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Going through seminary, students are taught to study the Bible and uphold its doctrines about God while also being encouraged not to neglect their devotional times with God. Yet during my own devotional time I, and probably many others, often ask, “Is this approach the best way to grow spiritually, or is there a better way? What could I do differently? Should I incorporate my studies with my devotions?”
Each week, I ask a different scholar two questions about how he or she spends time with the Lord and continues to love him with all their mind, strength, and heart. While no one method or style is “the only way,” we can draw on one another’s experiences.
This week, I have asked Dr. Stephen Dempster if he would share his thoughts with us.
How do you spend your devotional time with the Lord and how do you practically seek to deepen your love for Christ?
I have some thoughts about this as I remember struggling with these issues while at Seminary myself. I find that our Seminaries are not very conducive to helping us as we almost need to seek out opportunities on our own. I know that I purposely began a ministry in a Nursing Home on my own simply to have an outlet for mission and service while at Seminary. I went to chapels to be encouraged even though they were not mandatory. We had small prayer groups with faculty members where we would gather together to pray for one another. I was helped by Helmut Theilicke’s little book on being a young theologian and Warfield’s essay on devotional life. But I think our seminaries could do much better at intentionally seeking to give spiritual direction and spiritual formation the way this is done for example in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. A little book that really helped me was Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity and Don Postema’s Space for God.
But to be honest for the most part our seminaries give us the tools for exegesis and theology but leave out the guts: the spiritual life. That is why I think there are so many people in ministry that leave disillusioned.
Some exercises that I do:
- When I wake up, I go over in my head some memorized Scriptures while I lie in bed. Then I get up, wash, and begin to pray, repeating some Scriptures over in my head, then I will sometimes sing a hymn, and then begin to meditate on Scripture, and from that meditation begin to dialogue with God. I have prayer lists so that I can keep on track for people that I regularly pray for.
- Throughout the day I will seek to carve out some time to meditate on the Scriptures. While I am lying in bed I will rehearse Scriptures in my mind and sometimes play a reading of Scripture from the website Pray as you go.
- I don’t do the Daily Examen but that is a very helpful way to close your day.
- The Psalms and praying them is one of my principal resources. I also meet with a few men once a week to pray for each other. This has been extremely helpful.
- I must say that I strongly believe in other spiritual disciplines like giving and doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly. So I am part of a local body of believers and believe very strongly that doing the word of God out there in the community whether it is helping the homeless, caring for others, visiting the sick, etc. breathes new life into my spiritual life.
- As for incorporating devotions with study, whatever works! I remember having incredible spiritual renewal reading through the story of the Prodigal Son while learning Greek! The slow reading (as the result of learning Greek) was so great because it made slow down and think about what I was reading! Amazing stuff!
P.s. I should mention that my wife and I often listen to a reading on Pray as you Go together and then one of us prays. When our children were home we would also read the Scriptures and pray together after dinner.
Dr. Stephen Dempster is the Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University. He is an Old Testament scholar whose writings include his new commentary on Micah (THOTC) and an Old Testament Theology: Dominion and Dynasty (NSBT).