Most Christians know that Bible reading and prayer should be a regular part of their lives. I’ve struggled over the years to make it a daily habit, and many people have told me they have the same experience. As I’ve thought, experimented, asked, and read about this topic, several realizations helped personal devotions stop seeming overwhelming and made them more enjoyable and consistent.
There isn’t just one way to do them.
Scripture doesn’t give us a prescription for what daily devotions should look like. We read in several places that prayer and meditating on God’s Word are important and helpful things to do, but beyond that we are given no further details (Matt. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Christians have a lot of freedom when it comes to setting when and how long they read their Bibles and pray. As with any habit, they are easiest kept by customizing them to your schedule and personality.
It is worth taking the time to think about what habits you already have. What makes those habits work and how can you apply the same principles to your personal devotions time? Are you a coffee drinker? Why not pray while waiting for your coffee to brew? Do you exercise most evenings? Why not turn on an audio Bible for some, or all, of your workout? I personally like to listen to my daily dose of Bible first thing in the morning while I’m making coffee or getting ready for the day.
They don’t need to be complicated or long.
Personal daily devotions don’t need to be long or involved. In fact, it is better to do short amounts consistently rather than one long devotional once in a blue moon. We might be able to keep up an ambitious plan for a week or maybe even a few weeks, but unfortunately, they can be difficult to sustain.
Something simple that involves a little reading and prayer that you are able to do consistently is far better than trying to memorize several chapters of a Bible book and giving up halfway through. Consistent practice of any habit actually has the capacity to re-wire your brain, meaning that over time, habits get easier and easier until it is something you do without having to think about it.
Don’t beat yourself up when you forget to do them.
Most likely, at some point, you will get derailed. When this happens, don’t freak out. We aren’t perfect, schedules change, and some seasons of life are more hectic than others. Getting off track shouldn’t lead you on a guilt trip, but it also shouldn’t lead you to give up altogether.
The important thing is to get back on track, making necessary adjustments to keep your habit up. Remember, Christ’s Word is nourishment for our souls, doses of truth and grace that combat the battering of our sin and the difficulties of life. Just as you wouldn’t deprive yourself of food just because of schedule changes, don’t deprive yourself of your spiritual food. You need it even more when life gets busy.
They aren’t a measure of your relationship with God.
When I was in college, many people used personal devotion time as a measure of their closeness with God. The assumption was that the really spiritual people, those closest to God, were those who spent the most time reading their Bibles and praying. Sadly, this left many feeling spiritually inadequate, guilty, or depressed. But this isn’t what the Bible tells us. Our standing before God is never measured by what we do but instead by who we are in Christ. Clothed in his righteousness, we don’t need to worry that our salvation and closeness to God depends on anything we do (Eph. 2:8). Christ brings us close to God.
While meditating on God’s Word and praying should be a staple of the Christian life, it should not turn into a work we do to earn God’s favor.
Take advantage of the many resources out there.
Many great resources make it easier to grow in our theology or read through a book of the Bible. Don’t be afraid to keep trying things and get creative until you find something that sticks. Plus, variety is good so you keep learning and don’t get stuck in a rut. Some places to check out are a website like biblegateway.com and the ESV Bible app. Both have free reading plans available and the option to listen to the passages instead of reading. The Daily Office Readings app is also another great option. Its daily passages are taken from a variety of Bible books.
Plenty of apps, journals, and books are also available to help you pray. There isn’t any shame in recognizing that we all need help learning how to pray and getting consistent at it, especially when life gets busy. For some more resources, see my colleagues post 7 Helpful Devotional Aids. All these and more are worth taking advantage of to deepen your understanding of God, the work of Christ, and the world we live in.