Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Devotional Help, Part 2: Pointers

But let's assume you and I are already working on having the desire and making the time already (for pointers on making time check out Part 1), but that now we need to know what to do once we are having devotions. Basically at the heart of devotions is our relationship with Yahweh (God's first Name), the Holy Trinity. Relationships are based on interactions between people; and healthy relationships are based on honest and natural interactions between people. But like any relationship there is a "getting to know the other person" period, and during that time we figure out how we interact with that person's personality and interests. Well, it is not really different when we come to God. And just like it may feel a bit awkward during that "get to know you" stage, when we first start interacting with God, it can feel bit weird, because we are still trying to figure out how we hang out with Him most naturally. So, if it feels a little odd at first, don't freak out, just keep hanging out with God, and sooner or later the conversation will not just be smooth and natural, but the most brutally honest and refreshing conversation ever. Prayer and Scripture study can become things that take time, but just like when you're chill'n with your best friend, the time flies by.

"Ok, great, but what am I supposed to do during devotions/quiet time?" That's a good question. Well, at the core I think there seems to be two parts: 1) prayer and 2) Bible study. However, sometimes other things can be added, and not all of them are very quiet, which is why I think I prefer the term "devotions." Sometimes while I'm talking with God or chill'n in His Presence, I sing, other times I almost preach to myself, Other times I dance (and thankfully God is not a harsh critic when it comes to my pathetic dancing ability). Sometimes I will compose poetry, sometimes I write music. Other times I just play the guitar. Sometimes I think through or study important issues, doctrines, or application (although usually this takes place more in the context of a dialogue with God, but sometimes to talk to Him intelligently about it, I need to study up a bit first). Other times I'll clap my hands. Sometimes I will go without food or water. Sometimes I'll draw. Sometimes I'll listen to sermons. Just like when we hang out with our friends from school or work or our family, we do different things at different times, but at the core of what we do is that we have a relationship with the other person/people and that we are listening to them and communicating with them. In the same way, the core parts of devotions/quiet times are prayer and Bible study, to which we can add some other enjoyable acts of worship.

"Great, but I still don't know how to pray or study the Bible." You're right, so here are some pointers to get you started in the right direction.

     1. Be honest with God, don't try to fancy up the words and make it sound you're speaking super-formal English. God already knows what you're thinking and feeling anyways, so lying isn't going to work, and making your words sound like their not coming from your heart is not really what God is after. It would be hard to make friends with someone if they only spoke in the most formal English. If you're sad, it's not going to do much good to pretend to be happy while you're talking with God, since God knows you're miserable and wants to talk with you about it. Just like when your friend has a problem and they pretend like they don't and they won't talk about--doesn't that drive you crazy? Well, God already knows your problem(s), and like a good friend He wants to talk about them with you and help you with them.

    2. Trying to talk about what God has done and how Awesome He is can be a good place to start, because whenever we really are thankful for something or are really impressed by someone, we talk pretty freely and naturally. If you can talk for 15 minutes about how awesome that one movie was, or how awesome a dress you found for prom, or how awesome that basketball game was, or how cute your kids are, you can probably talk for 10+ minutes about how awesome the Holy Trinity to the Holy Trinity, God doesn't feel awkward when praise Him, and neither do we if we are truly impressed with Him (of course if you're not really impressed by Who He is and what He's done, that's a much bigger problem).

     3. Ask for what you need, ask a lot, ask for crazy things. Pretty much all the recorded prayers we have in the New Testament involve some kind of asking, and the one's that don't have it are usually directed at God for having answered prayer or having done something awesome that is worthy of celebrating and praising. It's not selfish to ask, because God is not limited in how much He can give you and He has asked you to ask.

Bible Study
     1. Pray!!! Ask God to reveal Himself and His will to you as you read His Word. He always will. This is the first and most important step, because I Corinthians makes it clear that we can't understand Spiritual things without the Holy Spirit working in us to make us understand it. Also, confess your sins, chose to obey instead, and receive God's forgiveness,  because sins often cloud what God is saying to us. Repentance will open the door more widely for the message of God to take root in our souls.

     2. Take your time!!! The number one reason people often don't get anything out of their Bible study is that they don't take the time to chew and digest what they've read. Someone may ask, "I read it once, it took five minutes, but I didn't get anything out of it." To which I say, since when have you ever read something just  once, or spent only five minutes on anything and then reaped life-changing benefit and refreshment from that one read or those five minutes? I'm sure you might suggest a couple times, but I think we will all agree that usually that is not how we are impacted by what we read or by how we spent those 5 minutes. And to be sure, the Bible is not like other things, other books, so because it is alive and active it is not too uncommon to be impacted drastically by one read through or five minutes of study. But I might suggest that the true richness of the word takes more time. Reading the Bible is more like marinating some meat than adding salt to potatoes. Sure adding some salt to the meat has a drastic effect sometimes on taste, but it never comes close to the impact that a good amount of time in some marinade can have on a piece of meat. If you want really tasty and satisfying devotions, give yourself the time to take it in and let it marinate your soul. Sure a quick dash of salt will help and make a difference, but if you want to taste like Jesus, it's better to have some Jesus salt and a long bath in Jesus marinade.

     3. Read it, think about it, and pray about it over and over and over again, until the Holy Spirit makes something click. This is more just telling you more specifically a possible process for achieving #1. When I was in high school, and really to this day, I would read a passage over and over and over until the Holy Spirit spoke to me or opened my mind to something in the passage, sometimes that took longer, other times it was shorter. But I just kept on reading it, thinking about, praying through it over and over, until the Holy Spirit did His work. To some degree, this is even how I figure out what to preach in my sermons. I study the passage deeply, till something clicks and the Holy Spirit gives me insight into what my audience needs to hear from the passage.

     4. Trust God to speak to you through the Word. Sometimes we forget how much our attitude and heart is important to our pursuit of God. Some people probably don't get anything out of their Bible study, mainly because they don't think God will really speak to them, and to some degree or another all of us are guilty of this. So trust that God will speak to you by His Spirit through the Word because of Jesus.

    5. Don't get stuck because you don't understand. To be sure, we need to read and wrestle with understanding the really hard passages in the Bible (and there are some), but sometimes, especially if we haven't read all the way through the Bible ever or recently, we need to just keep reading and not get too hung up on it, trusting that God will help us get it sooner or later. The truth is that the Bible is really good at answering our questions anyways, so the chances are if we really read and study enough of it, our question will get answered sooner or later any way. But it is a good idea to write those questions down so you can keep thinking about them as you continue to read and study the Bible.

     6. Read the WHOLE context. We are very likely to drastically misunderstand what God is trying to tell us in His Word, if we only read one verse here and another over there, or if we only read part of the story or part of the argument. Try to read the whole section, because it will help it make more sense and it less likely that you will misunderstand.

     7. Always be asking questions about what you are studying like "what reasons does the passage give for what it is arguing?" or "who is the main character in this story" or "what would this look like if it happened today?"

     8. Always be looking for applications or implications of what you have studied and prayed through in you're everyday life. Ask yourself, "How does this change how I think, feel, or act?" or "What would this look like in x situation?"

There are more tips that could be given, but this should be enough to get us started.

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