This is the second post in a series on “Building a Better Devotional.” In this series, I talk about the Christian’s devotional life, and give tips on how to build a better devotional. Other posts in this series can be found here. For more articles related to devotionals and hermeneutics, click the side bar menu under “Devotionals & Hermeneutics.“
This may be hard to believe, but I once aspired to be a jazz guitarist. I started playing guitar in 8th grade and serving in my church youth group, but I always had a desire to learn jazz. Eventually, I invested in jazz guitar lessons. The first month was exciting as I was exposed to the world I had always admired. However, by months three and four, the newness wore off, and I began to get discouraged at my lack of progress and the ever growing complexities of jazz theory. After six months of lessons and struggling through scales, I finally gave up.
For those of us in the church, we might have similar experiences when it comes to reading our Bibles. We go through cycles of excitement and discouragement and feel like we never get anywhere in deepening our Biblical understanding. I’ve noticed for myself, this cycle typically begins with a moment of inspiration to get into the Word. Whether sparked by a powerful sermon, a conference, or a retreat, I feel excited to dive head first into Scripture. The first weeks, or even months, go fairly well, but eventually I fall into a lapse, missing a day of reading here or there or hitting a passage that completely stumps me. The lapse becomes a trend, and pretty soon I’m back to square one, discouraged and struggling to even open my Bible. And so I’m left waiting until the next sermon, conference, or retreat to get me back on my feet and at it again.
For those of us that really do desire to build a better devotional and grow in our understanding of Scripture, how can we read Scripture in a way where we are not just reading, but truly understanding? How can we equip ourselves to be better students of the Word to push through when fatigue or discouragement settles?
Becoming an “Expert” of the Word Takes Time
Just like anything else, getting good at reading Scripture takes time. I didn’t expect to be able to play jazz guitar overnight. I knew that if I wanted to get good at it, it would take time. My problem was not that jazz was hard, but that I gave up too soon.
We know that if we want to get good at any instrument, sport, or academic field, it takes time. No one becomes an expert overnight (in fact, I’ve heard that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything). Though we may struggle when starting a new instrument or sport, we know that if we stick with it long enough, we will eventually get over the learning curve and rise into competency. And yet, for some reason, we expect to be experts on the Bible overnight. We wonder why we can’t understand Scripture, when we’re spending ten minutes a day reading the Bible, all the while spending the other 3-4 hours of our free time becoming experts in video games and social media.
If we wish to gain from the Word in our devotionals, it will take time just like anything else we wish to excel in. I often tell our Sunday School students to not get discouraged if they don’t get the main point of a passage right away. It may seem hard at first, but the more they do it, the easier it will become. The question is are we’re willing to stick with it long enough to mature our understanding of Scripture?
Becoming an “Expert” of the Word Takes Discipline
Not only does it take time to get good at something, it takes hard work and discipline. I didn’t expect to get good at jazz guitar by staring at jazz chords for hours. I had to actually pick up the guitar and practice. I practiced scales until my fingers hurt; and I spent hours learning chords until my wrist gave out. If we desire to grow in our understanding of Scripture, we can’t just spend ten minutes a day reading the Bible. Certainly, that’s better than nothing, and there is much that can be gained from daily Bible readings. But to truly understand Scripture, we must be willing to put in the hard work of study and critical thinking.
Some may think we don’t need all that because we have the Spirit indwelling in us. Of course, the Spirit is vital to our understanding the things of God (1 Cor. 2:9-10,12). But we can’t expect the Spirit to do all the work for us. God has given us the gift of a brain with critical thinking capabilities; maybe the Spirit’s desire is to illumine the word to us through those gifts. In 2 Peter 3, Peter challenges us to grow in our knowledge of Scripture:
“…take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
– 2 Peter 3:17-18
In talking about Paul’s letters, Peter even admits that some things Paul writes are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16)! (If Peter can admit to having difficulty understanding Paul, then there is no shame for us in admitting the same). He is calling us here to give ourselves to the discipline of studying Scripture to deepen our understanding.
We tend to forget that the apostles spent years reading and studying the Old Testament prior to preaching the Gospel. Their knowledge of Scripture wasn’t imputed to them along with Christ’s righteousness or the giving of the Spirit. The Spirit used their existing knowledge of the Word to bring them to their understanding of the Messiah. If we desire to know and understand Scripture, we must be willing to give ourselves to the daily discipline of study and thinking.
Becoming an “Expert” of the Word Takes Investment
Finally, and maybe least obvious, is the fact that understanding the Word takes investment. We know that if we want to excel in anything, we need to be wiling to invest not just time and effort, but money as well. We spend hundreds of dollars on team fees and equipment for sports; we spend thousands on lessons and instruments for music; and we spend tens of thousands on education for academics. So why is that when it comes to our eternal gain in the Word, we rarely spend more than ten dollars on a book here and there?
When I set out to learn jazz guitar, I knew it would cost me. I spent money on lessons, songbooks, and new guitar equipment – all for skills I never even use anymore. If our study of Scripture has value not just for this life, but for eternity, then we should be willing to invest whatever it takes to grow our knowledge of the Word. With so many resources at our fingertips here in America, it’s not hard to obtain a few basic tools for a few hundred dollars for a priceless time in the Word. If we really desire to know God through His Word, it will show through investing our dollars.
Understanding the Word is not always an easy task. It will take time, hard work, and investment; but it is an understatement to say it will be worth it. Like with any skill in life, the more we practice, the easier it will become, and the greater the return will be. The more we realize these necessary commitments in becoming experts of the Bible, the more equipped we’ll be in building a better devotional, deepening our understanding of God in His Word, and increasing our devotion and love for Christ.