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“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

“How do I balance devotional time with God with more intentional studying of God’s word?” I’m no expert, but this is the most frequent question  people ask me. Let me make my point clear right out of the gate: reading is not the same as studying. Studying nearly always involves reading, but reading doesn’t always involve studying. Scripture describes and prescribes we do both. You can take a quick look at the book of Ezra and Nehemiah to see this in action (Ezra 7, Nehemiah 8).

Before we look at things more closely, let’s get some basic definitions of the terms. Merriam-Webster defines reading as “receiving or taking in the sense of (as letters or symbols) especially by sight or touch.” Studying is defined as the “application of the mental faculties to the acquisition of knowledge” and “careful or extended consideration.” In layman’s terms, reading is a preliminary “taking in.” Studying is a meditative, examined or “careful” taking in. From this, it’s easy to see it’s possible to read the Word, but not study it.

Now, to be fair, this is a very simplistic view of the matter. If reading is taking in and studying is meditative and careful taking in, there are countless variations of the two. You can be only reading and not studying. You can be reading and slightly studying. You can be reading and heavily studying. The list could be drawn out countless ways. However, I think it’s important to see this distinction between the two so we are more aware of what we need more of personally.

What are you personally bent towards? Reading? Studying?

All of this inevitably leads us back to the main question: “If I’m to read and study the Scripture, how do I figure out how much time to devote to each?” Stay tuned for Part 2.

True heroes:

“Wheeler said the couple had been shot at before and knew the dangers of the border area.”

-CNN in an article on Nancy Davis, an American missionary who was shot and killed in Mexico on January 26, 2011 (the husband survived)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,” the old adage goes, “but words will never hurt me.”  It didn’t take getting past fourth grade to learn what a bunch of baloney that was. Have you ever thought about how powerful words are? They can build up or tear down.  Act as a weapon or a wall.  Attract or repel.  Words are powerful!  Much more powerful than sticks and stones.

I have to confess though, I rarely think of words as building walls.  I think of them as destructive or instructive, but not as preventative.  But it’s too true; we can use our words to patch together a beautiful barrier to keep from getting hurt or vulnerable.  We’ll piece together “legitimate” excuses and fears with ourselves, justifying our hesitancy.  We do the same with others.  Relationally we keep others outside of arms-reach with the right words and phrases.  No one ever has to know what’s going on inside; instead, we use words as a fence to our hearts.

I’m realizing that this problem has serious spiritual implications too.  God says in Isaiah 29, “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.”  In other words, it’s possible to worship with a mouth and not with a heart.  Words, then, create a wall to what’s going on inside.  The ESV Study Bible sums this up beautifully, “Outwardly proper worship offends God if it is a way of evading him at a deeper level.”

Jesus quotes the passage above in Mark 7:6-7 when rebuking the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.  Jesus pointedly corrects them again, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”  In other words, “You’re crafty, but still disobedient.  Sure, you talk well and fool many, but you worship me in vain because you’re hearts are far from me.  Your ‘worship of God’ is really self-worship.  You want others to see your piety rather than truly engage God.”

Do you ever feel like your devotional life is a performance for God?  Are you lips and heart having two different conversations?  Maybe your words have created a wall between your mouth and heart.  The great encouragement in Jesus is that he loves to bust down walls and rip veils.  If your trust is in Him as Savior, Lord, and Supreme Treasure, confess your fickleness and inconsistency.  Pray that He would create a one-way street from your heart to your mouth.  May you live from the inside-out today!