Overwhelmed by the Bible
Have you ever felt afraid or intimidated to read just the Bible in devotional time?
I’ve struggled with this in the past. A fear inside told me that if I read directly from Scripture without any guidance (such as a study, a story, a podcast, a sermon, etc), I would not be able to go deep, or I would perhaps even completely misunderstand parts of the Bible. The truth is, this fear disclosed my false understanding of what happens when I spend time alone with God. It showed that I viewed the “success” of my time with God as dependent on factors in my control.
Devotional Time Check-List Fallacy
The fear was sown in my teenage years when I’d read the Bible and not feel particularly touched or moved. Eventually, I started feeling like a lesser Christian, which pushed me to get “more” from my quiet time, and so I switched entirely to sermons. This became my devotional: listening to a sermon once a day. As time passed, I started adding Christian books and studies and all sorts of materials to facilitate my devotional time.
Before I knew it, my morning meditation turned into a list of tasks and requirements…
Devotional book? Check.
Note book? Check.
Guided questions? Check.
Study Bible with all the notes? Check.
Quietness, neatness, comfy pillow, coffee…
Check, check, check, check, check!
I’m exhausted writing this, and believe me it was exhausting maintaining it. My time with God turned into this experience that was based on my ideas of what it should look like. I was the spiritual version of a diva at the airport, with a million leopard-print suitcases around her. With all the baggage I was bringing, it’s as if my quality time with God came with a group of rowdy people, all trying to opine and compete with this one-on-one I was longing to have.
A Faith Issue at the Core
My desire to be with God combined with the shallow connection I was experiencing was becoming a burden increasingly difficult to ignore. Meanwhile, even through these devotionals, I grew spiritually. John 14:21 comes to mind:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love them and show myself to them.
Though my attempts were clunky, awkward and self-driven, my desire to be with Him was genuine. I think this is why, by God’s grace, the Spirit showed me what I was getting wrong.
The more I prayed to see God’s will for my life, the more convicted I became of my disingenuous diva-like approach to quality time with God. Until one day, I had to face the facts: my form of devotion was not sustainable, edifying and glorifying to God, because it revealed a lack of trust in the sufficiency of His Word. A leap of faith was in order:
I needed to not only understand but reflect in my attitude the reality that my spiritual growth was a gift and blessing created by and dependent on God, not me.
Resting in the Sufficiency of the Word
From that point, I decided that I would be exclusively reading the Bible in my devotional time and trusting that God would continue to reveal Himself to me in ways the old me could not even fathom. And He did!
It did not take long before I experienced a new depth of intimacy with Him. I received revelations with crystal clarity. His answers to my questions seemed more straight-forward.
My connection with Him felt more pure and undivided, because I was no longer thrusting myself in the center of the work, but trusting God to lead. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message Bible translation, says this about spiritual formation, but I believe the same is true of our time alone with God:
Spiritual formation is primarily what the Spirit does… There is not a whole lot we can we can do here… What we can do, need to do, is be there — accept the leaving and the loss of the physically reassuring touch and companionship. Be there to accept what is sent by the Father in Jesus’ name. Be there, receptive and obedient. Be there praying, “Here I am, the servant of Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)
To be sure, I am not making the case that devotional time must be devoid of any third party. To the contrary, there are countless useful resources that can help us grow in faith. I view some of the authors who’ve deeply impacted my walk with God as my personal “disciplers”. My husband calls it “standing on the shoulder of past Saints”. There is so much benefit from Christian materials and community if approached within the frame of a Godly perspective. When spending time with God, I think it’s crucial to keep Jesus and Scripture at the core and center.
God Has Given Us All We Need
When we struggle to trust in the sufficiency of the Bible and the Holy Spirit in our alone time with God, we need to remember: we do not need to be genius Bible interpreters with Masters degrees in theology to connect with God.
We have been given “everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). God has granted within us everything we need to grow through his Word alone. Therefore, if we seek Him and ask to see Him revealed to us through Scripture, He will do so and it won’t depend on our efforts.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.James 1:5
Fasting from devotional add-ons is refreshing
Since taking a break from all the paraphernalia of my devotional time a few years ago, I’ve reintroduced books as part of my morning devotionals with a marked shift in attitude: a freedom from my old insecure patterns and a newfound trust in God as the sole mover of my heart: He requires no catalyst. I can confidently treat the wonderful books that I’ve spent mornings reading as helpful optional add-ons to my time with God, rather than crutches.
Let’s be encouraged to know that our time with God is not dependant on our prep work or an abundance of resources, but rather on our ability to lean in to what He is saying, and observe what He is doing.
May God grant us all the wisdom and balance to keep His Son at the center of our time with Him.