Saturday, January 18, 2014

Incorporating Bible Reading Into Your Day

One of the major ways I build and maintain my relationship with God is by spending time reading and studying the Bible.  It has not always been a daily discipline for me, and even now there are days here and there when I miss out.  I’ve come a long way, though, towards making God’s Word part of my daily reading. 

In this post, I want to share a list of ideas for incorporating Bible reading into your day.  Not all of them will be relevant to your circumstances, but I am hoping that a few of them might prove helpful.  Some are strategies that I have used, and others have come from my reading over the years.
The most difficult times to fit Bible reading—or any reading, for that matter—into your day is when you have young children at home.  Here are some ideas specific to parents with little ones:
1.      Lead everyone in your family to have a devotional time at once.  Give your small children Bible storybooks and picture books, along with notebooks they can scribble their own “notes” in.  For some kids, a little spiral notebook feels like a special treasure instead of the usual big sheets of coloring paper they are used to. 
Set a timer, and let your children know, “When the timer goes ‘ding,’ I will read a story to you, but for now, it is everyone’s quiet time to spend with God.”
You will have to explain, model, and reinforce the behaviors you expect during this time just as you would when teaching any other appropriate behaviors for a given time and place.

2.      Even if your children have outgrown naptime, you can still have them observe a “quiet time,” when they are expected to read, draw, or play quietly in their rooms.  

Again, you will have to explain, model, and reinforce the behaviors you expect during this time.  “Quiet time” might not be all that quiet and Bible-directed while you are reinforcing that your children cannot keep popping out of their rooms to ask you a question or look for a different toy.  Use the same sorts of methods you employ to keep them in their rooms at night, and after some time you may find some fairly uninterrupted periods of morning or afternoon time for your devotions.

3.     Work with your husband to find a task that he can do with the kids on his own to free you up for a devotional time.  Perhaps he can brush teeth, give baths, oversee the putting on of pajamas, and read the nighttime books while you have your quiet time, and then you can come in for prayer, tuck ins, and kisses.  Or he could take them to the park, the library, or (even better!) the grocery store once a week so you can have an uninterrupted hour to yourself.

4.     Let your children see you read the Bible.  You don’t have to hide yourself away for devotional time, as long as you can find a way to be undisturbed.  It sets a great example, and makes them curious.
Here are some suggestions that could work for anyone at any point in her life:
1.      Read just a little before you go to sleep at night, or in the morning before anyone else is awake, depending on your own sleeping habits. 

2.      Find a time when you would usually pick up a magazine or scroll through Facebook (your lunch break at work, perhaps?), and pick up the Bible instead. 
3.      Keep a calendar of your Quiet Time reading to mark your progress.  Elizabeth George includes a Quiet Times Calendar in the back of her book, A Woman After God’s Own Heart.  You can shade in a square for each day you spend some time with God.  My daughter has a similar chart to this for her kindergarten class, so she can mark off every fifteen minute increment of reading she does each day.  Such a visual record may encourage you to be more faithful to your commitment.

4.       Tell other people about your intention to spend time in the Bible each day.  Knowing that they will ask you about your progress may offer additional incentive to keep up your commitment.
“What happens when you and I do slip away to be with God in study and prayer?” asks Elizabeth George in A Woman After God’s Own Heart.
“We receive,” she writes.  “We take in.  We are nurtured and fed…I call this time with God ‘the great exchange.’ Away from the world and hidden from public view, I exchange my weariness for His strength, my weakness for His power, my darkness for His light, my problems for His solutions, my burdens for His freedom, my frustrations for His peace, my turmoil for His calm, my hopes for His promises, my afflictions for His balm of comfort, my questions for His answers, my confusion for His knowledge, my doubt for His assurance, my nothingness for His awesomeness, the temporal for the eternal, and the impossible for the possible.”
Wow!  I think it’s clear that we get the best end of the bargain in this exchange, thanks be to God!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Making Time for God's Word

“I just don’t have time for Bible study and prayer.”

I’ve said these words before, and chances are you have, too.  Even with the best of intentions, we have a hard time finding space in our schedules for any time with God.  But if we are to maintain our relationship with Him, then we must make time for it.  We manage to make time for the things that matter to us…heck, we manage to make time for things that really don’t matter all that much to us!  Surely we can work together, and share some ideas here to make time for God.
We’ll tackle the subject of prayer in a different post; let’s focus on Bible reading and study for now. 

