Reading the Bible for Insight, Encouragement, and/or Guidance (Devotional Reading)
For the past few weeks, we here at the Carroll Blog have been discussing different ways to read the Bible. Last week, we talked about reading the Bible for doctrinal understanding. This week, we are talking about reading the Bible for insight, encouragement, and guidance.
Sometimes, we read the Bible as part of our ongoing work to cultivate our relationship with God. In this instance, the reading of Scripture becomes a spiritual discipline, much like prayer or fasting, and we do it with an openness to what God’s Spirit may have to say to us.
This does not mean, however, that we do not come to our time with God with an agenda. Indeed, we can read the Bible devotionally for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, we just want to learn more about our Savior. At other times, we need encouragement in the midst of trying circumstances. Often, we come to our time with God looking for guidance as we try to make decisions both great and small.
Whatever the reason is for our devotional reading of Scripture, we must remember that, ultimately, we are not in control of what happens. All that we can do is create an environment in which the Holy Spirit is free to move and “prime the pump,” so to speak, for the Spirit’s movement through our engagement with the Scriptures.
In my experience, it is best to simply read one section of Scripture (or, at most, two). I tend to gravitate towards the Psalms, the Gospel of John, and the Pauline and General Epistles (especially Philippians, James, and 1 Peter) as sources for my devotional reading, but I have benefited from reading other parts of the canon, too.
As I have already indicated, the environment in which Scripture is read can be just as important as what passage of Scripture is read. Surrounding our Bible reading with prayer and/or personal worship gets our minds focused on the things of God and opens our hearts to hear the Spirit’s voice. Keeping distractions to a minimum is a must. For example, I have, in times past, had Christian music playing softly in the background while I read, and you may find this to be a helpful practice (especially if you need a little bit of help staying awake and alert). These days, though, I find that music distracts me from the reading and prayer that is my main focus. If I need something to wake me up, then I will engage in a little bit of personal worship before I pray and read.
Devotional reading guides can be very helpful tools for devotional Bible reading—especially when we are struggling to figure out what we should read and how we should pray. Most denominations produce them, as do many professional and amateur publishers. Some people worry that devotional writers can misinterpret the Bible just to get a spiritual insight that they can share with their readers, and this is a legitimate concern. Nevertheless, one of the real benefits of using a devotional is that it brings us into dialogue with God’s people—even when we are all by ourselves. Individualism is deeply woven within the fabric of Western culture, and it sometimes serves us well. But it can also keep us from the truth. Sometimes we cannot hear the voice of God over the cacophony of our own pain (or our own sin). Allowing someone else to speak into our lives through a dynamic reading of the Scriptures gives the Spirit another path by which to work God’s Word into our world.
God can speak to us anytime we read His Word, but we are most open to the Spirit’s influence when we are reading the Bible explicitly for that purpose. Remember that it is ultimately God who is in control of the process. We should not panic if we do not feel like we heard His voice, and we should not try to artificially manufacture an encounter with the Almighty. Our job is to be open, to read God’s Word, and to listen for God’s voice. The rest is up to God.
- How would you describe the relationship between prayer and Bible reading?
- Should prayer play a role in the other kinds of Bible reading that we do, and, if so, how would you describe that role?
- What do you do to remove distractions when you are engaged in devotional Bible reading?
- Are there resources that you have found to be helpful in your devotional reading of Scripture?