Whether one does them in the morning or right before bed, devotionals are a crucial liturgy in the daily routine of a Christian’s worship. In the short term, they are acts of submitting ourselves and our time in order to daily reorient our desires and aspirations towards God and his work; moreover, in the long term, they are tools God uses in the process of our sanctification over time.
God wants us to spend this intentional time with him, and “when we refuse to make the effort to understand God’s dealings with humanity or to study the Bible and whatever else may help us to understand it, we are in rebellion against the express will of God. For he commands us to love him with all our mind as well as with all our heart, soul, and strength (Mk 12:30; cf. Prov 1-8)” (Dallas Willard, Hearing God).
Too often, we love God with our heart and our soul, but fail to love him with our mind. Anyone who has ever been in a serious relationship, or is currently in one, will tell you that feelings are simply not enough. There must be an intellectual relationship between two people for love to be adequately expressed. Such is the case with our relationship with God. If we are to love the Lord our God with all of our mind, we must truly use all our mind.
Too often, we love God with our heart and our soul, but fail to love him with our mind.
In my experience, I had known that daily quiet time with the Lord spent in scripture was important, but I never knew exactly what I should do; therefore, I just didn’t do it. Years later, through God’s gift of discipleship through peers and mentors, this isn’t the case anymore. Many Christians tend to have their own personal way to do their devotionals–whether it’s a half hour reading, and a half hour praying; or it’s a lectio divina; or it’s reading a chapter a day; or it’s trying to read through the whole Bible in a year; or it’s Jesus Calling. I don’t think that any particular way to approach devotionals is wrong as long as the method is enough of a stimulus to match the maturity of the believer.
Today I want to add two more methods of reading through scripture that you can implement regularly or do every once in awhile. They are by no means original, but they are new to me as of this year, and they have given me more direction and depth as I approach God’s word daily.
The Four Senses of Scripture:
According to church tradition, there are four senses of scripture which can be found in the Bible. Some passages include all four, some only one, and others a mix. (As an aside, things can get sticky when an interpreter tries to read a sense into scripture where it was not meant to be found). The senses are:
- The Literal Sense — What is actually going on in this passage? What is it saying?
- The Allegorical Sense — What does this passage reveal about Jesus? What does it have to do with him?
- The Moral Sense — What does this passage have to do with how I should live my life?
- The Analogical Sense — What does this passage reveal to me about spiritual realities and eternity? What does it say about the entirety of the Triune God?
The way you can implement these four senses in your spiritual life is by using them to guide you as you read and think through a passage. It can certainly be helpful if you are of the type who journals during your devotionals. In addition, think about how this is a useful tool for small groups. Instead of just reading a passage aloud and asking members of the small group what they think, you can pose these questions to lead a discussion.
The Perspective Approach:
The next method you can implement in your reading of scripture is particularly helpful for passages that are narrative or parable. It is simply this:
Try to put yourself in the shoes of everyone in the passage.
As a basic example, envision yourself being the prodigal son, prematurely asking for his inheritance, squandering it, and coming home to the joy and forgiveness of his father. Then after some minutes envision yourself as the father, losing something dear and getting it back. Put yourself in the shoes of the brother who was faithfully and rightfully working the whole time but was tempted to be bitter. Lastly, you can put yourself in the shoes of the family servants or the others who watch this story unfold from a 3rd party perspective. How would they feel, and what would they think about the events that occurred?
In this way, you can get a better picture of all the thoughts, emotions, and significances in a passage–in a way that can be more insightful that by simply reading the same passage slowly.
This article is aimed at two camps: (i) those who regularly approach scripture, and (ii) those who don’t. For the former, I hope these two methods can supplement whatever you’re already doing. For the latter, I hope these two methods give you a good place to start regularly reading the bible.
Are these new for you? In the comments, I would love to hear what you do for your devotionals.