Saturday, February 20, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 4 - Devotional Reading Vs. Bible Study

Day 4 – Saturday
Devotional Reading vs. Bible Study

I LOVE a good Bible study! Nothing jazzes more than getting into a good scripture that’s rich with nuanced meanings, thick with theology, linguistically interesting, historically fascinating, culturally provocative, and absolutely edible—meaning you can sink your teeth into it. With a scripture like that, I get to pull out my Greek and Hebrew resources, commentaries, concordances, and the like. You can smell the wood and graphite from my pencil burning as I scribble notes and make outlines. Then, once I’ve fully mastered the text, I can begin to think about how to teach it or preach it. I don’t know about you, but I’m just geeky enough that I absolutely love that kind of stuff.

2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” I was curious about that word “study,” so I looked it up in Greek. It’s σπούδασον, which comes from σπουδάζω, which is pronounced spoo-dad'-zo, meaning “to use speed, that is, to make effort, be prompt or earnest: - do (give) diligence, be diligent (forward), endeavour, labour, study.” That word σπουδάζω comes from another Greek word, σπουδή (pronounced spoo-day’) from which we get our English word “speed.” Isn’t that cool? Fascinating, isn’t it? Beth tells me I’m such a word-nerd. So I started with the scripture, and then I studied, so I could learn about studying. Studying’s good, right? Of course—for the Bible tells me so!

But it’s not prayer.

When I settle in to pray, I have three books with me. But none of them is a commentary, or a Greek lexicon, or book on Jewish history. Studying is wonderful, but that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing when I pray. Human beings are a trinity—body, soul, and spirit. Physical exercise is good for the body. Mental exercise is good for the soul (mind), and spiritual exercise (prayer) is good for the spirit. I wouldn’t bring Nautilus equipment into a classroom—neither would I bring study materials into prayer time. If during prayer time I find a scripture I want to study, I make a note of it and get back to it later. But prayer time is for prayer.

So, what three books do I have with me when I pray? My Bible (of course!), my prayer journal, and my devotion book. What’s the difference between Bible study and devotion? Bible study feeds the mind, whereas devotional reading feeds the spirit. Devotional reading gets me prepared for prayer. That’s its purpose—to give me a focus for my prayer time. It’s not so I can learn how to be a better Christian, or so I can understand the mysteries of the universe. That’s why devotional readings are short. They’re not the focus. Prayer is the focus. When you’re in your prayer time, even Bible reading isn’t the focus. You read a short passage of scripture to get you focused on prayer. If you’re doing one of those read-the-Bible-through-in-a-year plans, that’s great! But don’t do that during your prayer time. Keep it short and sweet, and let that reading become a focusing point for your prayer.

In Preaching and Preachers, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says:
I have found nothing more important than to learn how to get oneself into that frame and condition in which one can pray. You have to learn how to start yourself off, and it is just here that this knowledge of yourself is so important. What I have generally found is that to read something which can be characterized in general as devotional is of great value. By devotional I do not mean something sentimental, I mean something with a true element of worship in it. Notice that I do not say that you should start yourself in prayer by always reading the Scriptures; because you can have precisely the same difficulty there. Start by reading something that will warm your spirit. Get rid of a coldness that may have developed in your spirit. You have to learn how to kindle a flame in your spirit, to warm yourself up, to give yourself a start. It is comparable, if you like, to starting a car when it is cold. You have to learn how to use a spiritual choke. I have found it most rewarding to do that, and not to struggle vainly. When one finds oneself in this condition, and that it is difficult to pray, do not struggle in prayer for the time being, but read something that will warm and stimulate you, and you will find that it will put you into a condition in which you will be able to pray more freely.
Devotional reading is a catalyst for prayer. Begin your prayer time with a little devotional reading. It won’t make you a Bible scholar, but it will make you a better prayer partner with Jesus. You can become a Bible scholar later—now, it’s time to pray!


Some devotional resources I’d recommend:

A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People, edited by Reuben P. Job and Norman
Nawchuck. Published by The Upper Room. Available at Cokesbury Christian
bookstore. (I used this devotional book for 15 years! It has a great laid-out
devotional/prayer time, if you’re not sure how to structure your time.) is a great resource for free online devotional reading, podcasts, e-books, etc.

My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. Available everywhere. Excellent,
intelligent, thought-provoking, and challenging. He doesn’t mind stepping on
your toes.

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