The writings of man should not be used to form doctrine if unsupported by Scripture.
- Stacy Long
The most common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight and exercise more. But for Christians, a frequently made resolution is to read the Bible more and have a consistent daily quiet time. Maybe this year, that is one of your top goals … again.
If staying in the Word of God is a priority, but one you have difficulty maintaining, there are options that may help you with a fresh approach. Whether you’re more inclined to something out of the box or something traditional, an individual or group study, structure or flexibility, or a mash-up of all, consider the following seven suggestions for Bible study, as you determine what direction your daily devotion time will take in 2016:
Follow a Scripture reading plan such as those offered by Bible Gateway for chronological reading, reading the entire Bible in a year, or reading a selected portion within a set time frame.
Or, go at your own speed by reading through one book at a time, or completing a self-assigned portion of Scripture each day. Proverbs is a popular choice because its 31 chapters fit neatly into the 31 days of a month.
As a teen, I set my own pace in reading the Bible from beginning to end, whether I ended up finishing three verses or three chapters in a day. And currently, I’m in a Bible study where for years we’ve been reading through one book at a time, not in order, but varying between Old and New Testament books.
While you may feel you don’t know where to begin with a self-structured Bible reading plan, the positive is that it leaves room for in-depth study, so that you can slow down to ponder, research, or look up those cross references without worrying about getting off schedule.
Use a daily devotional that guides you through each day of the year, usually with one verse followed by a Christian writer’s commentary or reflection on that verse. There are plenty of options, from the classic work My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers to newer books such as the first one I used, Time With God: The New Testament for Busy People. There are also many places online such as crosswalk.com or Institute for Creation Research where you can sign up to get a daily devotion sent to your email.
Daily devotionals help with keeping on a steady course for each day or bringing a fresh look at a verse, but the risk can be that the reading becomes too convenient and something to rush through quickly. I like to boost a daily devotional by reading the verses before and after the given verse, and perhaps journaling my own thoughts about what I’ve read.
While searching for a daily devotional, you’ll likely come across writings of Christian greats from a gone-by era. I discovered this in a devotional book titled Take Heart, edited by Diana Wallis, with selections from people such as John Chrysostom, Martin Luther, and John Bunyan, as well former great preachers including George Morrison, John Broadus, and Henry Drummond – names that may not be known today but who influenced men such as Billy Graham.
While Take Heart is formatted as a daily devotional, other classic Christian writings – such as The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, or the many books of Andrew Murray – read in a chapter-by-chapter format.
While these books may not take you directly to Scripture, they often provide plenty of Scripture references along the way that can be looked up and studied. At the same time, they provide ample teaching to supplement and help you better understand your study of Scripture.
Studies published by contemporary Christian teachers are numerous and can be purchased in text-only books or as brightly illustrated, fill-in-the-blanks workbooks for either individual or group studies. Such studies may come as expositions on individual books of the Bible such as those published by David Jeremiah, or thematic and character-based studies such as those from Beth Moore. Based on the format, author, or subject, these studies may be information-packed, or more user-focused with opportunities for discussion, journaling, and drawing.
Choosing such a study may work well for interactive group studies or for creative personalities, but the resource should be selected and used carefully to ensure that the focus is kept on truths drawn from Scripture and not personal feelings or opinions.
Other Christian Traditions
Borrow from other Christian traditions that may be out of your own denominational experience. Whatever your denominational leanings, it can be an enriching experience to mine older and richer veins of Christian disciplines than most modern evangelicals experience. Explore the Anglican or Catholic Book of Common Prayer, learn from a catechism such as the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Confession of Faith, or incorporate sensory elements of Greek Orthodox worship into your devotional experience.
Some may be hesitant to cross over seemingly schismatic boundaries, especially if they have long been warned of the shortcomings of other Christian groups, but approaching other liturgies is not much different than reading devotional reflections. The writings of man should not be used to form doctrine if unsupported by Scripture.
One option for a happy, neutral ground unaffiliated with any one church is The Book of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne.
Other Media Forms
Reading may not be your learning style, making it difficult to focus and retain written words of Scripture. Fortunately, in this day there are many other ways to bring the Word of God into your day. Get an audio Bible version to play in your car, mobile device, or home. Or find a dramatization of Scripture to watch, such as the 2003 Gospel of John movie. Behold Your God is also a Bible study on DVD.
The Internet has countless, usually free resources to listen, watch, read, and study the Bible. Bible.is website and apps provide a variety of ways to receive Bible content, whether through hearing an audio Bible in different translations, seeing the Bible illustrated through integration with The Jesus Film, Bible learning games for children, or a Deaf Bible.
Finally, take your daily quiet time to a deeper level with in-depth Bible study. This begins with basics of biblical interpretation, as discussed at length in AFA Journal’s January 2016 article “Think again.” From there, you may want to launch into research with biblical commentaries, Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries, and a concordance for word study. Many of these tools can be found online for free at websites such as mywsb.com and Bible.org.
For purchase of a customized package of Bible study resources, Logos Bible Software offers a 15% discount to friends of AFA – just enter the code AFR6 at checkout. Bible study resources and devotional materials can also be purchased at afastore.net, Christianbook.com, or at your local Christian bookstore.