The more you get to know these good people, the more you will probably realize how much of that deep faith, hope, and love were developed outside the assembly. When you visit their homes, you will most likely find a well-worn and well-marked Bible, and will come to know a heart filled with prayers and songs.
As I try to point out at the beginning of each year, every Christian (and every Christian family) needs to set aside time each day for prayer and communion with God. And this means learning to “pray without ceasing” (1Th 5:17), to search the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11), to praise God in song (Jam 5:13), and devoting ourselves to the life he has called us to lead (John 14:6).
One of the most poignant reminders of these themes comes from a song in most of our hymnals, “Take Time to Be Holy” by William D. Longstaff (1882). The main point of the song is well worth our attention: it takes time to become holy, and since God has called us to his own holiness (1Pe 1:16), we should set aside time to make sure we are working toward his goal for our lives (1Th 5:16-18). Here are the Longstaff’s words:
1. Take time to be holy,
3. Take time to be holy,
I am certainly no expert on any of these subjects (much less all of them!), but over the last fifteen years, I have learned much about myself and about God by spending time each day in worship and the word. Here is a brief look at some of the things I have learned from the examples of others (along with a few points culled from my own experiences), which may help you develop healthy habits and re-center your soul. In other words, to take time to be holy.
We need to spend time daily in the word of God because:
- It is how God reveals himself (1Sa 3:21; 1Co 2:11-13).
- It is how God saves us (2Ti 3:14-17; 1Pe 1:22-2:3).
- It is how God disciples us (Mat 28:18-20; John 8:31-32).
- It is how God equips us (2Ti 2:1-2, 15; Gal 1:6-9).
Here are some guidelines as you get started:
- Develop a habit of daily reading before tackling more difficult books.
- Find a place to read, pray, and sing out loud (Luke 8:8; 9:44).
- Develop a rhythm that reflects the Bible’s own beauty and order (Deu 6:4-9; Ecc 12:9-10).
- Reflect, pray, and sing through the text (Eph 1:15-19; 3:4-5; 2Ti 2:7; Jam 1:5).
But don’t just skim, seek to discover God’s will for your life:
Observation: Discover What it Says
- Form is meaning: remember the text’s genre, style, and structure.
- Ask questions about the text: Who, What, When, Where, and especially Why and How?
- Identify and define key words and phrases used by the author.
Interpretation: Discover What it Means
- Where does it stand in the story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation?
- What is the climax/peak of the passage and how do the other details relate to it?
- What was the writer’s takeaway for his original readers?
Application: Discover How it Works
- What does the text reflect about the nature of Christ?
- What does the text reflect about the nature of mankind?
- How does the text call us to live and love like Christ in the flesh?
There are several different approaches you can take to immersing yourself in God’s word:
- Maximize your studies with the church: prepare for Bible class, review your sermon notes each week, and use other the other days to study a theme or text together as a family.
- Check out some existing reading plans: Regardless of the translation you use, the website for the ESV Bible has 9 Bible reading plans, 1 NT reading plan, 1 memory verse plan, and 1 daily devotional; all of which may be read using RSS, iCal, Mobile, email, or audio, or downloaded as a PDF.
- Or make your own: read the whole Bible in a year (reading 3 or 4 chapters a day), or read the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs in a year (with 1 chapter or 2 Psalms a day).
My Approach: For 2017, I have decided to focus more on integrating my prayer life (morning, midday, evening, and night prayer) with my daily Scripture reading (two readings daily: one from the Psalms, and one from somewhere else in the Bible). I have much more to say on praying and singing the Psalms, but if you’re interested, check out the book I used last year.
For my daily Bible reading, I tried several plans over the years, but really wanted one that reflects the literary, historical, and theological context of each book, so I made my own! First, I group together works by the same author as best as this can be determined (Moses, Solomon, Ezra, Jeremiah, Luke, Paul, John, etc.). Then I place the works in (roughly) chronological order within their group to ensure the course of events begins or ends about where it should. In the New Testament, I tweaked this by organizing the gospels thematically, then listing (also chronologically) the works most closely related to them, and not breaking up books written to the same place. My hope (and this has been true at least for me) is that this encourages interaction with the text rather than a simple chronological or devotional reading. So here’s the resulting order:
The Old Testament:
- Foundational History – The Great I AM: Genesis – Deuteronomy; Joshua – 2 Kings
- The Wisdom Literature – The Joy of the Lord: Job, Psalms, Song, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes
- Prophets Before the Exile – The Steadfast Love of the Lord: Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Jeremiah & Lamentations
- Writings During & After the Exile – The Sovereignty of God: Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, 1-2 Chronicles, Esther, Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, Nehemiah, Joel, Malachi
The New Testament:
- Matthew’s Cycle – Christ the Prophet, Priest & King: Matthew, James, Hebrews
- Mark’s Cycle – Christ the Victor: Mark, 1-2 Peter, Jude
- Luke’s Cycle – Christ For the World: Luke & Acts, Galatians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, Philippians, Titus, 1-2 Timothy
- John’s Cycle – Christ the Lamb of God: John, 1-3 John, Revelation
As you read, you can also combine your readings with sound scholarship that will stretch your minds throughout the year. So, however much you decide to read each day, pick up a study Bible or another Bible study book that is otherwise collecting dust, and put it to good use (some I have used in the past are listed here). This year, I’ll be reading through the Bible using The Orthodox Study Bible, which includes a new translation of the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint); the New King James Version of the New Testament; and sparse, but representative commentary from the early church fathers.
However you choose to focus yourself each day, though, commit yourself to reading Scripture daily, reflecting on what God reveals to us through his word, praying and singing through the text, and living it out each day of your life. It’s not about finding the perfect reading plan, or the perfect prayer routine (though both can be helpful), but about drawing closer to the one who is Perfect. And don’t worry about how much progress you are making each day; just remember: it takes time to be holy.
- Adler, Mortimer J. & Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. New York: Touchstone, 1972. Print.
- Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Eds. Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove & Enuma Okoro. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. Print.
- The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis & Wayne Grudem. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Bible Study with Accordance.
- Hall, Christopher A. Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998. Kindle.
- Rhodes, Kevin. How to Study the Bible. Bloomington, IL: Xlibris, 2005. Print.
- Smith, F. LaGard. The Cultural Church. Nashville: 21st Century Christian, 1992. Print.