If you are at a loss of what to pray for, here’s a solution – simply open your Bible for an endless source of ideas. Here’s how to do it.
How to Read the Bible Devotionally
There are many ways to read the Bible depending on what you want to accomplish (research a topic, exegete a passage for teaching, etc.). But how should we read the Bible for the greatest spiritual edification in your daily devotions? How should our Bible reading fit in with God’s goals for us? We answer that question and present a model for devotional reading.
Different Ways of Reading and Studying the Bible
Most Christians know that they should read their Bibles if they want to grow spiritually. But did you know there are different ways to read the Bible?
Each of these different ways of reading the Bible seeks to answer different questions or solve different problems.
For instance, you may have heard the term “Systematic Theology” before and may have even read part of a systematic theology book. Reading the Bible systematically refers in part to reading what the Bible has to say about a particular topic.
For example, if you wanted to know what the Bible teaches about marriage, you might find the most important places where the Bible talks about marriage and read just those passages. You would jump around a lot and probably not read very far in any one individual book. You would skip passages that don’t talk about marriage and focus on those that did.
If I was reading the Bible to preach a sermon on a particular passage, I would read that passage very slowly and carefully. I would spend a lot of time trying to understand what the author is saying, what the words mean, how the passage fits into the larger argument or story of the passages around it, and so on. I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time reading other parts of the Bible since my focus would be on one passage and I would have a limited amount of time to complete my study and write the sermon or lesson.
So if you are doing a systematic study of a particular topic, you read the Bible a certain way. If you are preaching or teaching on a particular passage of Scripture, you read the Bible a different way. Different goals require different ways of reading or study.
Reading the Bible Devotionally
When I use the term “devotional” reading, I am merely talking about your casual day to day Bible reading designed to help you grow spiritually. It isn’t bouncing around the Bible picking out passages on a certain topic and it isn’t laser focused on studying one passage in depth. It is the kind of reading you would do if you were using a Bible reading plan to read through individual books or the entire Bible.
Like the other ways of reading the Bible, we need to understand what our goals in devotional should be. We need to ask ourselves – “What am I trying to accomplish with my reading?”
Or better yet…
What goal does God want to accomplish in my devotional Bible reading?
Here is how we answer that question. We find out what God wants to accomplish in us generally and then we look at how devotional Bible reading fits into His goals for us.
Understand God’s Goal for You in Reading
In general, God wants to:
- Glorify Himself (see our “Meaning of Life” article for more on this)
- God wants to glorify Himself in you by transforming you into the image of Christ
If God wants to glorify Himself in you by making more like Jesus, it isn’t terribly hard to see how our Bible reading fits in with that goal.
We could say that our goal for our devotional Bible reading is to cooperate with God as:
God uses your reading of His Word to transform you into the image of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The great thing is that God always accomplishes His goals with His Word:
“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
– Isaiah 55:11
If His goal is to make you more like Jesus through His word, it will happen!
Before going on, I want to show you how I got my understanding of God’s purpose for us to become like Christ through His Word. There isn’t a single verse to point to but this understanding comes from a few different key verses put together.
First, God’s intention from long ago was always to conform you into the image of Christ:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”
– Romans 8:29
The perfection of this conformity happens after we die and are in God’s presence, but it is a process that begins now. God shapes us through lots of aspects of our lives, but He uses His Word in a special way to accomplish this:
“and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
– Colossians 3:10
God uses the knowledge He gives us in His Word to form us into His image. In fact, we are called to cooperate with this process:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”
– Romans 12:2
Notice how we are not to be conformed to the sinful world and all its anti-God messages it is sending us. Instead, we are to let God’s Word transform and renew our minds so that we think what God wants us to think and believe what God wants us to believe.
The Holy Spirit also helps us understand God’s Word so that we can be renewed:
“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:12–13
The Holy Spirit has a special ministry in our lives and one aspect of that ministry is to help you understand God’s Word. As we will see in a minute, we should always pray for the Spirit’s help when we read God’s Word so that we can get out of it what He wants us to get out of it.
Interestingly, we can actually see the whole Trinity involved in this process of transformation. God predestines you to become like Christ, Jesus dies to redeem you to make this transformation possible, and the Holy Spirit is given to you to unite you to Christ through faith and begin the begin the process to make you like Jesus through God’s Word (which the Holy Spirit also inspired – 2 Peter 1:21).
God wants to transform us into Christ through the reading of His Word. By becoming more like Jesus Christ in how you think, what you love, and what you do, you will bring glory to God as He displays Himself through you to the world. This is God’s primary purpose in each and every Christian.
Knowing this, then, we should have as our primary goal in reading the Bible to allow the truth we read to transform us into becoming more like Jesus.
So how do we do that?
