My devotional life was dull and frustrating, until ...
Finally, I decided to go to the source. After all, as a research teacher, I always encourage my students to go to the source. So why not try it with my devotional life as well?
Finding My Own Way
The mind will enlarge if it is employed in tracing out the subjects of the Bible, comparing scripture with scripture, and spiritual things with spiritual. There is nothing more calculated to strengthen the intellect than the study of the Scriptures. No other book is so potent to elevate the thoughts, to give vigor to the faculties, as the broad, ennobling truths of the Bible. If God’s Word were studied as it should be, men [and women] would have a breadth of mind, a nobility of character, and a stability of purpose that is rarely seen in these times.(Christian Education, p. 249)
While millions of Bibles are sold or given away every year around the world, it seems to be “the book that everyone wants to read but few do.”* Uncomfortably, I fit into that category. I always wanted to read my Bible through, but somehow those “read your Bible through in a year” plans never worked for me.
Eventually, and partly out of a sense of desperation over being a 40-something, lifelong Adventist who had never read her Bible through, I came up with a crazy plan that actually worked. Why not read my Bible through backwards? I thought. After all, I read everything else from back to front—magazines, newspapers, books (reading the last few chapters first before going to the beginning). Why not put this strange quirk to good use by enhancing my devotional life?
Being more of an Old Testament person, so to speak (there are more stories in the Old Testament than in the New), I decided to try a modified version of my “backwards” plan—starting with Malachi and ending with Genesis; then jumping to Revelation and reading backwards to Matthew. I made an exception with the series books (books such as 1 and 2 Kings, and 1, 2, and 3 John. These I read in order—the first book before the second, etc.
The plan did wonders for my devotional life. First, it rid me of the compulsion of having to get through a certain number of chapters each day so that I could reach the end on time. With the pressure off, I was able thoughtfully to spend time with God’s Word, really listening and absorbing what God was trying to say to me that day.
Furthermore, the approach also enhanced my prayer life, since I now had much more to talk about with God, rather than just coming with a list of “thank Yous” and requests.
I also started being much more interactive with my Bible—writing comments or questions in the margins, and even dates when I wanted to claim a particular verse, or when a certain promise was fulfilled. The Word thus became a living, vibrant reality in my life, and I looked forward to my devotional time each day. As I continued reading, the margins started filling up with cross-references, as what I was reading on one day reminded me of things I’d read previously.
While I had no set agenda regarding an amount of reading I had to accomplish each day, it generally averaged out to about a chapter per day. The main rule was this: before ending my devotional time for the day, in my mind I would summarize what I’d read, meditating over it, searching for “a gem for the day”—some special thought from the passage that I could carry with me throughout the day.
Gems and Eye-openers
It was amazing the gems that would surface, even from what might be considered less-likely places in the Bible, such as Zechariah 11:15, 16. Here a “foolish shepherd” is described as one “who will not care for the perishing, [or] seek the scattered, [or] heal the broken, or sustain the one standing, but [who] will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hoofs” (NASB).†
As I thought about that verse, I was reminded that Jesus describes Himself as “the Good Shepherd,” and that since such a vivid description of a “foolish shepherd” had been given, surely the attributes of a good shepherd would be the opposite. Looking at things that way, I was able to discover a beautiful description of some of the attributes of the Good Shepherd as One who cares for the perishing, One who seeks the scattered. One who heals the broken. And One who sustains those still standing.
I’m not sure this method would pass in a class on hermeneutics, but I know I was blessed many times by taking the time to reflect on what I read and then trying to carry the main thought with me like a special treasure throughout the day.
This plan will certainly not work for everyone. But the point is to find what will work for you; what will bring newness to your devotional life; what will bring you closer to God and His Word; what will give you strength for each day.
We should never be afraid of trying new ways of finding Him.
“So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth” (Hosea 6:3, NASB).
* David Gibson, “Bible Illiteracy Rampant in America,” Religion News Service, 12/01/00.
† Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Gina Wahlen was assistant professor of research and writing at theAdventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines when she wrote this. She and her family have recently moved to the United States.