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I enjoy listening to what people say they are learning about God and themselves whenever they read the Bible. After all, the book is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). It offers life giving encouragement, and many folks enjoy talking about the most recent revelations they have discovered during their studies.
However, when I ask people if they are engaged in a Bible study, most say they are not. Some meet once a week to study a particular book with a group of people, but they don’t often study it on their own.
Yet, they are quick to point out that they read a devotional every day. It might be from a book they bought or an email they receive each morning.
Devotionals are wonderful tools for helping to understand a passage or two of scripture. People who write good devotionals generally have keen insight and a unique way to apply the passage to everyday life.
However, I don’t think devotionals can be considered genuine Bible “study” because no study is really involved. It is like piggybacking onto someone else’s study, or reading a Cliffs Note summary of a classic piece of literature. You get the gist of the message, but not the entire meaning. You know what happens chronologically, but you really don’t get a chance to know the main characters well.
Before you think I’m being judgmental, rest assured I consider devotionals to be one of the core activities of my daily life. I probably receive somewhere between six or eight a day. For many years, the closest I got to reading the Bible came when I read a passage in a devotional.
That all changed when a mentor encouraged me to engage in an actual systematic daily study of the Bible. He promised that it would open my eyes to a new understanding of God’s character, his plan for redemption, and his will for the way we are to live out our lives.
Even though I became a Christian in 1995, 20 years later there were still a number of books in the Bible that I had not read. I decided to change that.
I know I will die eventually and go to heaven. I didn’t want to be walking down the street someday to Amos, the author of one of the books in the Bible, who might ask me what I thought of his book. Eternity is a long time to avoid an author.
My mentor encouraged me to check out the many “Bible in a year” studies that are available free from Bible.com. I selected one that required me to read two to three chapters of the Old Testament every day, along with one Psalm, one or two verses from Proverbs, and a chapter from the New Testament.
That sounds like a lot of reading, but I can complete it in about 20 to 25 minutes a sitting. I spent that much time getting angry and feeling hopeless by reading news stories every morning. In fact, it probably takes just a few minutes more to actually study the Bible than it does to meditate on a daily devotional.
It was the systematic reading of the entire Bible that changed my opinion regarding devotionals. Like I noted before, I still read a handful every day. However, a systematic reading of the Bible opened my eyes to the correlation between the Old Testament and New Testament.
I began to see patterns emerge and common themes. I developed a better understanding of the characters I had heard about in the past. I could see how Jesus fit in with God’s plan to restore his creation.
The systematic reading experience has been so valuable that I plan on continuing it year after year. In fact, I am contemplating switching to a different version of the Bible to get a completely different perspective when my current reading plan ends in a few months.
When I engage in a thorough, systematic reading of the Bible, passages just seem to pop out of scripture and speak directly to my heart regarding my current situation or questions I have had in the past.
The Holy Spirit has been helpful in opening my eyes in a way that it is harder to take verses out of context. Yes, I still have questions from time to time, so I write a note in the margin and bring it up with my mentor or other Christians to gain their perspective.
As we enter the holiday season, now is a great time to begin a systematic daily Bible study. By the time the new year rolls around, you will have discovered the time to be one of your favorite, most anticipated times of the day.
Creating that new routine will be hard at first. But, give it 30 days. If you are like me, you’ll begin to look forward to that time when you allow God to speak directly to your heart.
To find a study you can begin today, visit www.Bible.com.
To start the One Year ® Bible study I have found most helpful, visit www.bible.com/reading-plans/60-the-one-year-bible.