Have the Proper Attitude Toward God’s Word
Our attitude in how we read God’s Word makes a huge difference in how much the experience of reading will impact us and transform us.
A poor attitude might include:
- Not paying attention to what we are reading
- Picking and choosing what to believe and/or obey
- Reading just to check off a box and get it done
- Disagreeing with the things God says
- Not believing what you are reading is true
So what might a good attitude look like?
A good attitude might include:
- Being excited to hear what God has to say to you through your time in His Word
- Rejoicing at the great things you read
- Being thankful that God has given you His word to guide your life
- Eagerness to put into practice what you read
- Growing in love for God through what you learn
Now if you start out reading with a bad attitude but want to reverse course – no problem! Just confess your sinful attitude to God and ask for His help to turn things around. He is more than happy to quickly forgive you and come to your aid. Don’t get down on yourself. Just experience God’s forgiveness and move on and be encouraged through your reading. Don’t let a bad attitude keep you from the treasures found in God’s Word!
The 4Elect Devotional Reading Method
Now that you know what God wants to accomplish, and are aware of your attitude in approaching God’s Word, let’s get into how to do the actual devotional reading.
Reasoning Behind This Method
When I created this method, I wanted something that I could teach to a broad range of people regardless of their knowledge and skill level in reading and interpreting the Bible.
I also wanted a method that could be useful wherever you are reading in the Bible regardless of which Testament or genre or whatever you are reading for the day. I also wanted a method that only required the Bible and not additional study tools that many people may not have.
Also, I wanted something that could be used with limited time – say roughly 20-30 minutes a day. Therefore it couldn’t be a method that required a ton of time doing extra study.
Next, I wanted a method that would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading through our reading. For example, have you ever read a Bible passage you read in the past, but this time you got something completely new from it? What changed? Well, God’s Spirit may have been using your current life situation, where you are at in your Christian maturity, your current skill level – whatever it is – and chose to make a different part of that passage strike you in a different way. I experience this all the time and it is why I can keep reading the Bible all the way through year after year and not get completely bored. God is always showing me new things every time I read it through.
Finally, I wanted a method that was relational. Life is all about relating properly to God so if our Bible reading method isn’t relational, we are missing something extremely important.
So to repeat, this method is taking into account:
- Your knowledge and skill level
- Where you are reading in the Bible
- Limited resources – Bible only
- Limited time
- The Holy Spirit’s leading
- Relational purpose
So here it is, the “4Elect Devotional Reading Method:”
Step 1 – Pray
Start by praying and asking for the Holy Spirit to help you understand His Word and change you to become more like Christ. You may want to take this time also to unload any burdens or confess any sins to the Lord so you are less likely to be distracted by them as you read.
Step 2 – Decide What to Read
I suggest using a Bible reading plan of some kind so you don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to decide what to read. Here is the reading plan I use but there are lots to choose from. Pick one that seems best for you.
Step 3 – Skip What You Don’t Understand
Since you have limited time, I recommend skipping most things you don’t understand in the passage you are reading. Why? Well, you could get hung up trying to figure something out and then run out of time and not gain much devotional value from your reading time. If you have a study Bible, you may be able to answer your question quickly, but if not, just skip it. There should be plenty of other good information to focus on in your reading. You can always come back to the things you don’t understand some other time.
Just a quick note – if I were teaching or preaching on this particular part of the Bible, I would typically not skip what I didn’t understand unless I ran out of time. I would try to understand as much as I could before teaching. But I usually allow myself 20-30 hours of preparation before teaching on a particular passage in depth. With devotional reading, you may only be working with 20-30 minutes a day! You just don’t have the same time to give as a teacher or preacher so don’t worry about it. Focus on what you can know in the time you have.
Step 4 – Focus First On Anything You Learn About God
Growing in knowing and loving God is your very first priority for devotional reading. Why? Because God is the greatest good and there is nothing of greater value in what you read than learning about Him.
In particular, pay attention to anything you read about who God is, what God does, what God says, what God asks people to do, etc. All those things are of great devotional value and will aid you in your relationship with God which is a top priority.
Take the things that you learn about God and think about them and try to let them grow your love for God. Try to think about why He is so valuable and so worthy of your love and devotion.
Step 5 – Focus On Anything That Tells You How to Relate to God
If there is anything in the passage that specifically tells you how to relate to God, pay close attention to that. Look for things that impact your:
- Head – these are things that help you think rightly about God, grow in your understanding of Him, how He wants you to perceive the world, yourself, other people, etc.
- Heart – things that should cause you to love God more and desire to do His will, to love the things He loves and hate the things He hates
- Hands – things God wants you to do such as actions to take or not take (i.e. sins to repent of or avoid).
See our article on the “Head, Heart, Hands” method of applying God’s truth to learn more this particular method.
