“How do I balance devotional time with God with more intentional studying of God’s word?” This is a great question that deserves great attention. To begin, be sure to understand the difference between reading and studying, as these two practices are not synonymous. The next thing one must realize in approaching reading & studying the Bible is that there is no one right way to approach them. There are a number of ways that are unfruitful and/or wrong, but there is not one right way to study and read the Word of God. That should be liberating to hear!
The bottom line is this: you and I are wired differently. God created us that way. He’s gifted you and made you to think, write, speak, and read in different ways than me. That doesn’t mean that you cannot study and read the way I do, it means that my way of studying and reading (assuming it’s fruitful and Biblical) is not more right than yours. For example, God may be leading me to study humility. He may be leading you to study love. I’m not more right in what I study. God knows each of us and will lead us accordingly. Again, that’s not to say we couldn’t study the same thing in the same way. Or that we couldn’t learn from each other (in fact, we should!). It’s saying that my way is not superior or more holy.
I’ve found that the question of balancing study with devotion is really an issue of time. How much time should be spent in studying and how much should be spent reading. Knowing that no one combination of reading and studying is a one-size fits all will help us to answer this question. For example, I may have a lot more time than you during my mornings, so studying for a half-hour every day may be realistic for me for this season. In another instance, I may be busier than you, so my only chance to spend deep time studying the Word may be Saturday mornings. The best way to figure this out is to lay out your schedule, pray through your options, tell someone else what you’re thinking through (for accountability and input), do it, and review it. The last two are of utmost importance. It’s easy to dream up a great plan to study, but doing it and reviewing how it’s going (and how it could be better) is much more difficult.
Lastly, here are seven pieces of advice for learning how (and how much) to read and study the Word:
- Have a set plan to read the Word. Don’t waste 10 minutes of your time with God every morning trying to flip through to find the “right” passage. “All of Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16), so have a plan to read all of Scripture. There may be times God leads you to deviate from that and that’s great! But the saying largely holds true, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” See this post for a list of reading plans.
- Get a good study Bible. You might already own one, but I would consider getting one of the following ESV Study Bible (or ESV Study Bible, Personal Size), Life Application Study Bible (NIV or NASB), or the Holman-Christian Study Bible. You don’t always need to be reading it alongside your plan, but having it as an accessible reference is a quick and helpful way to study the Word.
- Look at different ways to study the Word. Rick Warren has a good summary of 12 Bible study methods. You can type in “Ways to study the Bible” and immediately have an arsenal of tools at hand.
- Access some commentaries. Thanks to the digital age, there are many trusted commentaries and resources on the web for free. For starters, check out Blue Letter Bible (Classics like Spurgeon, Calvin, Henry, Luther, and contemporaries like Chuck Smith and Ray Steadman), (IVP and Matthew Henry’s), and Bible GatewayRay Mayhew Online and Bible Study Tools (This site is down right now, but has commentaries from Darby, Gill, and Wesley). If you have more questions about these, feel free to ask.
- Experiment with different methods. Don’t try one way to study and read and decide that it’s not for you. Experiment with different ways to study. Try a word study, character study, and a devotional for starters.
- Learn from others. If you feel stuck in reading or studying, learn from others who faithfully spend time with God. Learn from those in your immediate community and learn from great Bible teachers. Bible Study Magazine recently ran an article on John Piper and studying the Bible. Matt Chandler held a weekend seminar on “How to Read the Bible” at The Village Church which is worth a listen.
- Vary your time spent in studying from season to season. Your life is going to be busier in some seasons than others. You have to adjust how much time and what kind of studying you can do with respect to the season you are in.
Grace, grace as you study and read.