Personal devotions and Bible study is an area where I have struggled all my life. So often we hear sermons preached urging lay-members to study their Bibles. But how does a person practically apply that to real life?
When I was a pre-teen, I remember having a desire to study my Bible but didn’t know where to start. I would pick it up, read a little out of Proverbs, maybe something from Romans. But that’s where my studies began and ended. I had no real direction as to where my devotions should lead.
After giving my heart back to the Lord as an adult, I found that I struggled with the very same issue. I had not grown or developed in this area of study one bit. I could tell you all the right answers to the major doctrinal topics presented in the Bible. I could even direct you to the proof texts. But again, I lacked the resources needed in meaningful Bible study. The real nuts and bolts of applying it to my daily life. I felt as though I lacked something vital to my Christian experience.
One aspect of devotions that hinders many of us is that we sometimes fall into a pattern of rituals. We go through the motions of reading our one chapter per day, sometimes even rushing through it. The words go in one ear and out the other. We pray for the same so-and-so. The same request for protection throughout our day. The same words in the same order over and over and over. It becomes so hum-drum that by the time our day is over, we can’t even remember what we studied that morning. The Lord desires us to have a much richer experience!
God has filled the Earth with a plethora of diverse individuals. And what a tremendous blessing! How wonderful that the Lord saw fit to give us different tastes, unique talents, and colorful personalities. As a result, we are not all wired the same intellectually. Different minds have different learning styles. We all grasp and retain information in a manner that best suits our strengths. My husband, for example, is a very deep thinker. Very technical and dissecting. By cross-referencing scripture with the aid of concordances, commentaries, and other study resources, he can formulate a very well-rounded picture of the topic at hand.
I, on the other hand, am not as confident in my abilities in this area. I tend to need more guidance and structure when it comes to understanding scripture. I even have trouble choosing which topic to study on any given morning. In a perfect world, the Lord would email me a daily homework assignment, and off I’d go. But since sin entered the world, that’s not how it works. The Lord wants us to seek after Him diligently and of our own free will. Which brings us back to square one: “Show me how, Lord.”
I want to make one thing very clear before I continue. Morning/evening devotions do NOT have to be rigidly structured. Before you get the wrong idea, hear me out. It is my opinion from personal experience that giving ourselves permission to get creative with our daily devotional life keeps our experience from becoming ritualistic and hum-drum. It’s ok to switch up our methods of study from time to time. I fear that at times in my devotional past, I’ve allowed my time with God to go into the realm of mere “works” or “duties” because I felt that if I got too creative, it would be betraying that precious time with Jesus. This is very “inside-the-box” thinking and often does lead to cold formalism and a dead faith-life.
In this article, I would like to address one method of study that has greatly benefitted me.
Recently I listened to a series of lectures on how to achieve meaningful devotions. The speaker gave a very simple technique that really appealed to my sensibilities. Basically, you go through a story in the Bible. Perhaps the story of Elijah and the rain. Going very slowly, even just two or three verses at a time, really getting a feel for what is happening in that scene. For example, let’s take the verse that relates the prophets of Baal attempting to get the attention of their false god by means of cutting themselves:
“And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gush out upon them.” -1st Kings 18:28
1. What’s Happening – we establish what is taking place in this particular scene.
2. Perspective – try to look at the scene through the eyes of those witnessing it. Who was there? How would I react if it was me watching these mad-men mutilating their bodies in a desperate frenzy to prove their false methods of worship?
Most of us see stories in pictures, in our mind’s eye. By placing ourselves in that situation, empathizing with its characters, imagining what they saw and felt, it makes Bible stories come to life. Sometimes we go through the story too fast and focus on quantity instead of quality. Taking our time and seeing these events through the eyes of real people makes each account more real to us. Because they aren’t just stories. They really happened! And to people just like you and me. What a drama!
3. Application – try to find the application each account can have in our own life. What is the lesson here for me? In the account of the Baal prophets, I’m reminded of how low sin can degrade a person. Even to the point of hurting our bodies. It shows me that, apart from Jesus, I am just as vulnerable of falling into fanaticism. This is the personal application I’ve gathered from the surface. Perhaps the Holy Spirit would lead you to a different application specific to you.
There are so many gripping stories in the Bible, and the possibilities are endless! Go as slow as you need. I spent a whole week on the story of Jonah because I went scene by scene, really feasting my imagination on the details. It’s really becoming a delight, and I find that I really look forward to that special time in study every single day.
Again, this is simply one method of Bible study. It appeals to me and works for my personality. I hope you will give it a try.
“Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. To the only wise God our Savior, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” – Jude 24,25
By Rachel Lamming