Each of us need both devotion and study time if we are to grow as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many people make the simple mistake of confusing and merging these two different activities. Let’s look at the purpose of each, and then I will give you my recommended strategy to maximize their value to you.
The purpose of devotional time is to re-connect your heart with God through the Holy Spirit.
The purpose of study is to conform your mind to the right things of God. Our minds take on a likeness to what we study – that’s how we are made.
So personal devotions and study have different purposes, and are best approached in different ways. What they have in common is use of the Bible.
Go to any Christian bookstore and you can find half a zillion devotional books. If you find one you like, by all means buy it and use it. I grow concerned, however, when I see believers who are dependent on these books as crutches. I am convinced that if more were needed than the Bible and the Holy Spirit, it would have been provided at Pentecost.
Here is my personal pattern of devotional practice, which I recommend to everyone. It’s rooted in the Bible. It’s simple, and works for all ages and stages of spiritual maturity. It has depth. You can do the same thing your whole life.
I pick up my Bible and turn to where I left off yesterday. I prayerfully invite the Holy Spirit to connect my heart to God, thanking Him for another day to learn and serve. Then I begin to read verses, slowly. I read until a verse hits me with a truth about God or my condition or what I need to do. I find that my heart is sparked again! I mark my place, and then spend a few minutes praying. My heart is reconnected with God through the Holy Spirit.
Some days I only need to read three verses. Other days I read several chapters. But I do not quit reading until I am confident that my heart is connected to God. I may repeat this process later in the day if I find my heart has grown cool towards God.
That’s it. That’s all that you need to do. Do not make your personal devotions more complex — or less satisfying — than this.
Now that you have re-connected your heart with the Lord, you’re almost ready to study. The next step is to shift your mindset.
Because devotion and study are different acts of learning, create a genuine break between them. I usually do both devotion and study in the early morning. So I actually get up out of my chair after my devotion time is complete, walk out of the room, and then re-enter the room and sit down again for study. It may sound goofy, but I need to do this in order to “reset” my mind and heart for study.
Remember that the purpose of study is to conform your mind to the right things of God. The primary object of our study must be the Bible. We must discipline ourselves to study it and understand it.
The Bible is not just a collection of moralistic stories and guidelines about dos and don’ts. It is the story of God’s interaction with mankind, and in it we find commands and principles that help us live wisely. So we are aiming for much more than a low-level Sunday School familiarity of the Bible stories.
Developing this level of understanding – the capability to think with a biblical worldview – requires strategies for studying the breadth of Scripture, so you understand the whole counsel of God in His Word. Too few people read large amounts of Scripture on a regular basis. And it takes only a little more commitment — you can read through the entire New Testament in less than a month if you read ten chapters a day.
You also need strategies to mine the depths of a particular passage or book. Let me give you six suggestions that don’t require anything except your Bible. (1) Read it out loud. (2) Read it repeatedly. (3) Look up the cross-references. (4) Turn it into prayer. (5) Read it backwards, one sentence at a time (you’ll notice different things). (6) Talk about your insights with another person.
Use the Bible for both your personal devotions and for study. Recognize that you need to reconnect your heart to God each day, and that study is needed to conform your mind to the right things of God.