I attended a church service once where the pastor shared a “secret” to grow in your faith. His voice dropped to a whisper while the congregation leaned in: Read your Bible every day.
No sooner had he said it that people around me began nodding their heads and mouthing, “So true.”
Now, what the pastor said was true. If you’re not reading your Bible every day it will be difficult to grow. However, I was confused – even alarmed – that the congregation believed his statement to be an inspired word. Growing in your faith without reading your Bible consistently, would be like allowing a student to graduate from medical school who didn’t even know basic anatomy. Both are not possible. And it’s the same for us with our devotions and reading God’s Word every day. The secret is so much more than just reading it.
6 Ways I Get More Out of My Devotions
1. Make it a Daily Discipline
Of course, some days are more difficult than others. Some days it takes everything just to roll out of bed and get to work on time. When I finally do get home I’m hungry and tired. And if you’re married or have kids, well, they are probably hungry and tired, too.
So we may have to get creative with our devotion time.
Find 15 minutes in your day to start. Set your alarm and get up early. Take your Bible to work (gasp!) and read it on your lunch break. Read your Bible while waiting for a meeting. Do your devotions while your baby naps.
I know I spend a lot more than that doing mindless things throughout my day – ahem, Facebook – and would be much better off replacing it with reading the Word of God. Because if you’re not getting your spiritual food from the Word every day, you’re just getting it from someplace else. To get started you might also enjoy this article on starting your morning like the Proverbs 31 Woman.
Crave God’s Word
Develop a hunger for God’s Word. Let’s not just read it “cause you’re supposed to” or hen-pick through it for verses we like while ignoring the rest. Let’s read it to discover more about God, His character and His deep love for us.
But there is so much more. Once we start making reading our Bible an integral part of our daily life the Word actually comes alive and we find the more we read, the more we want to read. That’s because the Bible is filled with more insight, power, help, joyful promises, and love that we can even begin to understand. Isn’t it time we tapped into that power?
“Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.” Psalm 119:97-99
2. Prepare with Prayer
If reading your Bible is like cooking a meal, then starting with prayer is like preparing the ingredients.
Prayer is the preparation beforehand that gets your heart in the right place, and asks for God for wisdom while you study His word. Plus, it is in our nature to sometimes only see things in the Bible we want to see, and either not see or simply ignore the rest.
Try this prayer next time before your Bible study:
“Father, prepare my heart to hear your Word. With the Holy Spirit’s help, make it come alive to me. Lord, help me see the full picture and not just what I want to see. Help me to learn more about your character, your love, and your Son through your Word. Show me how I can apply this to my life today. In your Son’s name, Amen.”
And Amen to that.
3. Meditate on What You Read
I confess, some days I speed read through my devotions so I can check it off my list, rather than try to hear from God. Instead, we need to become like professional food tasters of the Bible, slowing down to enjoy each bite and allowing ourselves to recognize every flavor and hint of seasoning.
Scripture calls it meditating. I call it pausing. God’s Word is powerful, “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).
If it’s that powerful, I want it. We can only receive it by slowing down and taking it in, though. Understanding comes from reading, the Holy Spirit and meditation.
But meditation is much more than just thinking about it.
Meditation is about understanding.
It’s the Who, What, When, Where and Why of the Bible. In fact, you can use those as you read through chapters. Who is this chapter about? What is going on? What time frame is it happening in? And where? And most definitely, why is this important for me to know?
In the past, I’ve gone through the whole New Testament using an inductive study book to help me slow down and understand each chapter better. The study I used taught me how to read my Bible in ways that brought it to life, drew attention to important ideas, or help me notice parts I might have overlooked before. It put chapters into context so I could better understand historical significance and what was going on in the world when one of the disciples wrote a book. It also had me ask and answer questions to give me a better understanding.
I highly recommend you either join or start an inductive Bible study, or pick up a book that will walk you through it.
Another tip I recently picked up is to “color-code” my Bible. For years I couldn’t bring myself to mark-up my beautiful leather-bound and engraved Bible. But then I thought about decades from now when a great-great-grandchild stumbles upon my most precious book. Will it be pristine, with not a page bent or marking to be found? Or will it be marked up from front to back, and worn down from years of use?
Do you want to know how spiritual someone is?
Take a look at the condition of their Bible.
With color-coding, I can tell you I am on my way to the latter! I take five highlighters and as I read through the Bible mark each word that coordinates with the color. Blue is for the Holy Spirit. Green is for Love. Orange is for commandments. Yellow is for promises. Red is for the redeeming blood of Christ.
And when I need a reminder of God’s love, I simply open my book and my eye is drawn to how filled with green it is. There is a lot of green!
Let’s slow down as we read our Bible today. Ask ourselves questions about it the passage. Let’s use a concordance along with our reading to get a better understanding of what the author’s intent was, or the cultural setting. Meditate on that word throughout the day. Pray and ask God for understanding.
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” Matthew 11:25
4. Get the Full Picture
Read the whole Bible, even the Old Testament and that book called Leviticus. Get the Full Gospel.
