A few weeks ago, in the course of my regular pastoral care calls, a member asked about getting advice on how to make his devotional times “more vibrant.” He was continuing to read and pray, but it was more duty than delight. Below is the advice I sent him. I thought it may help others as well. The email was slightly edited before being posted here.
I’m sending this after our conversation the other day. Here are a few suggestions for getting your devotions out of a rut and, Lord willing, to be more vibrant.
First, remember that the point of Bible reading and prayer is about seeking God. There’s not a specific amount of reading required to do it “right.” So, while it’s good to have a plan to fight against our laziness or disinterest, don’t let the plan become the goal. God is the goal. Begin each time of Bible reading with a quick prayer to remind yourself of that. These are some popular verses people pray before they read:
- Psalm 119:18 — Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
- Exodus 33:18 — Please show me your glory.
- Psalm 90:14 — Satisfy [me] in the morning with your steadfast love, that [I] may rejoice and be glad all [my] days.
- Psalm 86:11 — Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
Then, with that in mind, when you read, don’t jump too quickly to application. As you read first ask ‘What does this teach me about God?’ You can think in terms of his person and power—that is, his being, character, attributes (what is God like?) and his mighty acts in history (what has God done and what is he doing?). Sometimes you may have to think about what is behind the text, especially in narrative. Ask what has God done before this, what has he told his people, how is he fulfilling previously stated plans and purposes?, etc.
Third, don’t forget application. This doesn’t have to be some profound insight. It could be something you already know. But find at least one takeaway. For example, if the passage is about God’s goodness, remind yourself that he is still good. This means, even in difficult seasons of life, God is good. Your life could be worse and he is keeping that from you. And even in the bad, he is doing something for your good (Rom 8:28-29). You can look for application by asking: Is there a truth to believe, sin to give up, command to obey, or a virtue to cultivate?
Next, this takeaway can be used for meditation throughout the day. Sometimes the payoff isn’t during the actual devotional time, but what comes out of it through your day. If one verse stuck out at you, take a picture of it with your phone, or write it on a notecard—do something that makes it accessible. Then, take a few moments throughout the day to review and think about it. Let it soak in, so to speak. And meditation does not need to be an intensive thing. Just emphasize a different word in the verse as you review it and think about how that impacts your understanding. Consider talking with someone about these things.
Fifth, use your one takeaway in your prayer time. Connecting your prayer time to your Bible reading can inflame your heart because you are praying for good and true things. Take your one application and pray over it—rejoice in what God is doing, repent of any failures related to it, and make requests for help based on it.
Finally, try taking a break from your current reading plan. Pick something you don’t usually read and spend some time there. Think about a book that may interest you or something you don’t know much about. If you tend to read a lot of New Testament letters, try switching to Old Testament narrative. If you read through the Psalms of the day, maybe switch to reading a chapter of Proverbs a day.
I hope these suggestions will be helpful. Feel free to reply with any questions. If you have time, after a few weeks, I’d love to hear how things are going for you.