I attended a church service once where the pastor shared a “secret” to growing in your faith. His voice dropped to a whisper while the congregation leaned in: read your Bible every day. No sooner had he said it, people around me began nodding their heads and mouthing, “So true.”
However, I was confused – even alarmed – that the congregation believed his statement to be an inspired word and not common sense. Growing in your faith without reading the Bible consistently would be like a student graduating from medical school who didn’t even know basic anatomy. That’s not possible, and it’s the same for us with our devotions. The secret is really so much more than just reading God’s Word.
1. Prepare With Prayer
If reading your Bible is like cooking a meal, then starting with prayer is like preparing the ingredients. Prayer is the preparation that gets your heart in the right place, and opens you up to receive God’s wisdom while you study His word. Try this prayer before your next Bible study:
Father, prepare my heart to hear your Word. With the Holy Spirit’s help, make it come alive to me. Lord, help me see the full picture and not just what I want to see. Help me to learn more about your character, your love and your Son through your Word. Show me how I can apply this to my life today. In your Son’s name, Amen.
And Amen, again, to that.
2. Meditate on What You Read
I confess, some days I speed read through my devotions so I can check it off my list, rather than try to hear from God. Instead, we need to become like professional food tasters of the Bible, slowing down to enjoy each bite and allowing ourselves to recognize every flavor and hint of seasoning.
Scripture calls it meditating. I call it pausing. God’s Word is powerful:
[It is] alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
If it’s that powerful, I want it. We can only receive it by slowing down and taking it in, though. Understanding comes from reading, the Holy Spirit, and meditation.
Another tip I recently picked up for meditating is to highlight or “color-code” my Bible. For years I couldn’t bring myself to mark-up my beautiful leather-bound and engraved Bible. But then I thought about decades from now when a great-great grand child stumbles upon my most precious book. Should it be pristine, with not a page bent or marking to be found? Or should it be marked up from front to back, and worn down from years of use?
3. Get the Full Picture
At some point, read the whole Bible. Too often we only read (or are taught) only half or parts of the Gospel. Whole denominations have been built around half the Gospel because it’s easier to pick sides than admit there are mysteries yet for God to reveal to us. Don’t you know God is the definition of love, but also justice? That he is in control of all, yet allows us to make choices?
Don’t hold on to parts of the Bible that are easier for you to agree with and pretend the rest doesn’t exist. Embrace God’s Word as a whole and trust that one day, all will be revealed. Start thinking about what areas you only believe in half the Gospel. Ask God for understanding–or at least, peace–to accept all of His Word as truth, and that some of it will remain a mystery until we are present with Him.
4. Store His Word In Your Heart
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)
It’s easy to become discouraged with the way the world views Christians, especially when we hear words like bigoted, arrogant and hypocrites. But Christians being criticized (or worse) for our faith is not new–it’s been happening since Jesus walked the earth. All His disciples (but John) were killed for their belief in Him, and while we may experience persecution for our faith, we are still free to worship and keep our lives.
Memorizing encouraging verses is like receiving a box of spiritual tools to encourage you in times of sadness, bring you up in times of combat, and protect you from stumbling in times of temptation. You must put in the work yourself though.
Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you.” (Proverbs 6:21-22)
5. Apply What You Learn
Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his own face in a mirror, and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23-24)
Imagine asking career advice from someone in your field that you respect. You listen. You agree with what they say. You write down their advice. And then… you ignore that great advice. The same is true for us when we read our Bible every day but ignore or refuse to follow its teachings. Put simply, if we truly believe in something, we will apply it to our life!