One of Chance the Rapper’s great strengths is his ability to maintain the semblance of relatability despite his fame. Even as his 2016 album Coloring Book confirmed to the masses the Chicago native had staying power, he ascended to the top of the hip-hop zeitgeist with a bewildered smile. His connection to the South Side, where he cut his teeth, felt genuine.
With corny t-shirts and a parade of unending variations of his signature “3” ball cap, he looked younger than his 25 years. Still learning. Still inquisitive.
No one would have been surprised to see this attitude shift as his star continued to ascend. Collaborations with everyone from Cardi B to Kanye to Lin-Manuel Miranda racked up. He even made a movie with white-hot Oscar magnet independent film studio A24.
The natural assumption would be that a victory lap was in the works, one where Chance would embrace his position among rap royalty with a Coloring Book follow-up that would pull back the curtains on his new life as one of the all-time greats.
But that’s when things took a turn. In early December, Chance took to Instagram to post a picture of him and his young nephew, announcing an extended sabbatical.
“I’m going away to learn the Word of God, which I am admittedly very unfamiliar with,” he wrote in the caption. “I’ve been brought up by my family to know Christ, but I haven’t taken it upon myself to really just take a couple days and read my Bible. We all quote scripture and tell each other what God likes and doesn’t like, but how much time do we spend as followers of Jesus to really just read and KNOW his Word. I’m definitely guilty of not devoting time to it.”
Even celebrities of Chance’s caliber, who have everything they could possibly want, still feel the need for something more. Some people try to fill that spiritual void by taking up meditation or trying less than legal substances. But Chance’s approach is one worth imitating: Why not give the Bible a shot?
THAT’S THE BOOK
The Bible is 66 books written over the course of a few thousand years by a motley crew of shepherds, prophets, kings, historians, disciples and poets. Some of the books are letters, while some are historical documents. There are census records and government policy updates right next to visions of the end of the world. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, it is all “God-breathed, useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness.”
“The Bible reveals aspects of God’s character,” says Steven Sanchez, professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute. “God’s work of salvation in history and the way Christians should live—all these things are unique. They’re only revealed in Scripture. So if you take that away, what do you have left? You have feelings. You have some things that people told you. Maybe something you conjure up on your own.”
Sanchez says many Christians underestimate or misunderstand the value of Scripture in their spiritual growth. “The Bible is designed to change the way we think, the way we feel and the way we act,” he says.
But it can be difficult to know the best way to get the words off the page and into your heart, where it can make a difference. “Just sprinkling a few Bible verses on your day is probably not going to do what the Bible intends,” Sanchez says. “You read Psalm 119, you see the Psalmist meditating and thinking and delighting in and ‘my whole day it’s on my mind.’ That’s the sort of behavior that will do what the Bible intends, and change the way we love and how we behave. But that takes more time than 10 minutes a day.”
The Bible is a unique book, but it still is a book, and books need to be read. You wouldn’t tackle Moby Dick by reading one sentence per day, or jumping around from chapter to chapter. You wouldn’t say you’ve read Freakonomics if all you’ve got is a handful of popular quotes memorized. People take classes to understand Shakespeare. Understanding the Bible takes at least that level of commitment.
But there’s no need to go into this blind. Chance took his sabbatical seriously, and while you may not have the income of a world-famous rapper at your disposal to do the same, you can still get more serious about the Bible. Here’s what a deep dive could look like for you:
Depending on your job and family situation, the most realistic opportunity for you might just be a weekend getaway—just you and the Bible. Believe it or not, this sort of limited time could actually be a great way for you to focus your energy. The stricter the guidelines, the more intensive you can be with your focus.
“Don’t be afraid to pick and choose,” Sanchez says. “There’s no reason you can’t start at 30,000 feet and then go deeper and deeper the next few years of your life, if that’s your goal.”
If all you’ve got is your standard weekend—Friday to Sunday—then your best bet isn’t to tackle the whole Bible, but just to take on one book and really devote yourself to engaging it. It’s enlightening, actually since most of the books of the Bible are really written to be devoured in a single sitting. If you take a whole weekend and dedicate it to one of the books, you’ll be able to examine it from both a mile-high, macro perspective and have some time to delve into the nitty gritty, too.
