Change the Focus of Your Bible Study and Prayer
Getting to Know God
If you are like me, you know that Bible study and prayer are necessary for the Christian life and you already spend time every day doing it. I spent over 40 years reading the Bible.
I had a lot of head knowledge.
I knew all the major Bible stories. I memorized a lot of verses from the Bible. I knew the books of the Bible in order. I could even prove certain doctrines from the Bible. And I had a long list of dos and don’ts that I had collected from studying the Bible.
However, could I say I had a relationship with God?
Did I love Him and really enjoy spending time with Him? I wasn’t even sure that was possible.
I mean, I can’t see Him. He doesn’t speak to me like He did the people in the Bible. It’s not like I can have a conversation with Him like I do with my spouse.
I had tried all kinds of “methods” over the years to create a better relationship with God. Nothing seemed to make a difference.
Finally, one day, as I was mulling this fact over, one phrase in Matthew 7:21-23 came vividly to mind. It is where Jesus passes judgment on the Christians who preached and even performed miracles in His name, and the judgment was:
“I never knew you.”
It was like putting on a pair of prescription glasses made for me. Suddenly my Christian life came into focus.
I realized that I knew a lot of facts about the Bible. I knew a lot of the Bible stories and was very good at Bible trivia. I knew a lot of doctrines.
But I did not know God.
That was the day I decided to change the focus of my personal Bible study time. Previously, I focused on proving or learning doctrines, or adding to my list of dos and don’ts, memorizing texts, or Bible story facts (which, don’t get me wrong, have their place).
Now, I decided that my focus was going to be to get to know God intimately.
What was His character like? How did He treat people—in the Old as well as the New Testament. What makes God laugh, or cry, jealous or angry, and why?
In many respects, I was doing exactly what we do when we date a potential mate. I began looking for clues about His personality in the passages I was reading. His likes and dislikes.
I wanted to get to KNOW God for myself.
I didn’t want to settle for the clichés I had been taught since childhood. God is love. God is patient and kind. God is forgiving and longsuffering.
I wanted to discover His traits of character for myself in the stories I read in the Bible!
Prayer was another matter.
I grew up using memorized prayers or praying prayers that followed an approved format: ask forgiveness of sins, intercede for others, then list my needs, in the name of Jesus, amen. However, after I changed the focus of my Bible study, I realized rote prayers and pre-formatted prayers were not real communication.
Memorized prayers, while comforting for me at times, lent themselves to mindless praying. I could pray the prayers through and not even be aware of what I was saying.
Have you ever prayed for a meal with family, start eating and then ask your family, “Did we pray first?” I am embarrassed to say, I have.
If I put myself in God’s shoes, I would not think this was real communication with me.
If I had a friend who said the exact same thing to me every time they came to visit, I would likely stop answering my door.
Accordingly, I decided I would not use any memorized prayers, especially in my private devotional time. I wanted real, authentic conversations with God.
And instead of the formatted prayers, I am practicing sharing the daily joys and sorrows of my life with God the same way I would to my best friend.
This one has been harder to do because I am a creature of habit when it comes to spiritual things. And conversations like this with God are out of my comfort zone.
When I first started practicing it, it almost felt sacrilegious. And I still struggle to pray outside of the accepted “format” for prayer that I mentioned earlier. Some habits are harder to break than others, I suppose.
But when I do indulge in this type of prayer, I find it helps me feel more connected with God, and makes it easier to be aware of God’s presence throughout the day.
Last, I changed my focus from confession to gratitude.
I had become so obsessed with ensuring that all of my sins were forgiven (A result of embracing the idea that if I died with even one unconfessed sin, I would not get into heaven), that I spent the majority of my time in prayer dredging up every possible sin that I had committed since the last time I prayed to be sure that I confessed it.
Talk about depressing! I would come out of my devotional time so discouraged about my Christian experience.
Have you ever known a person that was so negative that they sucked all the energy out of you and when they left, you felt exhausted? That was me. I don’t know if it exhausted God, but it sure did me.
I determined from that day forward, instead of waiting until my devotional time to ask forgiveness for a sin, the second God brought it to mind, I confessed it. Then, I would immediately take the time to thank God for forgiving me and claim the promises that talk about God’s faithfulness in forgiving me.
Now when I pray during my morning devotional time, I only worry about confessing a sin if God brings it to mind.
Instead, I focus the majority of my time on thanking Him for all the blessings I received the day before. It is a prayer of gratitude for His love and care for me for the last 24 hours. Not only does it help me be mindful of what God is doing in my life, but it is uplifting, encouraging and makes prayer time enjoyable.
Changing the focus of my Bible study and prayer during my personal devotional time took time and effort. Changing the focus of my Bible study was probably the easiest. I am still working on changing the way I pray.
But it has revolutionized my time with God.
I now look forward to spending time in the Word and in prayer. I feel cheated when it gets cut short, or I sleep in and have to skip it altogether.
However, I am glad to say that I can tell I am developing an actual relationship with God.
Next time: I Want to Change, But How?