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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. Lee Irons if he would share his thoughts with us.
1. How do you spend your devotional time with the Lord?
It is hard but important to maintain a healthy devotional life while in seminary. And it’s not just during seminary. I’m a biblical scholar and so I’m always reading and studying the Bible, but the tendency is to start doing it in a very academic and technical way. You say to yourself, I’m spending so much time reading the Bible, I’m good as far as devotions go — but you’re not! I have to deliberately take time to read the Scriptures as a spiritual exercise and set the scholarly issues and questions aside for a time. Of course, both are valid and needed; it’s not an either-or question. But as a biblical scholar, I have to discipline myself to make sure I don’t only do the academic type of reading but also read with the spirit of humbly listening to God’s word, using the Scriptures as a means of communion with God.
I find it helpful to get myself in the right frame of mind by singing some great hymns of the faith. I sing alone with accompaniment in my earbuds. Then I read one paragraph or pericope, usually from the Gospels, and slowly read it, reread it, and pray through it. I find that the Gospels in particular are great for this because they bring you face to face with Jesus himself. There is often a dialogue between Jesus and someone who is coming to him for healing. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?” The suppliant says, “Lord, I want to regain my sight.” And then Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace,” or something like that. It is a script, a dialogue. As you pray the text you insert yourself into the narrative as the person coming to Jesus. You then make the changes to your contemporary situation. Instead of wanting to regain your sight, you ask the Lord for whatever it is that you need help with. In this way, the text becomes a means of grace that enables you to have a personal relationship and communion with Christ. Scripture turns into prayer, and off you go with the rest of your prayer time.
Charles Lee Irons is the Senior Professor of New Testament at California Graduate School of Theology. He is the author of A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek NT, The Righteousness of God, and The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus.