Monday, June 23, 2008

Questions on quiet times

Blogging is meant to be more than one-way traffic so I thought I'll have some questions for my readers this week. Pretty simple stuff, no "meaning of the universe" questions here!

I've been wondering in particular what people, i.e you readers, do for quiet times/devotional life/whatever you wish to call it. What's your routine? How long do you usually spend? Do you use devotional notes? What works for you? What have you found helpful?

When I was in boarding school, I used Scripture Union's Closer to God, which wasn't too bad - at the very least, it meant that rather than puzzling over what to read and feeling completely defeated when I felt like I didn't understand Scripture, it gave some sense of structure and relief that help was at hand. I've also quite recently used Encounter with God, which is the grown-up version of CtG. For a devotional, I think it's pretty good as well, especially as they try to make sure that you spend sustained time in at least parts of Bible books rather than jumping around proof-texts, which can be the failing of so many other devotional material. The downside of devotional notes, though, is that sometimes I feel like I'm reading the personal thoughts of the writers (which might or might not be worthwhile), and it's also easier, I think, to allow them to do the reflecting on the Scriptural text for me and thus, fail to engage with God's word directly. (My one exception to this is Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction; always stimulating and challenging!)

Over the past couple of years, I tend to read through whole books of the Bible over a period of time, probably to get away from the piecemeal approach I had adopted in my formative years. I've used Matthias Media's Interactive Bible Studies, which usually have something like 8 studies on a Bible book, although you could split some of the studies into two if you're either pressed for time and/or part of a passage is so striking that it's worth just pausing and reflecting. I like using these studies for quiet time because I find that answering questions makes me much more of an active reader than a passive consumer. Well-crafted questions in a Bible study booklet are often hard to find but I think these Matthias Media resources have a decent stab at it: they do give you an angle into getting a handle on the text and the application questions are helpful as well. The downside is that they can take time, and they're not as handy to take with you if you're travelling, and for some (i.e me), I think that there is always the danger of confusing filling in the application section with actual application to our lives. As with any series like this, some are probably better than others - I found their Colossians booklet better than their Galatians, for instance.

Through the Bible through the year StottI've also used one or two Good Book Guides, similiar in intent to the Matthias Media stuff, but I don't think they're quite as good. I felt that the questions could be more rigorous and that it sometimes jumped around too much. To be fair, I've only used their topical ones, so that could be the reason. The one NavPress study I've used suffers from the opposite problem, too much detail and some questions which might be interesting but tangential!

Something else I have done for my quiet time is to read expository material or sermons. Roy Clements on 2 Corinthians, for eg., is very good. Again, the downside of this is similar to using devotional notes, I'm often tempted to skim on personal reflection. Also, sometimes reading sermons or expositions can be very dense unless you can find some way to break them down into manageable parts.

Some of my friends use Explore notes, which might combine the best of both worlds. They're devotional notes, but instead of the observations and reflections of the writer, you get one or two short questions on comprehension, some notes, and then one or two short application/reflection questions. So it's not as if you're doing a full-length Bible study, but at the same time you're not being a passive reader either. I've not used them myself, but maybe I should. Neither have I used those material that take you through the whole Bible in a year, like John Stott's Through the Bible Through the Year or Carson's For the Love of God. I always find them too intimidating. Some people, if they know what is being preached the following week, spend some time on that particular passage and I occasionally do that.

Anyway, yes, what do you do? Leave some comments!


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Blogger BK said...

No comments yet? Anyway, found this short reflection helpful.

5:24 pm  
Blogger Debibo said...

I am currently reading a few chapters a day from the Good book and pondering on it. I used to read Oswell Chambers and Purpose Driven Life. Both good in different ways, but the former I found needed more substance and the later was more Christian 'ethics' rather than Bible study.

I usually read a book on doctrine (Carson, Piper, Grudem etc) or a commentary (IVP) in parts and compare it with what I've read before. No fixed time. Somedays walking to the station is my quiet time, sometime it'll be for hours.

7:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey bk, found your blog because of your mention of Scripture Union and wondered whether you had checked out www.wordlive.org yet? Each day there are different options available to help you explore the Bible passage, you can choose from music, slideshow of images, commentary on the passage, listen to the podcast and lots of other activities. You can do as much or as little as you want or have time for and can tailor it to you and how you want to explore the Bible. I'd encourage you to have a look!

10:23 pm  

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