Devotion, Study or Preparation

Friday, January 10, 2020

For those in ministry, it can be a blurry line between our personal devotional time and ministry activities. When we approach our quiet times with God, ministry responsibilities come along with us. And in those seasons when ministry responsibilites weigh heavier, it may be all that we are bringing into our times with God.

The issue becomes when the only interactions we have with God and with scripture is for ministry purposes. We need to learn to make sure that we find the balance, that we have a secure relationship with God personally and separate from ministry responsibilities. We need to stay open to God about any area of our life. The reality is that our current ministry assignment is likely to be only for a season, but our relationship with God should extend for a lifetime. It's like couples who get so focussed on raising their children that they lose their relationship with each other, so that when they become empty nesters, they struggle to reconnect.

So when we interact with the Bible, we need to be intentional and a bit disciplined about how we are approaching it. Are we approaching it for personal devotional, for study, or for preparation for a ministry opportunity?

When I use these terms, I define them this way:

  • Devotional reading - reading our Bible with an intention to receive something personally from God. It may be part of a reading program or not, but it is for your soul.
  • Study - reading our Bible with a specific focus, to gain a better understanding or appreciation of something specific. That something may be a deeper look a a specific passage, a topic, a Bible character, a book of the Bible, a word study. In this context, it is for personal growth, but of course may extend into a ministry area.
  • Ministry preparation - this is those times when we are specificially focussed on preparing a sermon or Bible study.

With our focus this month on personal spirituality, I want to encourage you to make sure that you have devotional and personal study as part of your routine.


Some thoughts about devotional reading:

  • Have a pen and note paper, or note app with you. We all have moments when our thoughts wander or we get an idea in the middle of doing something else, and we get distracted. With the ability to write those down, you can know that the idea is safe, and you can follow it up later.
  • Before you begin, pray and ask God to speak to you through what you are reading, and then look for those things that speak to you.
  • Take your time when you read. This is not just a task to tick off, it is an opportunity to engage with God's written revelation to us.
  • Mix it up. You may have your daily reading plan, and that has value, but you could also read a whole book of the Bible in one sitting. You could read until something speaks to you, whether that takes 3 chapters or 3 verses.
  • Pick a perspective to read it from, like one of the characters, or third party observer. How would the character or author be feeling in those moments?
  • Ask the scripture questions. What did the original writer mean? What does that mean for today's world? What is God saying to me through this? How can I apply that to my life?
  • Journal - record what you read, what you got out of it and where to from here, so you can look back at it later on. I personally like hand-writing this because it engages the brain in ways that solidifies what I learned. The problem becomes that it is hard to find later if I want it, so I also try to transfer these to Evernote at a later time so it is searchable.
  • Expect to hear from God and for your life to be changed through reading scripture.


Some thoughts about personal Bible study:

  • Pick a subject that interests or speaks to you. Have one primary question that you are looking to answer, but try not to make it a leading question. So rather than, does the Bible support XYZ, you should ask, what does the BIble say about XYZ?
  • Get some reliable research resources and tools, and from some different perspectives - concordances, commentaries, different Bible versions, Greek/Hebrew dictionaries etc
  • Understand the historical context of passages
  • Understand that this may be a process and not completed in one sitting, in fact it is best not to do in one sitting, as time can help you gain perspective and see different angles.
  • Questions help to gain more insight
  • Make notes and they don't have to be tidy or linear
  • Follow rabbit trails but try to come back to your main question reasonably quickly.
  • Find an outlet for the study, some way to share it, it will help you to clarify and may help others grow as well.

I hope this has been useful. What types of devotions and study do you do?