This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Devotional Drags and Snags: Part 2

In this brief series I'm examining areas of frustration, confusion, or carelessness regarding having daily devotions. The opening statements that represent these drags and snags often have some validity; my desire is to provide some clarification or refining of those thoughts in order to encourage more profitable devotions. (See part 1 for "I didn't have my devotions yesterday, so I had a terrible day" and "I have to read the Bible to get a verse to help me today.") Here is the third statement.

3) "I read the Bible every day, but I don't remember what I read."
This statement is generally true of every kind of reading, whether it be the Bible or anything else. It is therefore less reflective of Bible reading in particular than of general reading technique.

For many years I tried to teach students how to read their school assignments more effectively. Various systems promoted over the years have the same basic premise - that the reader has to be looking for something when he reads and has to identify what he has read. The idea is that if the reader has some idea beforehand what the passage is about, he will be better prepared to understand it. The ability to summarize the content in his own words afterward demonstrates that he understands what he has read, while knowing he will have to summarize causes him to read more alertly and purposefully.

For example, in the SQ3R system, the reader Surveys, Questions, Reads, Recites, and Reviews. Here's a rough demonstration of a history assignment. Survey: student looks over chapter title and section headings and observes, "This is about beginning of the Civil War, the reasons it started, and the way the sides divided." Question: student composes questions. "How many causes were there? What were those reasons? How did states choose their positions?" Read: student reads the passage, especially looking for the answers to his questions. Recite: student verbalizes the answers to his questions. One section at a time, he states in his own words what each paragraph or section revealed. Review: when the student reads a later assignment, he again summarizes the previous assignment.

The Bible is not merely a textbook and is not designed like a textbook, but a similar approach is helpful in reading, comprehending, and remembering the Bible. There is little profit in reading the Bible just to check it off a daily list of requirements, and there is even less profit in rapidly reading to accomplish the task more quickly. I would suggest a variation of the above method, using at least the questioning, reading, and reciting steps.

Question: The reader should know before he starts that there are answers he is looking for. Here are some general questions that could work for any Bible passage. (I introduced these questions in Teen-Aged Aimlessness, which is primarily a personal testimony of my initial struggles to have devotions.)
·         Why did God put this passage in the Bible? What is it supposed to teach?
·         How can I summarize this passage in one to three sentences?
·         What does this passage teach me about God?
·         What things can I pray based on this passage?
·         How should this passage impact my life?

While the above questions are a good start, a reader could also ask and answer questions pertinent to a particular passage. In reading John 10, for example, about the Good Shepherd, the reader could ask, "What does a shepherd do for his sheep? What makes Jesus a good shepherd? What is the difference between a good shepherd and a bad one? Why should I trust Him as my shepherd?" If reading Jude, a reader could seek to learn where false teachers come from, what their false teaching is, how to respond to false teaching, and how to avoid becoming a false teacher.

Read: The most crucial requirement of reading is to read with care - not rushing, not skimming, not mindlessly. It may be necessary to read a verse more than once, and it is often helpful to go back and read a previous verse or verses again to lead effectively into a new verse. The reader is primarily looking for the literal meaning, trying to understand what the words actually say. With that foundation, he can seek to comprehend how the different verses fit together and what God intended to teach through the passage.

Recite: I believe that perhaps the most beneficial component of devotions is to write something down - a summary, an outline, answers to the above questions, personal application, etc. Formulating the thoughts in this way prevents a fuzzy and imprecise "I think I have an idea what that was about" result. Many teachers would assert that if a student can't explain something in his own words, he hasn't really learned it. In Write It Down, I demonstrate a very simple approach that I used when I first started to read the Bible. In Basic Questions Applied, I demonstrate what answering the five questions above might look like when reading Psalm 23.

Over and over again I told my students, "The more times you handle a piece of information, the more likely you are to remember it." Writing truth down is a very effective way of handling God's truth again (beyond merely reading it). Writing His truth in one's own words has the same reinforcing advantage that actually baking a cake or building a birdhouse has over merely reading the recipe or instructions.

Some of the profit from reading God's Word is subtle, gradual, and progressive. Value comes through habitual reading over the long term. Value comes through regularly prioritizing the Bible and maintaining a mental estimation of its worth. Value comes through repeatedly yielding to God's Word as it impacts the heart.

In addition to this long-term growth, daily benefit can be achieved when the reader states, "I will utilize strategies to help me understand the Bible better."

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