With the birth of my daughter I found a few things very difficult:
I expected as much. It isn’t like it caught me off guard. However, I found that when I was trying to read the Bible, I just struggled to focus. Long gone were the days of looking up Greek words to enrich the meaning of the verse. Now I basically have time to read a few verses before my daughter screams for more food or for a diaper change.
You feel me, right? I’m not alone in this, am I?
What is worse is that when I don’t have time to meditate on God’s Word, it impacts my whole day, let alone my spiritual life. I have trouble dealing with insignificant incidents. I show increased irritation and frustration with those around me.
I’m kinda the worst if I don’t spend time with God.
I recently had two conversations that motivated me to rethink the way I do devotions. The first was with my podcast guest, John Brandon (who writes for INC.--you can listen here). At the end of every podcast I ask guests to list their favorite book recently and John said, without any sort of pretentious attitude behind it: “The Bible.” His book, Lifeblood: Tapping into Jesus as the True Source of Renewal is a relentlessly focused book—Christ alone is our strength. So for John, the Word of God has to be center to our life. His passion motivated.
Second, I had a conversation (which I’ll be releasing later) with Dr. Christopher Hall (who edited the famed Ancient Christian Commentary Series). Dr. Hall basically told me that he has to wake up every morning and just meditate on God’s Word or his day will be rotten. He suggested a few ideas to me and I, in turn, want to share them with you.
So what to do? Here are a few things I have implemented found helpful in my devotional life, lately.
I love my English Standard Version, but lately I’ve switched translations just to freshen up my Bible reading. I forgot how much I enjoy the NIV. It is easy to read and puts things in fresh perspective for me. I actually used to memorize scripture in the NIV so it is like revisiting an old friend.
I also think that Zondervan just makes the best looking and feeling low-to-mid range Bibles. They hit the perfect mark for font, paper quality and just the feel I like. So I bought an NIV journaling Bible that has great margin room for taking notes (more on my notes in a minute). It’s a great feeling and looking Bible, that I would definitely check out.
2. Change the type of notes I take
As someone who was a Bible teacher and who likes to stay on top of academic theology as much as possible, I typically take pretty detailed notes in my Bibles (as much as possible). I typically record exegetical insights, Greek words, cross-references…the whole bit. But lately I’ve been changing what I record in my Bible. Rather than writing out notes, I’ve been recording responses. So for instance in Proverbs 8, it tells about how Wisdom prepares a feast for those seeking her. I wrote, “Wisdom is ready for me. Am I ready for her?” This phrase functions as both a challenge and a prayer for me. “God, don’t make me foolish. Help me not miss out on wisdom.”
The benefit of taking these types of notes is that I am not really worried about the exegetical precision as much as I am where my heart is. It actually means I am interacting with the text on a different level. This is not to say that taking more academic notes is bad. However, after doing it for so long, I realized that I can easily just make Scripture an academic exercise, rather than something I engage in with my whole heart.
3. I downloaded the “Abide” App
I have long shunned using a smartphone or app for any sort of devotional purpose since I felt that it was more a distraction than something that was beneficial to my walk with God. However, I have been reading a lot of books on “happiness” lately and almost all of them extol the virtues of meditation. I think meditation is fundamentally a Christian practice—provided that you are meditating ON Scripture. Meditation is not an emptying of the mind, which you often see in Eastern religions, but a filling of the mind with the thoughts and words of God.
Enter the “Abide” app. “Abide” is a daily devotion that can either last 2, 5, 10 or 15 minutes. You hit the play button a soothing voice reads a Scripture passage and gives a brief thought on the verse before leading you into a time of extended reflection on the passage and how it relates to your life. With the two-minute version, you really don’t get any sort of meditation time. However, with the 15-minute version you are asked a series of questions and the Bible verse is read in a few different versions. I found the questions helpful and my time in quiet meditation, restful.
It has some cool features with it: you can play music in the background and they have different themes to meditate on, depending on what you are struggling with or want to learn more about. For instance, it offers a series of meditations on anxiety, the prayers of Paul in Galatians, spiritual growth and more.
They offer you a free-trial for the first few days. After that, you have to pay $30 a year in order to unlock the other topics and the longer meditation times. The free version of the app is REALLY limiting so if you really like the app, it is worth dropping the $30 a year. Think of it this way, for less than .10 cents a day you are increasing your quiet time with God and improving your mental health.
On a personal note, I found myself more restful and laid back—even when things were stressful with doctors’ appointments, little to no sleep, lots of noise and running Ministry Assistant Services. I definitely recommend using the app.
4. I downloaded the “Dwell" app
Ok, don’t get this confused with the above app, because they actually are very different (synonymous names not withstanding). Where Abide is a devotional, Dwell is an app that reads the Bible to you. However, it is different from other recorded Bible apps for a few reasons that make it the best on the market.
Currently, Dwell has all of the New Testament recorded and a handful of the Old Testament recorded (like the Wisdom literature and Psalms).
For me, Dwell is a game changer for a few reasons. First, when I feed the little one, I typically don’t have a free hand to read the Bible and thus maximize the time (and I spend a LOT of time feeding her). I have found that by playing Dwell, I can knock out a shorter book of the Bible at a time. Second, while driving to various appointments, I throw the app on and BOOM! I have a high-quality recording of the Bible and an easy way to meditate on God’s Word.
Sometimes, I will read along in my Bible while listening to the app. I have found that the text becomes more engrained in my mind. I have actually been working through the book of Proverbs this way, and I absolutely love it. In fact, I have been spending MORE time in God’s Word (or at least thinking about God’s Word) than before I had a baby.
So now, while my devotion time does not have the same tone that it used to, it has been more impactful. I find myself thinking about the words I have heard and read throughout the day more frequently. I am not traditionally an auditory guy. Yet listening to the Bible in larger chunks has been truly transformative. I am seeing connections that I missed before. I am forced to slow down and hear—rather than just skimming the pages.
I am learning that sometimes less is more as well. No, I don’t have the time right now to explore EVERY angle of the Bible passage in the original languages. That’s ok though. I now journal and pray through the passage—something that I think is having a greater impact on me.
What’s best is that I feel calmer throughout my day. Things that used to get me angry just don’t seem so big. Things that tempted me aren’t quite as big right now. I am enjoying reading the Bible. In other words, I have found my current devotional habits to be really life affirming for me at this stage of life.
So how about you? What are your devotional practices? Where do they need to improve? Comment below!
Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.