The age-old adage goes, “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow…” Yet, if we’re honest, maintaining personal devotions can often be a struggle. This sentiment resonates with me, and I’m sure many of you can relate. The challenge of carving out time for, and truly relishing, moments in God’s Word can frequently be overshadowed by life’s demands. In the sea of advice flooding books, blog posts, and podcasts, all aimed at cracking the elusive enterprise of consistent personal devotion, I’d like to offer some encouraging insights. I hope these tips might be helpful as we seek to establish fresh life rhythms after the summer.
The first thing to say is that nobody has it cracked. No wonder that in a spiritual battle no end of distractions come against us to divert us from reading our Bibles. We find it difficult because it is difficult, but it is worth fighting daily for as being nourished by God’s Word over the long haul will bring vitality, life and joy in the Lord Jesus.
Secondly, some is better than none. Quite often we set unrealistic targets, get disillusioned and then give up. We buy a new devotional book with a stretching reading plan, do great for three days but then something comes up and suddenly we are two days behind, by the end of the week we need to spend the whole of Saturday catching up, which we don’t, and going into the second week we give up altogether. Therefore, set small, achievable, realistic targets. To get going, even just finding ten minutes once a week is a great goal to get going and then building from there.
Thirdly, never give up beginning again. Very often we stall and then wait until a landmark in the year (like January 1st) to have another go. To combat this mentality, I want to suggest that you view every Monday as an opportunity to try again. Last week got away from you, well Monday is a chance to begin again. For this reason I am much more a fan of undated devotions than dated ones which are in my experience unhelpful and guilt laden if you get behind.
Fourthly, read for depth and breadth. There is a bit of mythology in the Christian community that to be a good Christian you need to read Genesis to Revelation every year. Now please hear me, if that is your practice then I hope it is vivifying. However, I think there is a massive difference between reading for breadth and reading for depth. Charles Wesley had a great phrase, ‘The Bible does not yield its treasure to chance enquiry.’His point being that it is through careful study and searching of the Scriptures that God’s voice is more clearly heard. Therefore, I think there is a great merit in focussing on a single Bible book and reading that consistently, repeatedly and intensely for a period. You will be astonished how many new things you see, how much your understanding increases. It is a great ambition to make something like 1 Peter or Mark’s gospel a dear friend, than just taking a cursory glance once a year at passages and books as you whizz along your way to Revelation 22. Also, you will become so familiar with a book by giving it concerted attention that it will continue God’s work in you even when you don’t have it open because you will begin thinking about it even when it isn’t open.
Fifthly, a new privilege. Understand the opportunity for personal devotions is a relatively new blessing in the history of the church. For most of the Church’s history most Christians would be illiterate and copies of the Scriptures prohibitively expensive meaning that people could not read the Bible for themselves in their own homes. Therefore, I think this is a comfort and an opportunity. Probably in your home you have more copies of the Scriptures than whole villages would have had in the 16th Century, what a privilege. But also, know that generations of Christians have been helped in their pursuit of Jesus through listening attentively to those labouring to teach them God’s Word in their churches. This is a fundamental means of grace that we can lean into when personally devotions are a struggle.
Finally, sanctification is a team sport. God knowing that perseverance is difficult has given us each other to encourage us along the way. Therefore, making talking about what we are learning in the Scriptures or when we are struggling and making no progress is a great blessing. One of the travesties of our individualistic culture is that my desire to be seen as a godly individual by others is the greatest hurdle in me actually becoming a godly individual. In keeping up the pretence that everything is going great, I completely curtail the opportunity for my brothers and sisters to help me get unstuck.
Friends let’s be those who aspire to feast on God’s Word daily but understanding that it might take time to build our appetites.
By Jonathan Gemmell