Listen to discussion on the Fighting for Devotional Time series on the Engage & Equip podcast, episode #173.
Now that we’ve covered the three biggest introduction topics—developing the discipline of devotion, focusing your mind, and approaching the Scriptures with open honesty—you may wonder, “Yes, but there have to be some basic helpful techniques you can give us.” There are. Here are a few:
- Get a very readable translation of the Bible. I’m not against the King James Version, but it is written in 1611 English. Most people just don’t understand that version of English. The English Language has many incredible translations, Including the NIV, ESV, NET, HCSB, NASB, NLT, and so on.
- Don’t read the Bible straight through. For most people, it is best to start with one of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. If you wish to start at the beginning, Genesis is a fairly interesting book, and so is at least the first 20 chapters of Exodus. If you get into the law starting in Genesis chapter 20 and then get bored and distracted, then flip forward to the New Testament and read something else. Some of the fairly understandable books of the New Testament are Philippians, 1 Corinthians, 1 John, Galatians, and so on. Also, the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel and Kings in the Old Testament are narrative books with lots of action. Young men especially tend to enjoy these books. If you’re looking for comfort and emotion, many people like the poetry of the Psalms; you don’t have to read those in order, they are all individual songs. If you have any trouble, ask somebody. Almost anyone who has been reading the Bible for a while can help you out with where to read.
- Read the Bible in “sections.” Many modern Bibles will have little subheadings in the text. These tend to mark out biblical sections pretty well. Generally speaking, you want to read a complete story, or a complete argument. It’s the best way to make sure you aren’t taking something out of context. Some of these can be fairly long, while others can be very short. However, biblical authors try to make sections of the text complete in themselves. Try to read a complete “section.” You’ll have a better chance of interpreting it well, and taking away the right truths.
- Don’t get upset if you don’t understand 100%. You will almost never understand 100% of any text of the Bible. If you understand 5%, but you really do understand that part, then you have gotten something from God’s word and you should cherish it. Next time you’ll understand 15%, and so on. If you think you have completely misunderstood a section, again, ask for help. But just remember, we read the Bible for incremental change, not perfect understanding. I have read many passages in my life where I didn’t understand many good and important things in the passage, but I did understand one real thing from the passage. To the extent which I believed and applied that one thing, God used it in my life.
- Almost every detail matters. So, don’t just read for something that sounds spiritual. Virtually every detail is important as part of the story or part of the argument. The more little things you assume don’t matter, the less likely you will understand what’s really going on. It’s often the detail you overlooked that will open up the meaning of the passage. Go back and reread.
- Before you read, pray and ask God to open up some truth to you. God will respond, and it will open your heart. It’s important to know and believe that God is active in your devotions, not just you.
- I find it helpful to write down the main thing I’m taking away from what I read. Especially the first couple of years I had personal devotions, I practiced this for about 25% of my devotional time. In those days I set aside about an hour. I read the Bible for about 25 minutes. I wrote in my journal for about 10 minutes. I meditated about what I read for about five minutes before I wrote and after I wrote, rereading what I had written. And then I prayed for whatever time I had left.
- Have someone with whom you regularly share what you are learning. Preferably somebody further along in the faith, and in studying the Bible.
- Check out a Bible study class, or a book. I don’t encourage people to do this right away. Don’t read about reading the Bible before you read the Bible. Read the Bible for a little while first. Then go and learn from someone, or read something. You’ll learn a lot more if you have some prior experience.
Obey whatever you learn. God has no incentive to teach you what you are unwilling to do. Knowledge of God is in some sense an end in itself if it grows our devotion or helps us in our understanding. But, studying Scripture should lead us to things in our life that we will have to change or adjust or think of in completely different ways. If you want God to show you more, act on what he has shown you already. This way you will show God that you are truly interested in him; additionally, it’s amazing how much you will learn about God in the act of obeying itself. Reading the Bible is not the only time we learn about God and ourselves. Ultimately, we are called to live lives of active love.