Too often we only read (or are taught) only half of the gospel. That’s because as we read through the Bible we are faced with dichotomies that don’t make sense in our mind. How can God be both love and wrath? How can He be sovereign but still offer us free will? Is living in grace or holiness more important? Should we focus more on our Spiritual Fruits – or Spiritual Gifts?
Whole denominations have been built around half the Gospel because it’s easier to pick sides than admit there are mysteries yet for God to reveal to us. God is both the definition of love, but also justice. He is in control of all, yet allows us to make choices. We should pursue spiritual fruits, but not discount the power of the gifts either.
There are those that only choose to believe in God’s love. Everyone’s choices must be accepted and in the end, God will allow everyone into heaven.
This is only half the Gospel.
On the other hand, I spent several years in a very reformed church that basically told me I wasn’t a Christian if I didn’t believe in Calvinism. It left me confused and if I’m honest, even angry some days. I fully believed in God’s sovereignty but still believed His gift was offered to all. I also clearly saw in the Bible verses where both “arguments” could be defended and for years I struggled in this gray area, praying for discernment.
Then one night I had a dream where sovereignty and free will both complemented perfectly in God’s will. When I awoke I had forgotten the details but was left with a peace that I didn’t need to obsess over it any longer. He was just calling me to keep pursuing Him, not an ideology.
Don’t hold on to parts of the Bible that are easier for you to agree with and pretend the rest doesn’t exist. Embrace God’s Word as a whole and trust that one day all will be revealed.
In what areas do you only believe in “half” of the Gospel. Ask God for understanding- or peace – to accept what He tells us is the truth, and what will remain a mystery until we are present with Him.
5. Store His Word In Your Heart
It’s easy to become discouraged with the way it seems the world views Christians.Especially when we hear words like “bigoted”, “arrogant” and “hypocrites.”
Just as I was reflecting on society and letting this frustrate me, Matthew 11:18-19 came to mind: For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “he has a demon!” The Son of Man came eating and drinking and the say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
Christians being criticized (or worse) for their faith is not new. It’s been happening since Jesus walked the earth. His cousin John was accused of being possessed by a demon because he only ate wild crickets and honey, and wore animal skins. Then Jesus came and ate with tax collectors (a prelude to the IRS) and prostitutes, and the people accused him of being a drunk.
Oh, and all His disciples but John were killed for their faith. While we may experience persecution of our faith, we are still free to worship and are not killed for our faith in our country.
So it is stories from the Bible and Jesus’ own words that bring me comfort in trouble because I stored them in my heart.
“You will have trouble…but be of good cheer…I have overcome the world!” John 16:33
I can’t remember a day I had set out to memorize that verse but I had read it so many times it was etched in my memory, ready to pull out when needed at that moment to combat frustration. That verses comforted me at the moment that I wasn’t facing this criticism alone and that Christians can brush it off – just like Jesus did.
Memorizing verses is like giving you a box full of tools to encourage you in times of sadness, steel you up in times of combat, and protect you from stumbling in times of temptation.
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11
We must put in the work ourselves though. No one can memorize Scripture for us.
Sometimes I memorize verses that I know will be helpful in times of doubt, sadness or fear. I read them, and re-read them. I read them aloud. I write them down. I write them on a sticky note and place it on my computer to glance at throughout the day.
But we must be careful about memorizing promises that come with a contingency. If you want to memorize a promise such as “All things work together for my good” make sure you are also memorizing “to them that love God, and are called according to His purpose.” Memorize the promise, but also what we must do to fulfill that promise. In this case, it is loving God and be called to His purpose.
I ’ve tried to memorize whole chapters so as not to pull a verse out of context.
Obviously memorizing whole chapters is a lot more difficult and time-consuming, but more rewarding too. I will take one verse a week to memorize and keep adding on from there.
Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. Proverbs 6:21-22
6. Apply What You Learn
Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his own face in a mirror, and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:23-24
Imagine asking career advice from someone in your field that you respect. You listen. You agree with what they say. You write down their advice. And then…you ignore that great advice.
The same is true for us when we read our Bible every day but ignore or refuse to follow its teachings. If we truly believe in something, we will apply it to our life.
You can find a verse to back up practically any point of view out there. The key is using that verse correctly, in context with the author’s intent, in cultural context, and only with help from the Holy Spirit to correctly understand it. Otherwise, our “application” will not yield much fruit. This kind of knowledge only comes from reading, asking for discernment, meditation, memorization and of course, prayer.
Additionally, we can use Scripture to teach, correct and encourage others. Paraphrasing 2 Timothy 3:16, all Scripture is God-breathed. It is useful for teaching. It is useful for correcting others. It is useful in training other Christians in righteousness.
Just be careful to make sure we are living His Word in your own life first before using it to teach and correct others. Otherwise, it will be like picking pieces of dust from other people’s eyes like simultaneously knocking everyone around you over with the log coming out of yours.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16