I Need it…Now!
Scene 1: I’m in Lubumbashi, Congo Africa. My brother wants me to lead worship the next day in the worship service. He hands me a guitar that hasn’t been played in who knows how long. It’s way out of tune and after wrestling with it for a few minutes I get frustrated and download a tuner app to my phone.
Scene 2: I’m out in the sticks of Pennsylvania attending a seminary module. My prof just got done providing his personal top 10 reading list, and there’s one in particular that he’s recommended as a “must read.” I can’t wait to start reading it! I grab my Kindle and in less than 60 seconds, the book is in my possession.
Scene 3: I’m in the basement of a conference center and the speaker has just projected the lyrics to an emo song that has been a catalyst for good discussions regarding artistic content with his two sons. I’m practically in a dead zone but somewhere nearby there must be a wireless router. I jump on iTunes via my phone, search for, find, and download the song…and all before the speaker has moved on to the next sub point.
These are literally the first three examples that came to my mind. The list could go on and on, and chances are you can either relate to these scenes, or you have your own list of similar experiences. We are in an age where new tech barely has a chance to become established before it becomes outdated and virtually useless. And the availability of resources (literally at our finger tips) has no doubt cultivated our need for instant gratification. If you don’t believe me, just think back to the last time a web page loaded a little too slowly. It was frustrating, wasn’t it?
It’s not so far fetched to posit that this paradigm could potentially label the inconvenient as unnecessary. In other words, if it’s not something I can do in 2 minutes and see results, then it’s not worth doing at all. Bringing this attitude to our study of scripture causes us to eliminate elements that are essential to the process of communion and spiritual growth. If you’re looking for a blog post that will give you 10 tips for how to get more from your 1o minute bible study, you’re looking in the wrong place. But if you’re dissatisfied with what you’re gleaning (or not gleaning) in your personal study of the scriptures, I invite you to take a step back and consider the following.
Maybe you’re part of an accountability group, and although the intentions of the group are good, you’ve found that your bible study has simply become another “check list” item. At this point you’re concerned with having to admit to your group that you didn’t have private time with God every day this week. What should concern you is the fact that you let several 24 hour periods of time slip by without any interaction with your Lord and Savior! If you’re going to get past the “I have to” to the “I need to” mentality, you’re going to have to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Ps. 34:8) You need to move from just reading words on a page to actually communing with God.
Communing with God
Maybe you have to attend a meeting with an acquaintance and you really don’t want the meeting to go long. If you’re like me, you schedule the meeting so that it has a definite end time (i.e. I have to leave to get to another meeting or engagement). You can chuckle all you want but I bet you’ve done the same thing at some point.
But what if you want or need to meet with a close friend? If you’re like me, you leave hours (maybe even several hours) of flex time so you can spend as much time together as you want to. Other priorities or meetings get rescheduled or shifted so that they don’t interfere. You desire to commune with your friend. You don’t want it to be rushed and you don’t want to be bothered with other things that would distract you from giving your undivided attention to your friend. And of course the ultimate test of sweet communion: my cell phone could beep one of five different ways alerting me of something that needs my attention, and I don’t even flinch or check to see what just came in. I don’t even care because I’m completely wrapped up in the awesome time I’m having with my friend.
Time and Space
Psalm 1 tells us that a blessed man is one who meditates on God’s law day and night. How much time to do you actually set aside for prayer and mediation over God’s word? It’s going to be different for everyone. The question you must wrestle with is “does the amount of time I set aside to commune with my Savior truly reflect the importance of the relationship?” and “do the steps I take in my study allow for substantial times of reflection on God’s word?” It’s so easy to speed read and then run on to the next thing. It’s so easy to mistake quantity for quality. Somehow we have in our minds that getting through a chapter every day is the vehicle for miraculous change in our lives–even when we haven’t given the Holy Spirit the time or space in our hearts and minds to do the changing.
Now please don’t read me wrong here. Don’t hear me saying that you shouldn’t read large quantities of scripture or that simple reading of scripture won’t have a positive impact, or even that the Holy Spirit can’t redeem the time or work through His Word in any way He chooses. What I am saying is that we must take care to create the time and space necessary to truly commune with God and glean all we can from His word; to set aside the time and space necessary to let the Holy Spirit work in our hearts and minds. If you’ve only got thirty seconds to put in, don’t be surprised if all you end up with is a half-baked, crusty pop tart. If you want a delectable pastry, you must be willing to put in the hours it takes to make it from scratch.
Slow it Down
There are plenty of great books that have been written on personal Bible study methods. What I’m about to propose is nothing new. In fact, these simple steps are quite ancient and have been used since the early church. Some may say that this approach to Bible study is too mystical. My response would be that there’s nothing quite as mysterious as the illumination of God’s word to the believer (1 Cor 2:11-13). While I don’t believe these steps are mandated in scripture, I do believe they can be helpful in allowing for the space and time necessary for change of heart and communion with God.
The first step is to choose a passage that you have time to read over carefully and slowly (maybe even several times) while looking for words or phrases that stand out. The second step is to take time to mediate on the passage and how it personally applies to you. The third step is interacting with God through prayer. Express to Him the areas you need to grow in. Thank Him for revealing His truth to you. Take time. Commune with Him. This is a step that I believe gets brushed over the easiest. And this last step is probably non-existent in most of our personal devotions. Be silent before God. Just be with Him. When was the last time you took time to simply and actively rest in the arms of your heavenly Father? Maybe never.
If you’ve never taken this approach before, I’d encourage you to try it. And I’d love to hear how it has affected your personal study time. I believe that once you’ve “tasted” and seen that the Lord is good, you’ll never want to go back to zap-fried personal devotions again.