“We study Scripture in the presence of the living God, as those who stand under both it and Him. Each time it is as if He has handed us a letter from Himself and stays with us while we read it to hear what our answer will be.” James I. Packer
When I was student at the Moody Bible Institute in the late 1980s, Dr. James I. Packer lectured in chapel for a week. I was excused from classes to serve as Dr. Packer’s assistant. I ate several meals with the revered Oxford scholar in the cafeteria, fetched library books, and even picked him up and dropped him off at the airport in my 1976 Buick Skylark! During a chapel lecture, he said something close to the quote above (which I wrote in the front of my Bible). This quote is one of my favorites. It sums up how I think devotional Bible reading should be done.
First, we do not merely read Scripture, “We study Scripture.” That is, we read Scripture with a view to understanding what the original author was trying to say- and that involves some reflective study. The Bible was written in the ancient world, in a different language and culture than our own. The Bible contains a variety of literature that we may not be used to reading, like poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, law, letters, and history. Reading Scripture, then, with a view to understanding what the Biblical authors are saying to us, will involve some reflective study (2 Timothy 2:15; Titus 1:9; 2 Peter 3:16).
Second, “We study Scripture in the presence of God, as those who stand under both it and Him.” It is crucial for us to recognize that God is the ultimate author of Scripture, and that His authority rings through its pages (2 Timothy 3:16). When we read the Bible we do not judge the Bible any more than we judge God; the Bible judges us, and calls for us to submit to God’s sovereign kingdom rule (Isaiah 40:8; 66:2; John 17:17; Hebrews 4:12).
Third, “Each time it is as if He has handed us a letter from Himself and stays with us while we read it to hear what our answer will be.” The heart of devotionally reading the Bible is to respond to what God is saying in loving relationship (Isaiah 55:9-11; James 1:22). As God reveals Himself, and the believer responds, a relationship is experienced where God encourages and directs His children (Psalm 119:105). As we read the Bible, recognizethe Bible’s authority, and respond in loving obedience, we experience a relationship with God.
Let me describe devotional reading another way. Pick up your Bible and read a couple chapters. Have a pen and piece of paper handy as you read, and jot down the references to any verses that jump out to you. Once you are finished reading, go back and reflect on the verses you jotted down. Seek to understand what the author was trying to say (devotional reading of Scripture should never be done apart from sound interpretation of Scripture). Pray over the verses and ask God to show you how these verses may apply to your life right now (Psalm 119:18). Perhaps even memorize an important verse or phrase you read, and ponder it for a few days, asking God to help you apply this to your life (Psalm 119:9, 11, 97-100; Colossians 3:16).
Always remember, “God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to Transform God’s People.” May God’s Spirit transform you as your read His Word (2 Corinthians 3:18).