One of the best ways to get out of a spiritual or emotional rut is listening to what God has to say about your situation. Recognizing the voice of God isn’t always easy, however, so one way to start hearing him is hanging out in the Bible and reading it with an open, prayerful attitude. Devotional books or magazines, including The Upper Room and Daily Bible Study, are great for this purpose. If you want to learn to hear what God is saying now, start by listening to what he’s already said.
I recommend using some kind of resource as a road map to avoid the “Where Do I Start” syndrome. I don’t care for detailed reading plans—I prefer something with smaller chunks of scripture. One year Bible reading plans certainly have benefits, but I find that I rush through the readings if I’m checking passages off a list. And when I get a day or more behind, I either go faster to catch up or I “hit the reset button.” Either way, I feel like I failed somehow— or I feel like I’m defeating the purpose of reading scripture. To me, digging deeper (both spiritually and intellectually) is what makes Bible study exciting. Shorter Bible passages seem to work better for deep study.
With a devotional Bible study plan, I can give myself permission to read more than is required or miss a day without guilt. I usually read the passage that’s laid out for me using a Bible with cross references—that way I can explore a topic or theme as much or as little as I feel led to. Sometimes the devotional scripture passage is just a starting point and I end up in a totally different place and on another topic entirely.
I went through a phase when I didn’t use devotional resources at all—I thought they were too “fluffy” and didn’t go deep enough. But I realize now that it’s quite possible to take just one Bible verse and go places with it I never imagined. It should be noted that scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit on at least two levels. It was inspired when the original authors wrote it and it’s inspired by the same Spirit when we read it.
Let that sink in for a minute.
God knows what he meant then and he knows what you and I need to get from scripture now.
Sometimes I get outlandish ideas from the Bible that wouldn’t work well for doctrinal purposes but they speak to me in my particular situation. I’ve even seen the Spirit use scripture out of context on occasion. (Please don’t tell the hermeneutics police.)
When the living Spirit uses the living Word, things get unpredictable and go off script sometimes. As important as creeds, systematic theologies, and doctrinal statements are, they are always much smaller than the God they point to.
We should of course “test the spirits to see if they are from God”, get input from other Christians, and avoid unilaterally projecting novel interpretations of scripture and “strange teachings” onto other believers in an authoritative way. The church needs checks and balances to keep us from going off the deep end. But we also need to recapture an adventurous theological spirit that understands we still have a lot to learn about how the Kingdom of God works.