How to Get Out of A Devotional Rut

Why do we so often forget the relationship that inspires our Bible reading?

Maybe you can relate … you wake up with barely enough time to get yourself ready and after downing your second cup of coffee and glancing at something that may resemble breakfast, your eyes cross your Bible. It’s been lying there, taunting you, for days now. Unmoved. Unread. Why? It wasn’t always like this. What happened?

Might I suggest you are experiencing something that scores of Christians have walked through, often multiple times throughout their lives? This wave-like pattern of thirst for Scripture coupled with the dry rut of avoidance. No one likes ruts—dirt roads or spiritual, they are all disdained.

Consider this. Think back to that first day. The day you met Christ. Not the first day you went to church or were confirmed or any other church ceremony—I mean the first day you met Christ Jesus your Savior, Friend, Lord. What was that like?  Was it dry? I imagine that it was anything but. After all, you joined up with this whole Kingdom of God thing because of this relationship you could have with the life-giving Creator of the universe. You looked forward to the part of your day where you were able to pour over the pages of Scripture that filled you in on this new relationship. So what happened between point A and point Rut? 

Picture two trains headed down two tracks side by side. The first is called the “Relationship Train.” You got on board when you entered into a relationship with Jesus. On the Relationship Train, you sit down next to other believers of varying spiritual maturity. You are new here so you try to soak it all in from every source. You receive awesome words of encouragement and truth, along with some well-meaning quips about what a “good Christian” should do. These statements aren’t bad, and most likely the people who repeat them aren’t doing it for the wrong reasons. The problem lies in the fact that as these critical aspects of the Christian life are being espoused, the reason why they are critical is never mentioned.

Then at some point in your journey, without even knowing it, you jumped trains. You switched tracks. You began to travel on the “Requirement Train.” This train is filled with well-meaning people who have long forgotten why they do anything in the Christian life—it’s all just a requirement to be a Christian. You stop reading the Bible because it is your connection to your Savior and the only way to develop your relationship with Him, and start reading it because you are supposed to read it. You do it out of requirement. The problem is that this is a relationship, and you can’t treat a relationship like a requirement or it withers and dies. 

You figure out that if the requirement is reading the Bible every day, then maybe 15 minutes is enough. This turns into five, then five every other day. Soon you find that this requirement is not producing the life that you were told it would, so you give up.

This issue is at the very core of Jesus’ ongoing conflict with the Pharisees throughout the gospels. Consider this comment made by Jesus directed at the Pharisees from one such conversation.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."—John 5:39-40  (ESV)

Was Jesus condemning them for their lack of effort in reading and studying scripture? No, they knew their Old Testament. The problem was why they read Scripture. Jesus points out that the whole reason we are supposed to read the Bible is to develop a relationship with Him. This is why the whole cycle is so frustrating. 

When you observe and compare the basic actions of the people on the two different trains in the metaphor above, you will see similar behaviors. One train is filled with people who have a heart to know Christ more and more each day, leading them to seek Him in the Scripture with the outcome of growth in joy and peace. The other train is full of people who read the Bible every day because they know Christ, thinking the discipline itself is the goal, with the outcome of growing frustration and unrest, and, for many, ultimately giving up. One has the goal of relationship, the other requirement. The Pharisees started out wanting to be the keepers of the faith, to teach the Law and the Prophets so Israel would hold onto their spiritual heritage. At some point, they switched tracks. When Jesus showed up, they were fully entrenched in the whole requirement scene.

If we want to build a foundation to walk with Christ for a lifetime, we must develop the spiritual habit of reading Scripture motivated by our relationship with Christ. The Bible is an inspired means to reach the inspired end—worshiping and glorifying God forever. If we spend our lifetime studying Scripture without getting to know Christ better, we are missing the whole point. And worse, we end up riding the Requirement Train that is headed toward a spiritual dead-end. 

What are some ways you have found to put the relationship back into your devotional life?

