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Candy Crush and the Bible

I’m embarrassed to admit this but I used to spend a lot of time playing Candy Crush.  It’s a mobile game that’s become a worldwide sensation.  The game has been downloaded 500 million times and played more than 150 billion times, and it's still growing.  But the reason I’ve been thinking about it is not what you’d expect.  You see, I believe Candy Crush has a lot to teach us about Bible reading.

I had never heard of Candy Crush until I read an article about it in TIME Magazine.  Intrigued, I downloaded the free app to my iPad and iPhone.  Soon I was lining up sets of three fruit candies and enjoying the deep-voice affirmation when I progressed to the next level, “Sugar crush!”

But what does a mindless mobile game have to do with Bible reading? It turns out the secret to the success of Candy Crush, according to developer Tommy Palm, is the habit-formation principles he incorporated into its design; things like keeping the process simple, providing positive feedback and encouraging players to connect on Facebook.

That fascinated me because ten years ago, as President of Scripture Union USA, I commissioned a study of habit formation and the Bible. Instead of making daily devotions a heavy-duty study, we asked, “What would make Bible reading an enjoyable, repeatable behavior?” With the help of author and psychologist Dr. Jeff Brown of the Harvard Medical School, we looked at lots of habit-formation research. In the end, the principles that seemed most effective in the devotional life were: a) setting achievable goals, b) making a personal plan of action, c) using a pre-determined schedule, d) tracking one’s progress, and e) having the “soft accountability” of reading the Bible with another person or group.

We then built these principles into the E100® Challenge and the program took off. To date, over 20,000,000 people in 25 languages have participated. Based on that success, the American Bible Society began distributing E100® to the US Military and in Bibles distributed in China. And we’ve even developed a youth edition. Honestly, E100® is growing faster then anyone ever imagined.

But in the end, the secret to regular Bible reading is not some kind of Candy Crush trickery. It’s what faithful Christians have known for centuries: meeting God in his Word is what brings you back to the Bible every day. As the Psalmist said, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2). That’s what people truly crave.

After a few weeks of playing Candy Crush (and progressing to level 23), I permanently deleted the game from my iPad and iPhone; I was wasting too much time on it.  But the good new is I’m still experiencing the joy of meeting God in the Bible every day, and I don’t plan to stop.  Bible crush!


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