Pimp My Devotional Time

Maybe you've seen the TV show "Pimp My Ride." It appears on MTV about as frequently as Britney Spears gets married, so your chances to catch it are fairly good. The basic idea of the show is to take someone's broken down jalopy and overhaul it into the newest, baddest, most hip car on the block. I've only caught the show once or twice, since I'm usually disappointed. I rarely think the end result is better than the original product. The first car had character; the end result has a DVD player and won't break down on the side of the road. Where's the excitement in that?

A few years ago I allowed Prof Hendricks at Dallas Seminary to "Pimp My Devotional Time." I had been doing the whole devotional book plus a chapter of Proverbs a day thing for a while which was fine, but it's hard to find a good devotional book for guys, and I wasn't getting the type of big picture study that I felt like I needed. It was tired, run down, and needed an overhaul. So, on Prof's recommendation, I revamped the whole thing.

I put my devotional book on the shelf to be a placeholder for my dust collection. Now, I dedicate my entire month to the study of one book of the Bible in its entirety. On the first of the month I begin a new book, and on the last day of the month, I end it. No exceptions. Each month I alternate between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Last month, for example, I studied the book of 1 Timothy. This month, it's Malachi. Thursday I'll begin the book of Matthew.

The result has been unbelievable. I find that each month I'm excited to start a new book, and by the time I'm starting to get bogged down with the book, it is time to move on to a new one. The new system gives me the ability to move at my own pace at the depth I desire. I don't have to rely on an author of a devotional book to gauge my spiritual need or maturity.

You can really begin to understand a book after thirty days of study. For some books, like Philemon, I'm able to almost memorize the entire book. I'm able to study the background of the characters, the history of the times, and to experience life in Philemon's skin by the end of the month. But even with the huge books, like Genesis, I'm able to get a big picture that gives me the ability to see the overall purpose of the book, and how it's organized. It helps me understand what God says, and why He says it when He says it.

With this approach, I've also liberated myself from an unfortunate "checklist" mentality. Before, for whatever reason, there were days I would miss devotional times. (Get off my back... it's happened to you too). On the day following my miss, there was always an uncompleted page in my book glaring back at me. Often I would complete two days' worth of devotionals just to fill in the page. I got in the horrible habit of completing pages so I could check them off and get rid of the guilt. There's not one thing spiritual about that. I'd submit to you that if you're doing a devotional time sheerly because you feel guilty about it, you really shouldn't be doing a devotional time.

Offering God less than your best just so you can say you went through the motions is exactly what God judged the Israelites for in Malachi. (Malachi was my book of this month... I should know).

God said to them beginning in Malachi 1:13, "You also say, ‘How tiresome it is.’ You turn up your nose at it,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and instead bring what is stolen, lame, or sick. You bring these things for an offering! Should I accept this from you?” asks the Lord. (14) “There will be harsh condemnation for the hypocrite who has a valuable male animal in his flock but vows and sacrifices something inferior to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and my name is awesome among the nations.”

My new philosophy on quiet times has freed me from the legalism of offering an inferior sacrifice to the Lord so I can check it off my list. Instead, I'm actually growing. I can see the benefit. My life is being changed by the text, and I understand Scripture better when I'm done.

So beginning Thursday, give it a shot. Pimp your devotional time. Just think: In just over 6 years you'll have studied each book of the Bible for an entire month. And you'll grow closer to the God of the Universe, and better understand His plan for the ages. What do you have to lose?


Unknown said...

Great idea! You are right about men's devotional books on the market......not many out there.

Maybe even a bigger issue for me...or maybe anyone who works a job with irregular hours, travel, etc. is FINDING and KEEPING a consistent time for Bible Study. I prefer the mornings because I'm an early riser but often have business committments in the morning.

So, for me it's not only about finding a method to study the Bible that's new and refreshing but also about being CONSISTENTLY DISIPLINED in scheduling that daily time to engage Him.

porthos said...

I love this idea! I've been trying to come up with some sort of devotional that works and I'm gonna try this. Do you use any additional commentaries or just hit it solo scriptura?

Chris Freeland said...

I meant to put that in my original post - thanks for bringing it up. I don't like to use commentaries or a study Bible for my devotional time. I got to the point that I relied too much on them and wasn't doing my own work. John MacArthur should do his own devotional time - he doesn't need to help me with mine.

There's nothing more rewarding than working through a really tough passage and then looking in the commentaries to find that someone else smarter than you came to the same conclusion you did!

Also, I like to try to approach the book with as unbiased a perspective as possible. I feel like it gives me a better shot at reading the book as the original audience would have read it. Commentaries warp my brain into considering the veins of the leaves of the branches of the tree before I've considered the forest, and I tend to think you forfeit quite a bit that way.

Maybe I'm weird, but I like to view my personal devotion times as kind of an intimate time with God, and it feels weird for Weirsbe, or Cranfield, or Hoehner, or someone like that to be looking over my shoulder! I use commentaries a lot, but not very often during my devotional time.

I guess the trick to being comfortable without commentaries is being okay with unresolved issues. For example: I finished up Malachi today. Although I did a pretty thorough study of the book, I'm still not completely settled on the concept of sacrifices in 3:4. It seems to indicate that the levitical priests will be offering God-ordained sacrifices in the Kingdom (even though Christ's sacrifice paid for sin) What's that all about? I'm not sure.

So, I keep a running list of questions I have for the book while I'm going through it. If I have time sometime, I'll look it up in the commentaries to see what the other guys think. If not, I'll catch it in 6 1/2 years when I come back to Malachi! I'm okay with that. For me, it's worth it to have unresolved questions in light of the feeling of satisfaction I get when I'm able to work through challenges on my own.