A Love Ballad for a Lima Bean
The Bible has a lot to say about the value of, well, the Bible.
In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, literally every verse highlights the value of God’s words. According to Psalm 119, the Bible is reliable, helpful, certain, trustworthy, true. According to Psalm 119, the Bible provides direction, purity, wealth, joy, clarity, confidence, life, salvation. Psalm 119 patently gushes about how great the Bible is. If Psalm 119 were a song, it would be a love ballad—one of those epic, 11-minute versions (that always has the best parts trimmed out for the radio edit, ugh).
Even if you agree that the Bible is trustworthy and true, chances are you don’t always feel that into it.
It’s okay for us to be honest about our feelings toward the Bible. We sometimes think of the Bible like a vegetable. It’s good for us, sure. We know we need more of it in our diet. But we don’t really get excited about it. Who has ever written a love ballad for a lima bean?
I suspect we’re missing something.
For instance, here’s an excerpt from Psalm 19, which is a bit like a Cliff’s Notes version of Psalm 119 (and not just in number). Reflecting on the the words of God, the psalmist writes,
“More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.”
Psalm 19:10–11 ESV
I love those images! The Bible isn’t depicted here as useful or practical or good for you (though it is all of those things). Instead, it’s rich and it’s sweet. It’s honey and gold.
In other words, the Bible isn’t a lima bean. The Bible is baklava.
In Search of a Reward
So what prevents us from feeling that way?
Many of us conclude that we’re dealing with a heart issue. If we really loved the Bible, we’d make time for it. So the answer, we guess, is to drum up more motivation for Bible reading.
That’s not completely wrong-headed. After all, the heart certainly plays a huge role here. All of us sense that our love for the Bible should be greater than it is, don’t we? Whether our Bible reading is flourishing or floundering, we know we should want the Bible more.
But this isn’t just a heart issue. Many of our struggles are much more mundane. When it comes time to actually read the Bible, we can’t find it (I mean, literally, you misplaced it). Or we don’t know where to start. Or how long to read. Or what in the world that verse means. And then our circumstances conspire against us: It’s easier to sleep in, or check Instagram, or work a little longer, or …
It’s not necessarily that we believe the Bible is dispensable or cheap. We’d never say that. But our practices might. In other words, this isn’t just about the heart. This is also about our hands. It’s about our habits.
But that’s good news—because habits are in these days. Current habit literature reminds us that we are formed just as much by what we do than by what we think or feel (if not moreso). A collection of good habits creates a good character. A good character leaves a good legacy.
Read enough of these habit books and one piece emerges consistently—reward. People develop habits because a certain action produces a certain short-term (that’s important) reward. Put a Fitbit on your arm and you might find yourself motivated to walk further than usual. Why? You want the reward of defeating your cousin Phil. And when you do, it sort of, well, clicks. You feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s rewarding.
Many short-term rewards drive us in the wrong direction:
- Cookie tastes good: Click
- Laying on the couch for three hours: Click
- Scrolling TikTok: Click click click
The trick is to manufacture clicks that drive us in the right direction:
- Shoes by the door (a cue to hit the gym): Click
- A piano in the center of the home (instead of a TV): Click
- Doing a crossword puzzle—you know, to keep the brain sharp: It’s fun, so … Click
In the long run, these short-term clicks eventually give way to long-term rewards: You no longer just want to defeat Phil; you actually like the way your body feels when you hit 10,000 steps. But it takes a while to get there. A lot of clicks have to happen first.
I would contend that people who love the Bible—baklava love, not lima bean love—began with some kind of click. A lot of them.
Clicks in the Bible
So is any of this in the Bible? I think so. Consider this anchor passage from the Old Testament. Again, this is a reflection on God’s words, coming from Moses this time:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
–Deuteronomy 6:6–9 ESV
You may not read that as a clinic in habit-formation. But it is. The Word of God wasn’t primarily a proposition they were supposed to understand, but a habit they were supposed to undertake. Look how physical the commands are: Put this stuff on your doors, your foreheads (or just your wrists, I guess). Physical objects are often habit-forming cues. Like a banner above the locker room door that says “Believe”—on the way out to the field, everyone slaps the banner. Click. Yes, the word matters. But the habit attached to the word? That’s what makes it stick.
Because it’s rewarding.
The timing here matters, too. Moses pointed out transition times. When you sit, when you lie down, when you rise. What you do during times of transition (especially mundane transitions) easily becomes ritual.
For instance, every night, before bed, I sing three songs to my four-year-old son. Two of those songs were intentional—(1) Jesus Loves Me and (2) You Are My Sunshine. The third was an accident. It’s a made-up song about an airplane that, frankly, doesn’t make any sense. Why do I sing it every night? Because months and months ago, I sang it one night at bedtime. And it became part of the ritual.
Transition times are habit-forming times. What you do when you leave the house, lay down to sleep, sit down to eat … that little ritual matters. Whether you know it or not, that ritual becomes a habit, and something within you instinctively wants to seek the click in that moment. You want that little reward.
The point here was never the doorposts, never the hands. The point was always the heart: “These words shall be on your heart.” But God knew that the way to drive the word into our heart was by binding it onto our hands. By making it click.
It’s no accident that Moses told God’s people to remember God’s word with clicks. I believe God knew more then about habit-formation than we do now. So he gave us a starter kit on habit-forming rituals. Because he knew we wouldn’t find our way to baklava without a little nudge.
Beyond the Click: Rewards for the Long Haul
If you read the Bible consistently, decades from now you’ll be reaping all kinds of beautiful fruit. But you and I don’t live decades from now. You and I live today. And today, you and I need a click.
What might that click be for you? Here are a few ideas:
- Leave a stack of Bible memory verses in a high traffic area, like your front door or in your car.
- Stash your phone under your Bible, so you have to physically pick up your Bible first—even if only to move it out of the way.
- Game-ify your Bible reading. The Bible App has a “streak” feature, so use it to see if you can defeat your cousin Phil. Click.
- Buddy up—then commit to texting your friend (at the same time every day) one insight from the day’s reading. Click click click.
Get creative. Try some things, see if they work, and then try some other things. See what clicks.
You may never write a love ballad for the Bible. But with enough clicks, you’ll begin to see why someone did. And over time, I believe you’ll begin to experience the Bible as both baklava and lima bean—enjoyable and fruitful, rewarding in the short-term and satisfying in the long-term.