Step 6 – If You Are Reading in the Old Testament, Make Proper Connections to Christ
This part can be a bit tricky. If you are in the Old Testament, and God tells people to make sacrifices at the temple, you as a modern Christian don’t want to do that. Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament sacrificial system and made it obsolete. If you went out and sacrificed an animal to God, you would actually be doing something displeasing to Him.
But that doesn’t mean an Old Testament passage about sacrifice is of no value to you as a Christian. You can think about how Jesus is the perfect, once for all sacrifice for your sins that cleanses you completely. You can think about how Jesus and His church are the new temple of God and replace the old physical temple (Ephesians 2:19-22). You can think about how Jesus has given you direct access to God and there is no longer any barrier between you and Him (Hebrews 10:19-22).
In another article, I will show you how to make good connections to Jesus when you read the Old Testament. It takes some practice but once you get the hang of it, the Old Testament will really come alive to you and you will be able to mine more and more devotional value from it.
One great thing about reading in the Old Testament is that since God does not change in His character (James 1:17, Malachi 3:6), anything you learn about who God is will be the same today as it was then. Even if you have trouble making connections between how people related to God then and how we are to relate to Him in Christ now, you can still focus on what you learn about the character of God and get great devotional value out of your Old Testament reading.
Step 7 – Look for How to Relate to Other People
After we focus on growing in our relationship with God from what we learn, we should take note of how God wants us to relate to other people. God cares a great deal about how we relate to others so pay attention to anything you learn that can guide you in your relationships.
By the way, there might not be anything directly in the passage that tells you about how to relate to others. But there might be an idea in the passage that makes you think of something else in the Bible about how to treat people. For instance, you might read about Jesus’ compassion on someone who didn’t believe in Him and might remember that we are also to have compassion on people who don’t believe in Jesus. This is an example of an indirect connection.
When we are making indirect connections like this, we always have to be careful that our connections that we are making are what the Bible is actually teaching elsewhere. Just because Jesus does something, or God does something, doesn’t mean we should also do it (some actions are reserved for God alone). When in doubt, just skip it and focus on something else.
Step 8 – Be Aware of Anything the Holy Spirit Might Be Prompting You to Focus On
When reading a passage, there might be something that really stands out to you. It might be something that causes you to rejoice, something that causes you to grieve, or something that surprises you, and so on.
I find it is always helpful to pay attention when something just pops out at me in a unique way. Many times I believe this has been God’s Spirit showing me something to focus on in my reading. Pay attention to what that is and think about how God might want to use that particular truth in His Word to make you more like Jesus or grow in your relationship with Him or others.
Step 9 – Apply What God’s Spirit Teaches You with the “Head, Heart, Hands” Method
The final step is to actually do something with what you learn. I find it helpful to write it down in terms of what God is teaching me about what to think or understand (Head), what to love or not love (Heart), and what to do (Hands). Again, I highly recommend you read our article on the Head, Heart, Hands application method to see more of what I am talking about on how to apply God’s Word holistically.
Step 10 – Respond in Prayer
Now that God has taught you something important from His Word, it is good to respond to Him in prayer to end your time. Remember, the reading of God’s Word is meant to be a relational process. God speaks to you in His Word and you speak back to Him in prayer.
So what might you pray for?
- Thank God for what He taught you
- Praise God for what you learned about Him
- Pray for His help to apply His truth to all of your life (Head, Heart, Hands)
- Pray for others based on what you learned
- Confess any sin you were made aware of during your reading
- Or ask for God’s help to glorify Him in your day.
And that’s our devotional Bible reading method.
To go over the steps one more time:
- Decide what to read
- Skip what you don’t understand
- Focus first on anything you learn about God
- Focus on anything that tells you how to relate to God
- If you are reading in the Old Testament, make connections to Christ and His work
- Look for any instruction on how to relate to other people
- Be aware of anything the Holy Spirit is prompting you to focus on
- Apply using the Head, Heart, Hands method
- Respond to God in prayer
I want to stress this isn’t the only way to read the Bible devotionally. There are lots of ways you can get devotional value out of your daily Bible reading. But I hope you can see the value of what this method has to offer and benefit from it or even revise it to better meet God’s goals of glorifying Himself by transforming you into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
It might seem like a lot of steps at first but once you get used to it, it should come to you fairly quickly. Again, this method will help you prioritize what you read by focusing primarily on God and growing in your relationship with Him and then in your relationships with other people.
In other articles, I will demonstrate this method using several different Bible passages so you can see how it works.
Most Christians know they need to apply God’s truth to their lives. But often we forget to apply it to all of who we are and not just a part. The “Head, Heart, Hands” method of application helps us think holistically about how God wants to form all of who we are into the image of Jesus Christ.
The connection between God’s Spirit and God’s Word may be closer than you realize.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.Third-Party Content
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