Engaging with God’s Word in times of exhaustion, stress and distress

“I just can’t read my Bible”. In times of stress, it’s a common refrain. We may know that God’s Word is fuel, nourishment, balm to our weary hearts but opening the pages and reading the verses can seem an elusive skill. Sermons go in one ear and out the other, podcast prose is no more than water off a duck’s back and personal quiet times become a mere staring at the page, with mind in neutral, or, let’s be honest, sometimes are completely absent from our lives.

So, when the pressure is on, how can we keep feeding on God’s Word in ways that feel manageable? Here are a few tips:

1. Keep it bite-sized. There is great merit is reading 4 chapters a day but, when that’s impossible, 4 words is better than none. A single verse of a Psalm can bring light to the soul: “the Lord is my rock” (Ps 18:2); “Rescue me” (Ps 43:1); “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Ps 150:6). Reminders of truth, spurs to relationship, words to fuel prayer are all found in the verses of the Bible’s songs.

2. Read with your ears. In our 21st century, technologically driven world there are plenty of ways to listen to God’s Word rather than read. We can close our eyes, or stand at the sink, and let his words flow. Across the centuries, there have been periods when it’s been entirely normal for believers to receive God’s Word aurally, recapturing that in these difficult days can help us continue to engage.

3. Let your friends feed you. God is building us into a community. We’re not designed to do life alone. Asking friends to send us nuggets of truth can be a wonderful way to connect. A message on our phone, a voicemail recording of a favourite passage or a 2-minute personalised summary of the main point of the sermon last week, can give us fuel for the journey. Plus a reminder of how much people care. Of course, a short conversation about a passage may galvanise the most muddly of minds – it doesn’t need to be a full Bible study, just a few shared thoughts of mutual encouragement in the middle of the day (even when surrounded by lively kids, exhausted co-workers or the crashing silence of a lockdown solo home).

4. Add a tune. There are many songs that quote the Word of God. There are songs – especially children’s songs – that help us learn memory verses (and you don’t need be a kid or have kids to enjoy them day by day!) Letting those songs rise to the top of our playlists can be a wonderful way of promoting engagement with God’s word – listen, muse, listen again to the beauty of God’s message to you. Ideal for the drive home from essential work or the weekly food shop.

5. Meditate while taking exercise. It’s a skill that is practised rarely in our fast-paced world but picking one verse to mull over a period of time can be a good way to dig deep into some of Jesus’ words. And doing it while exercising gently can help the brain to engage. How about, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) – ponder who is calling – what do these words show us about his nature?; ponder who is being called – what does this verse show us about what it is like to be human?; ponder the offer – what difference does life with Christ make?; and ponder the application – what can I do in response?

6. Memorise. It may be a single, short verse but having it at the forefront of your mind can be a genuine help. Stick a post-it note on the toilet door – even the busiest of us manage to get there a few times a day(!) – and remind yourself of truth and love.

And all the while recall that the Spirit is holding you fast. A period of struggling to engage with the word isn’t going to cause him to love you less. And, hopefully, it won’t be too long before you’re able to feast on his goodness in the words of Scripture once again.