on a peach paper

Reading the Bible and Other Spiritual Disciplines

We are in a heart relationship with the Lord so let’s not rely on willpower or our mind to keep us growing in that relationship. The same way a couple makes dates to see each other and plans things together, we need to set those times aside for the Lord.

Any time you rely on willpower to keep you going, you risk falling away from that discipline because, let’s face it, discipline is NOT something we as humans are very good at!

But over time, as we work out our faith and develop those habits, we will find that we cannot stay away! We will crave that time with the Lord and that is how we know we have crossed from our minds to our hearts!

Have you found ways to stay accountable in reading the Bible or prayer? Share with us in the comments!


Some Other Posts Like “Willpower for Reading the Bible and Why It Doesn’t Work” you might enjoy:

SOAP Bible Study Technique – With Your Free Workbook

Pray With Confidence – The 4 Steps of the ACTS Prayer Method

Don’t Despise Small Beginnings – Faithful Elijah & the Cloud

How to Study the Bible for Yourself – 7 Simple Bible Study Methods!

Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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  1. Great post, Diane! I’m planning to read through the Bible in chronological order of book authorship in 2020 and I KNOW I need more than willpower to do it!!!

    Pinned & tweeted.

    Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!