The Danger in Our Daily Devotions
Do we really need to read our Bible every day?
Happy is the man who does (Psalm 1:1). “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (1:2). God’s words revive the soul, grant wisdom, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes, and endure forever (Psalm 19:7–9). “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (19:10).
Need has to be the wrong question. Why wouldn’t we want to spend time in a book like that every day?
The Potential Problem in Our Privilege
If we carve out time to be with God in his book, we’ll be rewarded. But the rewards of our meditation — seeing more of God himself — can be surprisingly dangerous. Knowledge can corrupt and distract if we don’t know what to do with it. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Paul is clear that we can have “all knowledge” (1 Corinthians 13:2), but not love. And knowledge without love leaves us with “nothing” (13:2).
So how do we accumulate knowledge about God without ending up far from him? How do we keep our daily devotions from being (spiritually) dangerous? David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell give us some practical help in their new book, How to Stay Christian in Seminary. The title makes it sound exclusive to seminarians, but these seventy-two pages are undeniably relevant to anyone studying their Bible, whether for a focused, four-year degree or just in a regular rhythm of personal devotions.
1. Stay amazed at grace.
One defense against pride and complacency in our Bible reading is learning to always be stunned at what we learn about God and never at how much we know. Be amazed by God, especially by his grace. Mathis writes, “Grace: despite our rebellion, covering our past, flooding our present, and increasing forever into the future. May God never let you cool to his grace” (33).
In our day, we have an unusual and increasing wealth of information about God and the gospel at our fingertips. The Bible itself is worth a lifetime and more of study, but we’re also swimming in sermons, articles, blogs, and social media. “All this information, all the effortless access to truth about God, freezes over our sense of miracle” (Parnell, 42). Be absolutely amazed that we even know this God and that he loves us as surely and sacrificially as he does.
2. Stay dependent on God.
Want to miss God in your Bible reading? Skip prayer. This is the highway to having a heart that loves what you read. Parnell says, “Revelation, chock-full of wonder, is meant for fellowship” (46) and, “You must pause and pray, for only prayer can transform information into intimacy” (48). God gave us the Bible so that we might have him, and we meet him when we offer his truth and our heart to him in prayer.
“Prayer is our participation in the fellowship God has accomplished” (47). Think about that. When we bow our heads in faith, we’re joining the greatest story ever told, living out God’s love for broken sinners in sending his Son to die for us. The prayer closet is the closest we can come to God in this world. When we avoid prayer, our precious doctrines will inevitably produce pride in us. Ask God to make as much of himself in your heart as he does in your mind.
3. Stay focused on Jesus.
One way to keep our time in Scripture devotional and personal is to persistently look for Jesus. Parnell writes, “The anchor that can keep our hearts steady amid all the studying is the resolve that Jesus must be tasted and treasured by us and through us” (Parnell, 27). Every time we turn a page, we’re looking for something — better, someone — to see and enjoy in a new or fresh way.
Mathis adds to this, “The Scriptures, rightly understood with Jesus at the center, nourish your heart and sharpen your mind, so that you are able to rehearse the truth of the gospel with texture, edge, and definition, with freshness and power” (39). The Bible gives us a full, complex, diverse profile of the most important, most satisfying individual to ever walk this earth. Stay focused on Jesus, and you’ll find it hard not to be moved with more knowledge about him.
Know What to Do With Knowledge
The reality is that any of us reading our Bibles with any regularity experience the dangers that come with knowledge. We don’t have to sit down with Ph.D.’s to learn a lot of really profound and powerful things about God. But will we love and live what we learn?
How to Stay Christian in Seminary is a reliable guide that will pastor you toward healthy, fruitful study of God, whether there are professors and exams involved or not. We all need to know what to do with knowledge, and these two have learned the secret and share it concisely, effectively, and winsomely.
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