An Appointment with God

Jen Hatmaker tells us in 7:  An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess that her communion with God “suffers not for lack of desire but time.”  But then she reflects that she did find time for Facebook and television and YouTube videos and radio.  “So when I say I don’t have time,” she admits, “I’m a gigantic liar.  I have time.  I just spend it elsewhere.”  Ouch.  If we are honest, I think we are all convicted by these words.
Imagine that God called you up on the phone and asked you to set aside some time for Him.  He tells you that He wants to talk with you about your purpose in life, why you have been put here on earth, what He has created you to do, how you can handle those problems you are facing and deal with those people in your life.  Is that an appointment that you are likely to miss?

That is exactly what you are signing on for when you make an appointment to spend time in God’s Word.  It is in the Bible that you will find God’s purpose and will for you, as well as His direction and encouragement for handling the struggles you face due to circumstances and people in your life.  Knowing that His promises lie between the pages of that single book, the Bible, doesn’t it make sense to allow time each day to access them?
In Mindy Starns Clark’s book entitled The House That Cleans Itself, she dedicates an entire chapter to the topic of having a devotional area within your home.  “Going to God on a daily basis and keeping Him at the center of your heart and home is the key to lasting change,” Clark tells us.  

Practical Considerations
A good first step in incorporating Bible study into your schedule is to determine the best time to do it.  In the Old Testament, God required the “first fruits” from His people; He wants the BEST, not the second-hand or leftovers.  I think He probably feels the same way today.  When could you spend time with God’s Word when you would be giving it your full energy and attention? 

Many people like to begin their days with a time of prayer and Bible study to focus their attention on God for the day.  I love the idea of a morning devotional time, but it would not make for an effective experience for me.  I would be bleary-eyed and thinking about my first cup of coffee the whole time.  Lots of times I find myself reading my bible at 10:30 pm, knowing that I ought to be getting into the shower so I can get to bed.  For me, the best time for prayer and Bible study is around 8:30 pm.  Dinner is cleaned up, the kids are in bed, chores and appointments are finished for the day, and my husband is settled in to the computer or TV.  Nothing else is particularly pressing for me at this time of night, and I can focus on God’s Word.  What time would work best for you to be able to bring the first fruits of your energy and attention to God?
To make the most of your time, make sure to have all of your needed materials together in one place.  At the very least, this would mean keeping your Bible in easy reach of your pre-determined location.  Other possible additions include a notebook and pen for jotting down verses, ideas, and reflections; a reading schedule, if you are working your way through the Bible in one or two years; a devotional book, if you like reading daily selections with commentary; reference books, in case you are digging deep; highlighters, colored pencils, and colorful sticky notes if you are making notations in your Bible or notebook. 

But remember, nothing more is necessary for spending time in God’s Word than God’s Word itself…don’t make things so complicated that you never get started.  (Trust me, I am an EXPERT on making things complicated!)
If you DO end up with a collection of materials and supplies, keep them all together in a basket or tote bag.  That way, they don’t become a messy nuisance when you’re trying to keep the house neat, and you can easily move them from place to place if you have to change locations for Bible study one day.  I like to keep my things next to “my spot on the sofa” in the corner of the living room, but if I want to read the Bible while the television is on, I often pack up and head upstairs to my bedroom to find a quiet place.  I have to keep things portable so that I don’t throw my hands up and say, ”oh well” when my usual spot doesn’t encourage quiet time.

Clark encourages us to start small if we must, and God will bless our efforts.  Do you feel that five minutes is all that you can manage right now?  Well, that’s five more minutes in God’s Word than you managed yesterday, and over half an hour by the end of the week.  With prayer and commitment, you will likely see that time expand as you grow hungrier for more scripture.  In the classic book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Hannah Whitall Smith assures us, “Our part is the trusting; it is His to accomplish the results.  And when we do our part, He never fails to do His, for no one ever trusted in the Lord and was confounded.”  Show up, do your part, and God will bless your efforts.
Consider following Clark’s advice to set a timer for your reading time.  If you set the timer to “ding” after ten minutes, there is no reason to check the clock during your quiet, focused time with God.  Nor do you have to worry that you will “run over” your allotted time, taking you away from your To Do list.

The Bottom Line
Make an appointment with God, put it on the calendar if you must, get yourself prepared ahead of time so that you are not scurrying around looking for your Bible or a pen every day at the appointed time, commit yourself to a consistent practice of Bible reading, and reap the joyful benefits of spending time with your Creator.  If you don’t schedule it, it isn’t likely to happen. 

Don’t intend to do it. 
Make it happen. 

My next post will share some specific ideas for  incorporating
Bible reading and study into your days.
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