How to Spend Time with God
How would you feel if someone asked you, “How’s your personal time alone with God?” Sadly, that’s a question that seems to stir up embarrassment, guilt, and regret in a lot of Christians.
“Well, it could be better…”
“I was doing great for a few weeks, but I fell behind..."
“I've been meaning to get started on that for a while now..."
One of the commitments of our Membership Agreement at Emmaus Road says, "I will devote myself to the study of Scripture and to prayer, both privately and in group contexts." But developing the disciplined rhythm of daily time with God in his Word and in prayer seems like an unattainable ambition for many. If you think of daily Bible reading as an overwhelming duty, one that reminds you of failed resolutions and reading plans started and abandoned, there's good news for you.
If you aren’t reading the Bible consistently, you may be under the (false) impression that you're expected to produce remarkably deep thoughts and generate super-spiritual emotions after reading and praying for large amounts of time, which you simply don't have. Some Christians feel so overwhelmed or intimidated by reading the Bible that they simply avoid it.
One of the best, most freeing pieces of advice I can give you is this: just start reading the Bible. Don't worry about getting the timing, mood, and lighting just right, and don’t stress about how long you read or whether you’re caught up on your reading plan. Just read!
I think it was Doug Wilson who said something along the lines of, “Don’t read the Bible like you’re trying to wring out every last drop of water from a sponge.” If the thought of reading the Bible induces shame and regret, it may be partly because you think of it as a more daunting and intensive activity than it actually needs to be.
There’s certainly a place for deep and intensive exegesis and inductive studies, but when it comes to daily, devotional Bible reading, the goal is to simply place your mind under the influence of God’s Word again and again and again. Don’t overcomplicate it. We’re not talking about being able to land a 747, we’re talking about cultivating the childlike joy of watching the planes take off and land. You don’t need to worry about running a marathon yet; just start with something developmentally appropriate, like crawling or walking.
This is helpful advice from Rachel Jankovic:
“Many [people] are very tempted to try to squeeze all of the meaning and importance out of the text when they come to read their Bibles. By treating our spiritual nourishment like some kind of self-help we think that it is our insights and attentiveness and understanding that will add value to the text. Not only is this not an accurate understanding of our relationship to the Word of God, but it sets us up for ridiculous failures.
“What we are seeking to do … is practice a far more fundamental spiritual discipline, which is simply showing up to the table that has been laid for us and digging in! Take, eat. Repeat! Grow, eat, come, take, read, eat, grow, open, read, repeat! If you don’t get a lot out of a certain chapter, move on! You will be back to read it again soon. Trust God. This is His menu and we are not here to garnish the meal, we are here to eat it! Simply read, simply eat.
“When you come to the table you don’t need to analyze everything. This is not the last time you will have the Word open in front of you (Praise God!) and it is not up to you to add value to it. Simply eat! Remember that the habit is what we want to be building and that there is a whole lifetime of learning to love and enjoy all the food that has been provided. Worry less, eat more!”
Are you ready to get started (or re-started)? Pick a Bible reading plan, one from the list below or any plan that keeps you reading purposefully and not aimlessly. But if you miss a day, don’t worry about trying to catch up. That only leads to discouragement and more of that unproductive shame. Instead, just jump back in and keep reading.
As far as time and place, apply our simple goal: just read! Read whenever and wherever you can. You'll have days where you can linger and savor the Word, and other days when you'll have to eat on the run. Let the Word nourish you.
Recommended Bible Reading Plans
- Want to read the whole Bible in a year? Check out the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan.
- Want to read the New Testament in a year? Try DJ’s 5x5x5 Plan.
- Several women in our church are reading through the New Testament this summer by doing this Bible Reading Challenge. (There's a version for men here.)