"Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God." -1 Chronicles 22:19 (NIV)
For the Christian, devotional Bible study is not an option. In a very real sense, every kind of Bible study we are involved in must, on some level, be devotional. The ultimate goal is to know God better through His Word. That's why devotional Bible study is extremely important. Too often, however, we don't approach Bible study with the knowledge or inclination necessary to get the most out of personal times of devotional study. This article will provide several helpful devotional Bible study tips.
Consistency. One important aspect of devotional Bible study is consistency. Make it a habit to set aside a regular time and place for your devotional reading. If a regular time and place is not possible due to your schedule, strive for consistency anyway by keeping yourself on track with your devotional reading on a regular basis. Don't be legalistic about your devotional reading time, though, as that misses the point of seeking and knowing God better through His Word.
Prayer. Another point to keep in mind is to remember to pray about your devotional reading. There is no set formula for how to go about praying for your reading time. You may wish to pray before, during and after, or perhaps a mixture of these options. Ask God to help you understand what you are reading and to apply it to your life without disregarding the meaning and context of the original passage and its intent.
Memorization. In our fast-paced contemporary culture, people don't often stop to memorize things anymore. We think it's so easy to just look something up online. But when it comes to devotional Bible study, internalizing God's Word through memorization is important. If you find this daunting, start with short and simple passages that you may already be familiar with, then move on to more extensive passages. It may be helpful to write your memory verses on index cards, but that's up to you. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a good place to start: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (NIV). Try to understand the context of the passage you are memorizing, such as its historical and cultural context, what comes before and after the passage and what the author originally intended by it.
If you find memorizing Scripture a challenge and a chore, don't be discouraged. Remember, this is not about being legalistic regarding your Bible study time, but about helping you know God better and, as a result, growing in your faith.
Keep in mind four key aspects of your devotional Bible study time. First, look to be edified. You want to be growing in your faith and maturity level as a Christian, no matter how long or short a period you have been a believer. You are not trying to score "points" with God during any sort of Bible study time. Rather, seek to be edified and also to know the Bible better so you may edify others.
Second, engage the reading. This means you want to be actively involved in what you are reading, looking for what God may want to teach you through your reading time. To this end, try to structure your devotional Bible study time in a quiet area as free from distractions as possible. If you have a cell phone around, turn it off. The same goes for other possible distractions such as radio, television, the Internet, etc. If you are feeling active, you may wish to incorporate your personal Bible study time with a brisk walk or a visit to a park.
Third, devotional Bible study should equip you to face the challenges of your daily life, no matter what they may be. Look to God's Word to nourish you and prepare you to serve Christ throughout your day.
Fourth, devotional Bible study time should also prepare you for evangelism. This does not necessarily mean that God is calling you to be a street preacher, hand out tracts or become a full time pastor. But it does mean that your personal Bible study time should equip you to share the good news of Christ with others.
Also keep in mind that devotional Bible study time does not mean that you have a license for loose or shoddy interpretation. Remember to keep in mind the context of the passage and the author's original intent. Don't read into a text what is not there. Instead, seek to draw out from your reading what is intended in the passage.
Basic biblical interpretation skills such as the ones described in the previous paragraph will help you keep your study times rooted in the reality of what God would like to teach you through His Word.
At times you may come across puzzling phrases, ideas or just things that you do not understand at the time you are reading. Try to keep your devotional reading time in mind and not get side-tracked by these distractions. Jot them down in a notebook and research answers to your questions during times of more in-depth Bible study (see the final article in this series). It's fine to have questions as you read biblical passages, but often it's helpful to set aside those questions for a different kind of Bible study time rather than interrupting your devotional time.
You may also wish to set aside some of your devotional Bible study time for personal reflection or meditation. This doesn't refer to non-Christian types of "meditation" that is not Christ-centered, but biblical meditation that has God as its focus. Read Psalm 119 to get a good idea of biblically-based meditation and reflection. Note that the object of meditation is God, His Word, His decrees, His nature, etc.
There are a lot of resources about devotional Bible study. In fact, one might say that there are so many that it's hard to know where to start or what to use. As you become active in regular devotional Bible reading, make sure you aren't carried away by any particular technique. This is not to say that all these sorts of techniques are bad, but if you decide to try one approach and it doesn't seem to work for you, try something else. Keep Christ as your focus, not any technique or approach to Bible study. Christianity is reasonable and relational, so try to maintain a healthy balance in your study time.
As 1 Chronicles 22:19 so aptly puts it, "Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God (NIV)." God has blessed everyone with the ability to know Him better through His Word. This does not mean we are all Bible scholars, but it does mean that God expects us to use the abilities we do have to actively seek and engage His Word on a regular basis. Do your best to remain consistent in your devotional Bible study time, remaining prayerful and seeking to internalize God's Word so that it becomes second nature and part of who you are.