(Though I can no longer moderate and publish comments, I periodically want to address some of the questions I receive--one of the original purposes of this blog. So here's a recent email I received...)
Question: I have wanted to ask you if you’ve addressed on your blog the topic of Bible studies in your devotions. Have I just missed it? I have read the Bible through several times over the years and try to stay up with what my church is going through. I’ve also done the ‘Psalm a day’ study. Aside from those, though, what is a good ‘topical’ study? Does that make sense? How do you decide what to read from month to month?
Answer: You've asked a good question--and a timely one, too, because this month we start another nine-month single women's discipleship course at my church. One of the components of this course is quiet-time accountability. We will be keeping track of our personal devotions and sharing those developments with the group each week. Even though I'll be leading one of the groups, I need this accountability like everybody else. We live in a busy, busy world and it's a constant battle to not only have personal devotions, but to have effective and fruitful ones.
During one of our meetings, I typically bring in a number of Bible study resources and we talk about what each one is geared to do. I usually have a Bible dictionary, a commentary on a book of the Bible, a cultural commentary, a study Bible, a concordance, and a lexicon. I'll then show how each can help us understand a particular passage.
I enjoy studying Scripture with these tools in my personal devotions. I just finished going through Acts and Romans, for example, and primarily I was using a study Bible and Mark Dever's Promises Kept: The Message of the New Testament. When I hit difficult passages, I also pulled out other commentaries.
My personal devotions can include a number of practices. When I'm feeling particularly unfocused, I often go on prayer walks to get my blood stirring and my brain in gear. I sometimes sing worship songs along with my iPod. But most of the time, I study specific Scriptures and then read further in another book that's usually geared toward personal application. I just finished David Powlison's Speaking Truth in Love, which is about the practice of biblical counseling, and now I'm going through Charles Spurgeon's The Triumph of Faith in a Believer's Life. I also keep a journal. My journal is a chaotic mix of confessions, prayers, personal application, and insights from Bible study.
That said, I don't want to point to my own practices as being sufficient because I need to grow, as well. So I want to recommend an outstanding message from the New Attitude conference by Mike Bullmore. It is titled "Feeding on God: Cultivating a Fruitful Life in the Word." You can download the MP3 and the outline from the Sovereign Grace Store. I can guarantee you it's the best $2 you will spend in a long time! You may also want to read other posts on this topic in the Spiritual Disciplines category.