I think many of us see room for personal improvement in this area. At least that’s what I’m sensing from various and sundry interactions with the broader universe…not to mention some serious communion with my very own soul (I’ve already shared some of my personal struggles as a Bible-warrior-wannabe).
So this very morning along with the rest of the world, I woke up a little extra early to execute my newly acquired form of godliness: amped up devotions. Aaaand just like the rest of the world, the real question is not will I do so again tomorrow? (the answer is probably a resounding yes), the real question is what will my morning routine look like about 5 months from tomorrow?
In an attempt to encourage consistency (both yours and mine) in this new-found resolution of ours, here are a few bits of practical advice. Hold on to the seat of your pants (oh, mixed metaphors, how I love you)!
- Remember that we are saved by grace, not Bible reading. How easy it is to become legalistic with our devotional time! In order to be a good Christian, we think to ourselves, we must read our Bibles __ x per week for __ minutes per day–and if we don’t (or do), then we can’t possibly (or definitely will) be used in God’s bigger picture. Umm, wrong! God’s favor isn’t based on our merit, thank goodness.
- While the whole bit about grace trumping good works is true, so is this: spending time in God’s Word is incredibly important. I find it very helpful (and motivating) to read through passages of Scripture like Psalm 119. Nothing like the good old truth about the truth to deliver a firm kick in the pants! Want to memorize a verse or two about the importance of Scripture to a Christian life to wield against the devil when he tries to minimize the Word’s vitality? I will if you will! What verses help fuel your devotional endeavors?
- Make a plan. I’ve finally realized that for me, mapping out a devotional course is nigh unto as important as charting out the flight path of a plane. Otherwise, I place myself in grave danger of crashing right from take off. There are numerous ways to form a plan: for short daily devotionals, Tim and/or I have benefitted from Joni Eareckson Tada’s devotional works and Charles Spurgeon’s Faith’s Checkbook. D. A. Carson writes a helpful series (of medium reading intensity) to aid in traversing the Bible in a year. Both our families use Tabletalk’s daily readings. Another option: chart a rough course of your own. For example, since it seems I tend to often find myself starting with Genesis, Matthew, or Romans, this year I switched up completely and plunged into Malachi and Revelation. I’m hoping to work my way through the Bible (backwards) from there.
- Profit from the wisdom of others. I’ve found expositional commentaries very helpful in both making and executing a plan. James Montgomery Boice and Iain Duguid both write rich, readable expository commentaries on various books of the Bible. Tim and I found Gary Brady’s Heavenly Love tremendously beneficial to our marriage. We’ve also used the works of Dale Ralph Davis, Phil Ryken, John Stott, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Charles Spurgeon (some are more readable than others). A note of caution: make sure you are reading Scripture primarily and commentaries secondarily–after all, even the most helpful of men are fallible but God is not!Who helps you in your reading and understanding of the Word? I’d love some recommendations!
- Develop accountability. A plan helps keep me accountable; otherwise I spend a good chunk of my allotted time staring blankly at my Bible’s index or skimming random pages. How much easier to sit down and read when I know exactly where I’m going to start! I also find that consistency fosters interest and delight–pretty soon I’m looking forward each morning to discovering what comes next in my reading! Fellow Christians also provide vital accountability. Is there someone you can partner with in committing to read/memorize Scripture? Would it help you to have someone asking you daily (or weekly) about your devotional habits? Often another’s involvement can be a powerful tool God uses to keep us faithful in this area. My mother-in-law tells of a seventh grade Bible teacher who required 10 minutes of Bible reading and prayer from his students each school morning before they arrived to class. It was actually part of their grade. His “homework assignment” helped lay the foundation a life-long pattern of morning reading for her! Now, she and her coworkers all use the same daily devotional (Joni Eareckson Tada’s series) in their personal devotions, and at work they often share what they’ve learned and appreciated from the common reading! So find a teacher, friend, spouse, family member, or blogging buddy to walk along through Scripture with.
- Use some supplemental material. There’s no substitute for the words of Scripture, and I think it’s pretty important to spend the bulk of reading time in expositional/contextual (verse by verse) study. But there are so many valuable topical books available to read as well! Once I’ve settled into a consistent pattern of Scripture reading, I’ll often add a small portion of some Christian living book into my devotional routine as well–Jerry Bridges, Paul Tripp, Elizabeth George, Sinclair Ferguson, etc., etc., etc.! It’s amazing how many such books I can read in a year just by whittling away a few pages at a time.
That’s all I’ve got for today. Please add what you’ve learned from your own devotional experiences in the comment section (so we all can benefit from your wisdom), and maybe together we can glorify and enjoy God (by His grace) even more this year than last!