To start, make a plan. If you can get away, find an Airbnb or chill camping spot. A different location will shake up your routine and give you some fresh focus for your weekend. But in a pinch, you can do this from home. Make sure to deliberately remove potential distractions (like turning off your Wi-Fi and putting your phone in another room) to get the most of the experience.
The next step is to figure out which book you want to delve into. If you’re more into stories and plot, then pick a book with a lot of historical narrative in it. Any of the Gospels will do, as would Genesis or Exodus. If you’re more into preaching, consider Romans or one of the Corinthians. If you like poetry, Psalms is an obvious answer but don’t sleep on some of the prophetic books like Isaiah or Jeremiah.
Second, find some sort of commentary you can reference. The Bible is an old book, written in a few different languages and no matter what translation you use, there is bound to be some historical context that you can only really get by consulting an expert (or by learning Greek or Hebrew, but let’s table that for now).
THE LONG WEEKEND
So let’s say you’ve got a little extra time coming up—a four-day weekend maybe, with plenty of time to get away. If you’re willing to devote all that to a sabbatical, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. Again, as a reminder, if you can get away, do so. It’s hard to overstate the value of changing your environment for something like this.
One fun challenge for the long-weekend Bible sabbatical is to pick a single topic and devote your entire sabbatical to how the Bible addresses it. This is a bigger challenge for some topics than others (you’ll have a significantly tougher time with “God” than, say, “marriage”), but there are few topics you can get a decent survey of if you’re willing to devote yourself for a few days.
Now that you’ve got a topic, you’ll need a reading plan and for that, you’ll need outside help. Do a little research online and see what extra-biblical books have been written about these subjects and pick them up from Amazon or your local library. Talk to a pastor and get some recommendations about trusted authorities on the subjects.
THE WEEKLONG GETAWAY
So, you’ve got a lot of extra time to yourself and you’re interested in making it a real biblical sabbatical like Chance. You won’t regret it. The Bible isn’t the world’s best-selling book by accident. Any amount of time spent with it will bear good fruit, and a whole week dedicated to it could very well change your life.
Choose a portion of the Bible to really dig into. Maybe you want to go with the minor prophets. Or maybe you want to really engage the life of Christ through the Gospels. Or maybe just the epistles: the letters of the early Church. With a whole week, you can afford to swing for the fences. You’re not looking to write a Ph.D. here; just to really take on a substantive swash of Scripture for seven days.
The Bible is designed to change the way we think, the way we feel and the way we act.
“You’ve got to set your expectations right,” Sanchez says. “This is not Harry Potter. This is not C.S. Lewis. This is a lot more complex than all of those books.”
For something like this, your supplemental reading doesn’t have to be quite as specific as the other options. Consider a more general book about the Bible— something to guide you while you read. You need to approach the Bible with a humble spirit, willing to be filled, challenged and transformed.
It’s harder than it sounds. Many people will talk about the value of a spiritual journey, but aren’t actually very interested in taking a single step from where they are. Changing your opinion about something you’ve believed for a long time, being confronted with a wrong attitude you’ve harbored, realizing that something you’ve always considered to be right might actually be wrong—these aren’t just possible outcomes of truly taking God’s Word seriously; they’re a sign that you’re doing something right.
“I feel really good right now, thank u Father,” Chance the Rapper wrote on Instagram, about five days into his Bible-reading sabbatical. Judging by social media posts, Chance spent a week committed to reading the Bible. In that time, he kicked cigarettes (Hey, as long as you’re reading the Bible, you might as well pick up some other healthy habits.) and apparently developed a newfound sense of wholeness.
The Bible isn’t a magic book. Reading it won’t heal your marriage or get you out of debt. But it is a spiritual benchmark—a way of connecting with God on a uniquely explicit and literal level.
Will it fix your life? No, but it might just do one better. It’ll help connect you to that thing you’ve been missing and give a direction to your praises.
And if you’ve listened to any Chance the Rapper, you know what happens when the praises go up.
Rachel is a writer and editor living in Portland.