If there is one principle my father instilled into me when I was young, it was that there is a difference between reading and studying. I hold to this truth even now. In the realm of ‘quiet time’, ‘time in the Word’, ‘Bible Study’, or ‘devotional time’, there is plenty of room for ambiguity as to what exactly goes on during this time. So today I wanted to share how I define this for myself. I’m talking about devotions & Bible study. Make sure you read that last bit carefully – this is how I define this for myself.
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First, let me start off with how I define both devotional reading and Bible study
HOW I DEFINE DEVOTIONAL READING:
I consider devotional reading to be on the lighter side of the spectrum. It’s what you do when you don’t have the time to do a deep dive into the Word. This might look like a devotional book that has daily readings of a verse or two and the author’s observations or commentary on the verse(s). Or this may consist of a daily Bible reading plan. I also include spiritual growth books here too since people often read them during their devotional time. By the very term devotional we consider this to be the kind of reading we do as devoted followers of Jesus. It helps us in the maintenance of a healthy, loving relationship with God.
I like to use marriage to illustrate this. I think of devotional reading like the text messages, fun and loving conversations, gentle kisses, and butterflies of romance. It’s the feel-good stuff that keeps things sweet, exhilarating and satisfying.
HOW I DEFINE BIBLE STUDY:
I consider Bible study to be just that – study of the Bible. And study consists of time invested, notes written, scriptures compared, and conclusions drawn. It isn’t something you can do deeply in 5 minutes a day. I also consider it as a skill to practice and get better at it. It can feel awkward a first but as you get more accustomed to the process and as the Holy Spirit leads, Bible study will strengthen your spiritual muscles and become stronger and stronger as time goes by.
I think of Bible study as the deeper and sometimes more mundane side of a marriage. The long, maybe challenging conversations, the everyday errands that keep the household going, the trusting intimacy, the misunderstandings and trouble shooting. It doesn’t always look pretty but it has depth and staying power. This is the stuff that strengthens and builds and keeps us vulnerable and humble.
3 IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO
1. DEVOTIONal Reading Offers Instant Gratification, Bible Study requires Time and Patience
Devotional books are supposed to act like a perfectly packaged inspirational jumpstart to your morning. They give you something to get you going and get you thinking. With Bible study, it requires a little more work. And you may not feel inspired to live your best life afterwards. You may have to leave the table still grappling with a difficult passage, not feeling the least bit jumpstarted. But that’s okay because study is a spiritual investment that is so worth effort in the long run.
2. Devotional reading relys on commentary, bible study requires your own effort
Daily Bible reading plans aside, devotional reading is often mostly, if not all, composed of someone else’s thoughts about what the Bible says. And while there’s nothing wrong with reading commentary, you have to be careful that you’re not reading more observations about the Bible than you are the actual Bible.
3. Devotional Reading may only be Giving you spot knowledge of the Bible, Bible study Builds Biblical literacy
If all you’re reading are verses that help support a theme or idea, then your understanding of the complete Word of God and how it tells one continuous story is going to be spotty at best. Good, solid Bible study should help build your understanding of the Bible as a whole. As you continue to study the Word consistently, you’ll strengthen your Bible literacy which, as a Christian, we can’t afford to live without.
HERE’S WHAT I’M NOT SAYING
Just so we’re clear, I am not saying that devotional reading is not profitable or useful. There are seasons in life when a quick devotional reading is all we can manage in the morning. Sometimes we’ll be able to fit devotional reading and Bible study into our schedule! There are so many books and resources out there that it would be a shame to skip out on what’s available to us. My reason for definition is because I think it’s important to know what to expect from different practices.
JUST STUDYING THE BIBLE ISN’T EVERYTHING
Last note. I also want to make it quite clear that studying the Word just for the sake of checking it off a box or even just to become more knowledgeable doesn’t cut it for our walk with Christ. We should be studying devotionally meaning that we should want to know the Word to get to know the Jesus of the Word–the Jesus who is the Word! I think studying devotionally places our heart and mind in the right balance. We study because we love God and want to know and love Him better.
My favorite book that talks about this topic is Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word. I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet!
WATCH THE VIDEO
I’ve got a couple questions for you!
- What has some of your favorite devotional reading has been?
- What book(s) of the Bible you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t gotten around to?
Let me know in the comments!