As promised, I am here to share what my Bible time looks like. This isn’t a prescription for you, but my hope and prayer is that it will give you some insight and ideas as you make the most important resolution.
As you may notice, I don’t call this time in my day my “quiet time.” There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this often-used title, but I choose a different name for two main reasons:
1) “Quiet time” implies that the only time you can do it is when all is quiet. And while that is the ideal, to make that a hard and fast command may rule out spending time with the Lord for for people in a number of different situations. The idea that all has to be perfect before I crack open my Bible is a dangerous mentality. As anyone with small kids knows, the moment of “perfect” will never come.
2) I want my children to know that the time I spend with the Lord is spent reading my Bible. The Bible is the purpose of this time set aside. Take out the Bible and there is no Bible time. Devotional guides, the “quiet time” choice for many women, perhaps have their place. However, thinking that reading about the Bible is the same thing as actually reading the Bible is akin to thinking that participating in movie review committee is the same as actually watching the movie. The discussion and critique of the review committee may be helpful, but without having actually previewed the film, most of the benefit is lost.
D.A. Carson expresses this clearly:
Devotional guides tend to offer short, personal readings from the Bible, sometimes only a verse or two, followed by several paragraphs of edifying exposition. Doubtless they proposed personal help for believers with private needs, fears, and hopes. But they do no provide the framework of what the Bible says—the “plot line” or “story line”—the big picture that makes sense of all the little bits of the Bible. Wrongly used, such devotional guides may ultimately engender the profoundly wrong-headed view that God exists to sort out my problems; they may foster profoundly mistaken interpretations of some Scriptures, simply because the handful of passages they treat are no longer placed within the framework of the big picture, which is gradually fading from our view. Only systematic and repeated reading of the whole Bible can meet these challenges (emphasis mine).
I think some the reasons we gravitate towards devotional guides (or doing nothing at all) rather than immersing ourselves in the Bible itself are that
1) We don’t understand the Bible
2) We find it boring
3) We don’t really know where to begin or what to read
4) We have wrong motives for our reading
My brief comments on those issues are as follows:
1) We will continue to not understand the Bible if we continue to not read it
2) It is boring because of point number one (we don’t understand it) and because of point number four (we have wrong motives).
3) Having a perpetual plan for systematic reading will eliminate the “where do I read” problem (I will share mine below).
4) Our motives can be revealed, I believe, with this question:
Are you reading the Bible to soothe your own heart or are you reading in order to more fully know the heart of God?
For most of my life I read for the former: I was looking to Scripture to give me the hope, encouragement, and advice I needed. And Scripture does do that with amazing beauty and grace. However, that’s not why we should read. Instead, our motive should be to know the heart of God. How can we align our heart with His if we don’t seek to know His heart? He has chosen to reveal His heart for His creation, His people, and His plan in His Word. He wants us know Him, His heart, and His purpose. If we want to truly know Him, we must ingest the entire Word, not simply the “not boring” parts.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
And with that sermonette out of the way, this is what my Bible time looks like, and has looked like, since June 2011.
I get up early. The time has changed over the years, but really early works for me. Like 4 am early. Now I am not implying that you need to get up at 4 am in order to have time with the Lord. But maybe you do. I choose this time for several reasons:
1) I really do need quiet. I am a very sensitive person when it comes to sensory input. I can’t handle a lot before I am overwhelmed (this is why I decorate in simple ways, why I almost never listen to music, and why at potlucks I just choose one or two things to eat). Also, due to living just off the equator where the sun rises at 5 am and thus little eyelids (and mouths) pop open by 5:30, getting up early is a must. There are many days, however, when one or two little ones make it downstairs before I am done. I greet them warmly, ask them how their night was, and let them cuddle in if they so choose. They know, however, that my Bible time is important and it isn’t time for them to chatter, play on the computer, or ask me to do something for them. Through training, they have learned to respect my time.
2) I am a non-functioning person at night. I can’t read, I can barely think, and I am not much of a conversationalist. Morning is when I am sharp. We are to give our first fruits to the Lord and my first hours are my best hours.
3) If I don’t get it done first thing in the morning, there is a good chance it won’t happen at all. We must do what is most important before everything else takes over.
The sheer pace of life affords us many excuses for sacrificing the important on the alter of the urgent.” — D.A. Carson
And with coffee in hand, I read.
First, I start with a Proverb corresponding to the day of the month. 31 Proverbs, 30 or 31 days in the month. After 30 months of continuous reading of Proverbs, I can’t emphasize the benefit of this enough. The practical advice mixed with the heartfelt plea to seek wisdom is life changing.
Second, I read from my beloved Daily Light. After the Bible, nothing has been more beneficial in my walk with Christ. I’ve been reading my Daily Light for almost 15 years and it has, in an amazing way, spoken to me with words that went straight to the heart. Each day is divided up into two readings, one for the morning and one for the evening (though I read them both in the morning). Each reading is a composite of Bible passages centered around a theme. What I like about this is that it take various verses that shine brighter together than when I read them separately.
Third, I read the passages outlined in For the Love of God, Volumes One and Two (from which the above D.A. Carson quotes originate). The Scripture reading plan (that he borrowed from the M’Cheyne plan) lists four chapters to read (from various places in the Bible) each day. Over the course of the year, it guides you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.
Fourth, I read the corresponding commentary for the Bible passages. In Volume One, Carson speaks to one of the first two passages and in Volume Two, to one of the second two passages. His commentary is meant to help the reader grasp how the readings fit within the larger Biblical narrative. His remarks aren’t to tie everything up in a cute little bow and send you on your way with flowery sentiment. Rather, his brief remarks are to help you increase your Biblical understanding. It has been immensely helpful to me. I think I have read through the entire Bible five or six times in my life and I am only now starting to understand the basic narrative. Carson’s comments have answered a lot of questions and have created new ones for me to search out answers to.
During these four parts (all of the books other than my Bible are read on my Kindle, mostly so they will travel easily), I keep my notebook open and write down verses that stood out to me, thoughts that I have, or prayers of my heart. I love looking back through my notebook to see what God was teaching me at the time. Because this plan is a perpetual plan—once you finish December 31 your turn right back to January 1—I read the same things from year to year. But my heart and life are in a different place from year to year and therefore the lessons that grab my attention also differ. It’s truly awe-inspiring to see the Living Word impacting my life in new ways during new times.
After I finish reading (which depending on how much journaling I do can take anywhere from 20-50 minutes), I head out the door. I have never been very good with praying and sitting still (well, I am just not good at sitting still.) So I pray while I walk or run. Every day, I spend about 45 minutes outside, strengthening my body through exercise and strengthening my heart through meditation and prayer.
I get home, eat breakfast, live out the moments of my day, go to bed at 8:30 or 9:00, and get ready to do it all over again the next day.