I hope these suggestions are helpful. They come straight from my own personal experience and desire to better spend time in God’s Word this next year.
Look for indicatives behind imperatives.
As much as “God said so” is a legitimate motivation to obey Scriptural commands, focusing on the commands without the full driving force behind them can lead to legalism. To find the indicatives behind the imperative is to find the real significance behind obedience. It’s to understand what we should do in light of what God has done, is doing, and will do. I dare you to try to find Paul giving a command without a list of reasons why that go far beyond “because you’re suppose to.” Take Ephesians 5:25 for example: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Or look at 1 John 4:19, which says, “We love because he first loved us.” This is the best way to love. Love others in response to the love God has shown you. What I do should be traced back to who I am, but even more than that, to who God is and what He has done. So when I see a command, I’m looking for the glorious truth about my God that compels me to live this way. Loving the indicatives always leads toward living the imperatives. There’s no better way to do it. It’ll lead to a blessed life of obedience from the heart rather than conformity without cause.
“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart…” (Romans 6:17)
Don’t read to check a list or even just to learn, read so you can live.
Our Christian-life checklist has gotten pretty shallow. There’s a desperate need to make sure we spend a few minutes in the Word, but doing anything beyond that hardly gets a second thought. How we keep others accountable is proof of this. As long as our Christian brothers or sisters check off their daily devotions for the day, we’re content and congratulate them for being faithful, as if faithfulness to the Word has been wired down to reading for a few minutes a day. There is a blessing in the Christian life that is so much greater than reading God’s Word, it’s being renewed by it! If you keep someone else accountable for staying in the Word, here’s a suggestion: instead of just asking whether or not they read their daily devotion, ask them whether or not they took it to heart. See if Scripture is making it’s way down into the DNA of who they are.
“As [Jesus] said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But [Jesus] said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!'” (Luke 11:27-28)
“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:23-25)
Aim for weight, not length.
This definitely does not mean only read little portions. It means the amount of Scripture you intake does not equal the amount that Scripture will impact you. Sometimes it can be easier to remember what shoes Sally wore to dinner last week than to remember what God said to you this morning. Maybe it’s not necessarily because you didn’t spend enough time reading; maybe it’s because there wasn’t enough time spent dwelling on the significance of the words you read. Sure, repetition aids recall, but significance makes things stick. When I say to aim for weight, I mean to allow the true significance to strike your heart. Try your best to see the real value behind the words you’re reading. For example, I’ve been reading through Ephesians, and it can be really easy to jump over the introductory verses. A simple phrase starts the book: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….” When you read that with weight in mind, you’ll think, “Paul is actually an apostle of the Christ Jesus. He’s employed by God, and that’s God’s will for his life – incredible.” After thinking that, I enter the rest of Ephesians with a heart already stirred with awe and gratitude, knowing I’ve been included in God’s ministry as well. Had I been reading with length in mind, I would have been tempted to skip those seemingly insignificant phrases, and they certainly wouldn’t have made an impact. I’m encouraging you to do more than moves your eyes as you read. Trust that what you’re reading is more than just a book. Its words have eternal weight.
Pray more than you read.
Nothing can guarantee a dry devotional more than reading without reference to the Author. To go back to the example earlier, I should be saying more than just “Wow! Paul is employee of Christ Jesus.” It’s a cool thought, but it’s even cooler to talk to God about it. “God, I’m amazed you would use people to accomplish your work. Thank you for using people like Paul to reach me. Please use me as well.” God’s word is an invitation to communion. Don’t pass up an opportunity like that because you’re too busy plowing through the text. Time in the Word is great, but time with the Author is better.
Seek Scripture like treasure.
To do this, you’ll have to avoid one of the potential pitfalls of daily devotions. There are examples in Scripture of men having a specific routine of going before God, but why should that mean we should only seek after God during that set apart time? Definitely try to have a time during the day when you eliminate as many distractions as possible, but I’m convinced that if you’re truly seeking after truth like treasure (Proverbs 2:4) then you’ll be tempted to open your Bible more than once a day. A heart that is seeking God is going to have a mind set on Him. Matthew 6:21 says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The heart is your inner man; it’s your thoughts and desires. What your inner man is longing for, that’s the location of your treasure. And a good indication of what you’re longing for is what you do when you default. When you get a moment free, is that your opportunity to refresh your news feed and beat another level or does it give you another opportunity to dwell on those precious words God has revealed to you? “But I already had my quiet time.” Ok, great. But a deep delight in God’s Word is going to be coupled with a continuous meditation on God’s Word that goes beyond those few moments (Psalms 1:2).
“How much our Christianity suffers from being confined to certain times and places. A man who seeks to pray earnestly in the church or in a prayer room spends the greater part of the week or the day in a spirit entirely at variance with the Spirit in which he prayed.” (Andrew Murray)
The same could be said of our time in the Word. Why limit the renewal of your mind to a few minutes a day, when you could be renewed throughout the day?
Steward God’s Word by sharing it.
In 2 Timothy, Paul is encouraging Timothy to guard the deposit that’s been entrusted to him and to not be ashamed. The connection between these two encouragements becomes clear with an understanding of the different way Paul is using the word “guard.” We naturally think of guarding as keeping something to yourself, but here it is the opposite. Timothy’s ability to guard the deposit that’s been entrusted to him is linked with his ability to pass it on to others. If Timothy dies, the deposit should not die with him. What Timothy has heard, he needs to find faithful men to share it with who will then share it with others (2 Timothy 2:2). In other words, Timothy’s stewardship and faithfulness in handling the Gospel has to do with more than just correctly receiving it but passing it on as well. This is why Timothy must not be ashamed of the Gospel; otherwise, in his timidity, he’ll keep his mouth shut. Look to Paul who had the example of trying to share everything profitable he had with others (Acts 20:20). He’s our discipleship model. If you have something important, share it with the next person. If you learn something, talk about it with someone. That’s how you can properly steward God’s Word this year. Share it. God has not entrusted you with His Word so you can bury it inside. It’s meant to be passed on. Give everything you’ve got to give everything you’ve got. When I die, I want every bit of what God has taught me to be living in someone else.