The common thinking on this issue is that you should be self-controlled and disciplined, do the right thing and don’t worry about the feelings, they may follow. I don’t agree.
This kind of advice reveals a stoic notion of how we operate internally. First let me deconstruct a bit:
What is wrong with advice that seems to work, sometimes?
The advice seems to work sometimes, but it is only sometimes because in reality the stoic understanding of internal operations isn’t true. So some people will respond to the reading with genuine and good feeling, but others won’t. This is what to expect of response-creatures like us.
When people take the advice and genuinely apply it, I see real problems. To dismiss the feelings altogether and just “do the right thing” typically leads to two destinations. Either the person succeeds and then can fall into pride thinking their own determination is highly spiritual. Or they discover that pursuing something spiritual in the power of the flesh isn’t a recipe for spiritual growth and they grow more frustrated at their own lack of will-power and discipline.
So what advice would I give?
I tell people to take the state of their heart seriously. If there is no appetite for God’s Word, this is a real problem to be faced, not a temporary and irrelevant matter to be by-passed. View this as a warning light flashing on the dashboard of your life and don’t pretend it isn’t there.
My approach when I sense there is an issue of appetite and desire is to follow advice Ron gave me years ago – be brutally honest with God about it and pray out loud. Somehow I find I can’t get very far into a prayer where I’m telling God that His book isn’t very well written and everything else is more attractive and compelling to me…before I know it I find myself feeling convicted and broken before the cross. As a close friend sometimes puts it, when there is sin you should feel bad!
Then in broken repentance I find I want to respond to God again and so open my Bible in order to hear from Him and respond to Him.
So am I saying only read the Bible when you feel like it?
No, I’m saying we need to read the Bible whether we feel like it or not. However, the solution isn’t a gritting of the teeth, but a recognition that the lack of appetite and desire is a serious issue, an indicator of a spiritual problem. Consequently it is better to take the state of my heart seriously, rather than dismissing and by-passing it.
I find that in my marriage there are times when I don’t feel a lot like spending time with my wife. The solution? Simple. Buy flowers and a card, present with the words “I love you” and hey presto, all is well. Uh, actually not. She has this amazing ability to discern when I am going through the motions, but my heart is not in it. The solution to a hard heart toward my wife is not personal discipline, but exposure to her character that I might respond to her beauty again. Instead of ignoring the feelings, or lack thereof, it is much better for me to recognize that there is a problem and then humbly spend an evening together so that I can respond. I do respond because she has a beauty that captures me. The solution to lack of feelings is neither to ignore the feelings, nor to avoid the person. The solution is not a self-oriented “effort,” but to take the feelings seriously and then look to the one to whom I am a responder.
Two people may look like they are doing the same thing. Both are reading their Bibles. But if we could look at the heart we would see a difference. One is reading out of duty, a diligent determination to do the right thing, a disciplined approach that is supposed to result in a level of personal spirituality and holiness. The other is reading out of desire to respond to the God who loves them and is drawing them to Himself.
One is reading with gritted teeth. The other is reading with open heart. There is a difference.