I grew up in a church that cheerfully led us children to sing (of course with the motions) the popular Sunday school song, “Read Your Bible, Pray Every Day.” Spoiler alert: It’s so you can “grow, grow, grow.” Conversely, if you fail to read your Bible and pray every day, the song has a not-so-subtle warning that you will “shrink, shrink, shrink.” Yikes!
Questionable motivational tactics aside, most of my Christian life I’ve heard some version of the message in this song. “Make sure you do your daily devotions.” “Get in the Word.” “Have your quiet time.” “Commune with God.”
There are more ways to have your daily time in God’s Word than there are words to describe them, with countless reading plans, devotional resources, prayer books, workbooks and study guides available to help. I feel like at one time or another, I’ve tried them all.
But too often my heart quickly grows distracted and disinterested in God’s Word, even with these helps. Despite my best intentions, it can be challenging to keep up a regular time with God.
I believe an effective way to grow in the habit of feeding on God’s Word daily (and actually enjoying it) is to boil your practice down to the essential elements that should be part of every meeting with God. If these are in place, it will drastically improve your time in God’s Word.
1. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help
First, begin your time by approaching God in prayer. Remember, this is not a natural thing for us. Because of sin, we all tend to drift away from God and need the help of the Holy Spirit to draw near. We must remember the gospel: that we are desperate sinners in need of a Savior, but God sent Christ to earth to teach, to love and to die for us — and in so doing, to reconcile us to God.
Pray with the psalmist, “Open my eyes so I can truly see the marvelous things in your law” (Psalm 119:18) I love this New English Translation. Sometimes we think we can open our own eyes, or that if we simply read the Bible, our eyes will magically open and we will understand. But here the psalmist asserts his need to ask for God’s help to see the truth of God’s Word. Jesus taught His disciples, describing the Holy Spirit, “he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). So, essentially, we are to ask the Holy Spirit to do exactly what Jesus promised He would.
Praying before, during and after you read the Word can alone transform your time with God. Ask Him to feed you from His Word and He will. Come before God in His Word with humility. We need Him to open the eyes and ears of our hearts and to teach us all things.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, help me now I as look to your Word. Teach me by your Word and illuminate my mind that my mind, heart and life might be conformed to that of Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen.
2. Read a portion of Scripture (5-10 min)
Next, read a portion of God’s Word that you can make it through comfortably in five to ten minutes. You may be used to reading for a longer period of time, and that’s fine. But I’d suggest the priority is retaining as much of the Word inside your heart and mind as possible, not making your way through so many verses or chapters.
Read the passage slowly, working to keep your mind and heart engaged. Actively eliminate distractions, turning your devices off or putting them in another room. Don’t let anything keep you from focusing on what God is saying to you through His Word. If you get distracted, stop and pray for help, and then keep going.
Sample reading: John 15:1-11
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
3. Meditate on what you’ve read (5-10 min)
For too long in my daily quiet times, I skipped meditation; but it is an important part of our study of God’s Word. We meditate by thinking carefully about what God is saying. One of the best ways to meditate is by asking good questions. Pretend you are having a conversation with God about this passage. Here are some questions you might ask as you meditate on any passage:
- What is God teaching, commanding, promising or warning in this passage?
- If I had to lead a Bible study on this passage, what one thing would I want people to understand and remember?
- What question(s) does this passage bring up for me?
- What do I not understand?
- Where are my presumptions challenged?
- What in this passage is hard to believe?
Through meditation, we strive to draw all the truth we can out of the passage. We want to move from understanding what a passage means to loving all the truth it conveys. This doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes we may see things we hadn’t before or learn things we don’t like. In these moments, we do well to talk to God and ask for His help to love all the truth revealed in His Word.
Sample meditation on John 15:1-11:
Jesus gives an illustration about a vine and branches. He’s the vine. God the Father is the vinedresser (maybe this means farmer?) and we are branches. The point seems to be fruit. Jesus wants us to produce fruit and warns against not producing fruit. Fruit must be important. Need to study this more. This passage talks a lot about abiding. We are commanded to abide in Christ in verse four and promised that Christ will abide in us. Later we are promised Christ will answer prayer when we abide. In verse nine, Jesus says we should also abide in his love. This section ends with a wonderful promise: All of what Jesus is teaching here is so our joy may be full. What a wonderful promise. I want this joy. I’m not sure I always have the joy Christ is describing here, but this text seems to teach how to grow in joy.
4. Pray over what you’ve read (5-10 min)
End your time praying through what you’ve read and learned. Pray through the passage, asking for:
- Insight and understanding
- Help to obey all that’s taught
- Help to believe things you may struggle to believe
- Help to love all the truth of God’s Word
Sample prayer through John 15:1-11:
Father, thank you for this passage and for all that Jesus taught here. I pray that you would help me to be a branch who stays connected to Jesus and bears much fruit. Oh Lord, help me to remember that apart from Christ, I can do nothing. Sadly, I often act like I can. Help me to abide in Christ, to abide in prayer, and to glorify You. Father, would you fill my life with the joy that Jesus talks about in this passage? In Jesus’ name, amen.
5. Take this passage with you into your day
Now that you’ve spent time chewing on this passage, take it with you into your day. If you have some free time later, open the Bible back to the same passage or focus on what you can remember. Continue meditating and praying over it. Learning to think about God’s Word throughout the day is a wonderful and godly practice to develop.
The goal of our Bible reading is to know God better, to enjoy Him as He has revealed himself in His Word, and to love Him and His Word. As you take time to pray, read, meditate and pray again, you will find that your time feeding on God’s Word will continually move from duty to delight.
Copyright 2021 Andrew Hess. All rights reserved.