The question on my mind today is how should I read the Bible devotionally?
I’m committed to reading it in Greek, but the language of choice is not of concern? I’m wondering more about the pros and cons of reading the Bible in a devotional manner.
This became evident while reading through John’s first letter the other day. I found it difficult to empty my mind from all I’ve learned in the past years of study for my Bib Research with CCCB and my studies for my MANT with Johnson University.
Has all the study ruined my experience in reading the Bible for enjoyment or has it given me a better way of reading the Bible? Here’s my dilemma: what does it mean to read the Bible devotionally, as in a Quiet Time reading?
The Quiet Time
Back in 1982, while participating in 2:7 Navigator Discipleship groups, I was introduced to the Quiet Time (QT), a devotional way of reading the Bible. Since we were meeting a Person in our QT, we could expect God and the Spirit to reveal something unique from the passages to each of us for that very day.
This was an exciting decade in my spiritual journey. I had recently read Richard Foster’s books—Celebration of Discipline (1979) and Freedom of Simplicity (1981)—both would be top-sellers just before Spiritual Formation programs would become popular.
How would we know when God had something to say? That would be easy. While reading, and a phrase or verse grabbed our attention, we would know—sensing what the Spirit intended for each of us to dwell upon individually. After a period of quiet listening to hear God speak, after mulling over those words, and after praying for guidance, we were assured God would show us what to do. This worked for a few years.
The QTs would be fun, refreshing, and uplifting. No one got bogged down with details. You know, things like background, genre, author, audience, and certainly no concern for what the author intended to say. Those were reserved for those doing lengthy Bible studies, and apparently they were going to be as fun and refreshing as our QT.
The QT experience is described in my 1982 2:7 workbook as “flying over a city in an airplane.” I prefer how a female preacher from Australia put it, it’s like “jet skiing over the waters.” Oh, it was indeed fun, refreshing, and even more exhilarating than we ever imagined. None in our group had ever read the Bible this way.
Many were drawn closer to God, most matured in their walk as Christians, and a few gained confidence to witness to others. I’m sure nearly everyone in those groups years ago would agree that this was a life-changing experience.
We took turns sharing our insights, some more unusual than others—but this was okay, after all the QT experience was personal in nature. Who were we to judge what others experienced in their time alone with God?
One evening a pregnant mother of two boys shared an insight from the OT: God promised she would have a daughter. I prayed my face hid my skepticism. This would have been a great time to land the plane, to dive deeper into the text, to discuss genre, etc., but no amount of caution helped. Her faith was shattered months later after giving birth to another son.
The Reader & the Author
Years later when studying Paula Gooder’s work, Searching for Meaning: An Introduction to Interpreting the New Testament, I learned this was one of many methods of Bible reading or study where locating the meaning in the Biblical text shifted to the reader of the text away from the author who originally governed the meaning of text. The author is silenced while the reader takes center stage.
That method might work when reading Gone With the Wind. The Scarlett I imagined at age 14 was shattered when I viewed her on the big screen. No doubt every generation of readers have had visions of Rhett, Scarlett, and Tara far different from my early teen image and most likely those images of Scarlett are unlike Mitchell’s 1936 vision of her fictional character. But, that’s okay! Fiction works like that.
But, I wonder now if the Bible—specifically in reference to my reading of 1, 2, and 3 John—should be read this way? Time will tell.