I don’t know why, but I can maintain a pretty stellar Bible study / prayer discipline for about three weeks straight before things start to falter. It’s not that I stop or forget; it’s just that my enthusiasm somehow wanes. Or I become distracted more easily. Or what once seemed intriguing has now become mundane.
To be clear, I’m talking about the pure, undiluted stuff here: straight Bible reading and prayer. No devotionals. No supplements. No extra stuff. While I want to be that person who cherishes Scripture and is constantly hungry for it and longs for it when I’m not engaged with it, I often get frustrated that I’m not. Sometimes my daily Bible study feels like taking vitamins in the morning: something I do because it is good for me but that has no measurable or immediate impact on the rest of my day. So I’ve been rooting around lately for a method that helps me to a) delve into Scripture in a meaningful and active way daily, b) keeps me engaged with God throughout the day, and c) gives me a window into keeping up a consistent and rich prayer life throughout the day.
The good news is I’ve stumbled on something that I really like, and I’m sharing it here in hopes that it might be of use to you, too: word themes.
It’s a pretty simple method of study, and it goes a bit like this:
- Find an app / program / study (or simply make up your own plan) that guides you to Scripture on a consistent basis. For my purposes, I am using a 365-day NIV app/devotional that delivers a chapter or so of Scripture a day to my inbox (seeing the email is a good reminder for me to get down to my spiritual business). You might want to have a fresh reading per day, or a reading per week – whatever works for you. Work your way through a book at a time, or move through the Bible from beginning to end, or don’t. It’s really your choice. The goal is that you will have a particular passage / chapter / chunk of Scripture to focus on consistently (whether that’s the same passage for a week or a new one each day). For me, having a couple of chapters of Scripture a day is ideal – and if it’s a really complex passage, I might linger over it for an extra day or two. Go where God leads.
- Read the passage / chapter / chunk. Again, do this in whatever way feels best to you. Because I’m a big nerd I usually read the chapter in a few different translations / paraphrases (NIV, NKJV, Amplified, The Message) and sometimes additionally throw in a few commentaries or dictionaries for good measure (especially if I’m dealing with the OT). Again, whatever you prefer and have the time to do – just make sure that the bulk of what you’re doing is Scripture.
- Sum up the chapter / passage / chunk in two or three words or in a phrase. Stay away from long sentences and unwieldy paragraph descriptions. You’re looking for a few short, meaningful descriptors – think key words, like you’d use on Google – that get at the gist of what jumped out at you about the chapter (and this will vary from person to person, from circumstance to circumstance). Today, for example, I was in Psalm 102, and what I scribbled down was this: God as unchanging source. It was a shorthand for what jumped out at me about the reading: that as changeable as the world is, as the human condition is, as our circumstances are, God resides beyond it immovable and eternal as the creator and beginning and end of all things.
- Put the word / theme somewhere you will encounter it throughout the day. I scribble mine on a sheet of paper and stick it to a shelf on my desk where I encounter it every time I walk into the room. Stick it to your bathroom mirror or your car visor. Write it on your hand. Make it a notification on your phone lockscreen. Whatever.
- Use that word/theme to guide you into contemplation of Scripture, to center your prayers, and to influence your actions. For me, this manifests in a few ways. When I see the words “God as unchanging source,” for example, I think back to the Scripture I read for the day and what that means, and I also spend some time thinking about other times I’ve noticed that in Scripture, or where God shows Himself to be unchanging, and to whom and what the result was, and so on and so forth. I also think about that when I pray: it influences what I discuss with God, how I pray for others, and what I worship Him for. Finally, it has an impact on my attitude: if God is the unchanging source of all things and all else is changeable and frail, and I think about that in line at the grocery store, it influences how I act when, say, the self-checkout line breaks down completely while I’m in it. Or when I get bad news. Or when something wonderful happens.
- Note the words / theme in your prayer journal along with the Scripture that prompted it (or, if you live wild and crazy, feel free to write it in the margin of your Bible) before you move on to the next. I find that this is really useful to me. It provides me with my own personal “study index,” I can look back to it in times of need, and I am also often surprised to see how my understanding of verses or response to them changes over time.
As you can see, this method isn’t anything really special. But for some reason it’s been super-effective at keeping me on course and in making my Bible study something that I don’t just do in the morning and then drop and return to the next morning. It seems to really help in the sense of integrating my study into my daily life and ensuring it’s something I am actually interacting with and engaging with – the living Word! – rather than just digesting and putting away.
So if you’re in a rut, feel free to give this a go. It might help!