We’ve got a few housekeeping things to get out of the way: 1) I’m not going to give a good reason why this post is so late because there isn’t one 2) November is my blogging break month, so no Penprints posts (keep a weather eye on the Facebook page for any momentous updates) 3) I’m doing NaNoWriMo for the first time in a few years!!! 4) there’s probably something I’m forgetting.
What it is: Reading the Bible. Here’s what you do: grab your Biblical text, settle in somewhere, and read through a chapter or book of the Bible (I know, we were all kind of unsure).
What it doesn’t do: Bible reading alone cannot nourish a soul. Scripture is the richest soul-food, but you can’t be filled up by something just by looking at it, or even putting it into your mouth. You have to chew on it, swallow it, and make it part of who you are (more on that later).
Bible reading “done well”: The best Bible reading springs from a heart realization not that you should read the Bible but that you need to read it, that if you don’t read it, you won’t survive. The best Bible reading is approached with hunger and humility. It’s Spirit-led, and both the mind and the heart are engaged, soft, and meditative/contemplative.
Why do it: The Bible is how God decided to tell us about Himself; it’s His chief form self-revelation. So, from a desire to know God flows the reading of His Word, and from reading the Bible comes a heart and mind that are saturated with Scripture.
What it is: Intense, extensive study of the Bible. This involves examining the context, wording, grammar, cross-references, etc.. The passage(s) in question is read and then reread and then rereread. Notes are kept, questions are asked, and answers are found. Theoretically. (Or, my favorite thing ever: I end up with more questions than I had when I started).
What it doesn’t do: Bible study alone cannot feed the soul. An exercise of the mind without the engagement of the heart will result in knowledge but not nourishment.
Bible study “done well”: Approach Bible study with much prayer and openness. It’s something to do with God, to enjoy and discuss with Him. Check yourself to make certain you’re delighting in the Word itself and God Himself and not in the discovery process. There’s a special thrill in realization and finding an long-sought answer, and it’s good to enjoy that bit of satisfaction… but it shouldn’t be the primary source of our satisfaction and joy.
Why do it: 1) Because we’re commanded to do it (2 Timothy 2). 2) Investigation is a byproduct of a healthy, worshipful heart. 3) We’re called to be stewards of God’s mysteries, and while they’re called “mysteries” for a reason (i.e. – we don’t even know what we don’t know about them, and we likely never will), it’s our responsibility as stewards to share our knowledge with others… and how can we share it if we don’t have it? And how can we have it if we don’t look for it?
What it is: Personal devotions (aka: quiet time, devos, or Jesus time) is where Bible reading, study, prayer, meditation, worship, and self-examination all come together to create rocket-fuel for the Christian life. This is where the heart, mind, soul, and strength strive together know God and then be like God. This is where the mind is renewed and the soul feasts.
What it doesn’t do: Doing devotions can help equip you to grow and live the Christian life, but you have to do just that: live the Christian life. Just as faith without works is dead, what you taste and see in your quiet time is dead if it isn’t translated into your everyday life.
Personal devotions “done well”: I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong way to do devotions, and I think that they will look a little different for each person, but there are a few universal principles.
If you don’t do it with the Holy Spirit, it’s worthless; so ask for the Holy Spirit (and really mean it). Be purposeful and intentional. Strive to be undistracted. Don’t lie to yourself or God about what you find in the text or yourself. Do it every day (that includes weekends) as much as possible.
Clarifications: Devotions are not reading a book about the Bible. Yes, you can read a book about the Bible, but you must balance it with actually reading the Bible itself. You can have a guide or commentary, but it’s important to remember what someone says about God’s Word isn’t as valuable as God’s Word itself.
Devotions are not public. This means you don’t broadcast them (i.e. – don’t do it in a public place, and don’t post about doing it on social media).
Devotions are not meant to be preparation to teach others. Pastors, small group leaders, and other teachers should have a time separate from sermon/lesson/discussion preparation outside of the their devotions. Devotions are where the Holy Spirit meets our personal needs, and teaching can spring out of that, but teaching should not be the goal. Knowing God should be the goal.
Devotions are more involved than Bible reading and Bible study alone because it incorporates more spiritual disciplines (more time spent in prayer, worship, reflection, application, etc.).
Devotions won’t always look the same for all people. Sometimes there will be more study time, sometimes much more prayer, sometimes more simple reading and relishing the Word, sometimes more worship, and it all depends on each person’s season in life and specific needs.
Why do it: If we want to know and be like God, we won’t just think about wanting to know and be like Him; we’ll ask Him to help us know and be like Him. And if we want to know and be like God, we won’t just ask for His help and sit on our hands; we’ll read His Word. If we want to know and be like God, we won’t just read His Word; we’ll meditate on it. If we want to know and be like God, we won’t just meditate on His Word; we’ll study it, knowing that in studying it, we are studying Him. And if we want to know and be like God, we won’t just study Him; we’ll ask Him to help us know and be like Him.
And so the cycle continues, the desire followed by the asking followed by the reading followed by the mediation followed by the study followed by the asking again, and the soul that goes through that cycle will follow it with action–changed thinking and behavior and way of life. And the soul that is characterized by hearing and then doing will be the soul that grows up into the image of Christ.
A few warnings.
Any spiritual discipline can easily become a rite of religion we do because we know we should.
As our eyes skim the verses during Bible reading, our brains can drop into autopilot, and the God-breathed words–the most powerful words ever to be said and printed–become nothing more than black shapes on a sheer white page. They go in before one blink and out after the next, and we have a vague sense that something about grace is being said, but we don’t really what it is, just that it’s something to grace and glory to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and other such Bible jazz.
When conducting intense study, the Bible can quickly become a textbook, and turning the Bible into a textbook is dangerous because it’s not a textbook. The Bible is the special self-revelation of God, a Being we don’t and never will understand. Yet, when studying the Bible, it is so easy for it to become an intellectual pursuit, engaging every cylinder of our minds while leaving our hearts and souls unaffected by the knowledge.
Pride is another danger, and when I say danger, I say it with flashing warning signs and blaring sirens because pride is a fire no one can get close to and not be burned. Pride in efforts or “results” from Bible reading, study, etc. is so appallingly natural; it’s the road our old nature wants to race down headlong given any opportunity. (And before you say you don’t have pride, you need to think again.)
Keep guard against legalism setting in as you seek to establish healthy habits, and always remember that grace super-abounds.
Don’t do one or the other; do all three.
Read your Bible outside of your devotions time. Learn to delight in it, pleasure read it. Regular, extensive Bible reading is not what “good” or “devout” Christians do. Regular extensive Bible reading is what hungry, needy, weak-and-owning-it Christians do.
Study your Bible outside your devotions time. Look into all the things that raise questions, seek and find answers. Puzzle over all the mysteries and come as close as possible to understanding all of them.
That’s all for today, kids.
So we’ve come to the end of my brief survey. What are your personal definitions of these things? Anything to add or object to? What do your devotions look like right now?
P.S. – This post was supposed to go up yesterday, but then I lost the feature image and was too annoyed to figure out a new feature image at 11:05 pm on Sunday, and so here we are on Tuesday.
P.P.S. – I think I might be moving toward a final redesign soon (and, of course, I’m using “final” in the loosest sense of the word)!
P.P.P.S. – there’s probably a typo or two in this post, but I’m kind of beyond caring at the moment (you know when you’re wandering around the house in sweatpants with two day old makeup on your face, a mug of thrice-reheated coffee in your hand, and and bed hair? Yeah, I’m right there. Figuratively.).