Matt Ward is the Pastor of Student and Adult Communities at First Melissa in Melissa, Texas. This article is Adapted from “Foundations,” a Bible study designed to help new followers of Christ develop a foundation to walk with Christ for a lifetime.

10 Comments

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Glamoursam7 commented…

I agree with Michael.. God is speaking to me in my struggle.. how timely this was for me to read... and a big hmmm moment.. thanks

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Nikki commented…

I see both views, God meets us in our struggles but, for me, God also meets me in his word. I read the bible to learn about God and how he deals with His people. In a flesh to flesh relationship don't you learn and share with one another? That is what I look for in the bible. I see conviction, encouragement and love and I hope on my end there is more praise.

Frans Flores

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Frans Flores commented…

I have found that the best way to bring back relationship to my devotionals is by asking questions as I read. Picture Jesus in the flow of the events that happen before the passage that I am reading. relationships take investment of time. Attentive listening not task-oriented listening.

I dislike hanging out with my buddies and I see myself, texting, checking by emails, or changing my status on facebook while they are devoting time to me or sharing their day. It's the same thing with my devotional... I am thinking of something else, doing a million things in my head, besides listening to the Word of God.

The Parable of the Sower is an everyday thing... sometimes I am the Path, sometimes I am the rock, sometimes I am in the thorns, and days I am good soil.

The key to bringing the relationship back to my devotional is to invite Jesus... I love how the Word illustrates our day to day life with God.

Jesus goes to Mary and Martha's house. Jesus says, one thing is necessary... One thing is necessary... that is spending time with Jesus.

Thank you God for spending time with me... I am the beneficiary of devotionals

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Anonymous commented…

I started thinking a bit outside of the box. A few years ago, I woke up with such excitement to read the Bible. I had my concordance and Bible encyclopedia as I uncovered knowledge and understanding of the Word like I had never done so before. It was fun. Then, I fell into hardship as a result of my own ignorance and subsequent disobedience to God. I willfully stayed in the Word, but the hardship took a toll on my spiritual relationship with God.
I was so exhausted. I started taking 'breaks' from my devotions. I had lost my zeal and passion. Pretty soon, I was cracking open my Bible simply because I knew that I was supposed to. It became an uninspiring chore.

Maybe about year or so ago, I decided that my spiritual life was not where I wanted it to be and that something needed to be done about it before it was too late. I began to feel my 'flesh' getting stronger because my spirit was not getting fed. My experiential wisdom told me this, and I knew that if I didn't act fast and get back into the Word, I would gradually slide further underneath the influence of my flesh. After all, in this Christian walk, there is no middle ground - you either feed the flesh, or the spirit. One will always grow while the other one starves; and it was just a matter of which one I was finally going to commit to feeding.

I started searching for inspiration. "What should I start reading?" "What topics do I need God's perspective on?" These questions were hard. I had decided to get back into morning devotions, but the inspiration was still elusive. The usual ritual of simply opening the Bible, selecting a passage and reading it, and maybe journaling what it meant to me, was boring. I began to look at things from the very perspective of this article. I didn't want to do this out of religious obligation. I wanted this to be a sincere journey closer to God. So, I thought, maybe there were other ways I could seek Him that were Bible-based and more interesting.

One of the things that helped me in the past was making sure that I fed myself with spiritual media - listening to Christian music and Sermon podcasts, reading practical Christian articles (ie. Relevant), etc. I've found that this daily, regular spiritual regimen helps keep my mind focused on spiritual matters - right where I wanted it to be. My spirit grew, and I could see it in my daily life as I saw improvements in my thoughts, increased convictions, and a desire to serve (etc etc). Pretty soon, my desire for raw Scripture began to grow - which is my ultimate goal.

Today, I'm still pulling myself back into the Word. I'm not where I used to be, but perhaps it's just a matter of perspective. Christ isn't 1-dimensional. He's creative and versatile. So, I figured that I'd get creative and seek Him in creative ways instead of merely "cracking open the Bible and reading a passage".

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