Learning to Read Devotionally

In 1997 I responded to a challenge about my lack of devotional Bible reading. For most of the next 10 years, I read almost compulsively (OK, compulsively). After moderating that practice, I still read at least one chapter every day.  In 2016 I found myself fighting with it. I responded by no longer reading daily, but spending my time in prayer and pondering.  After about six months I was able to go back to daily scripture reading, and continue that even now. I read a bit of the Bible almost every morning.  Usually it’s more than a few verses, but rarely as much as a chapter.  In the religious traditions I learned as a teenager, this is called “doing one’s devotions”. Devotional reading attempts refreshment of soul and enlightenment of mind regarding one’s relationship to God. I’ve been failing at that for a long time. My intellectual bent (if it can be said that I have one) tends toward interaction with the text, which often gets in the way of relating to God.  

To wile away the time during COVID 19 I’ve been taking online courses in writing. In a lesson from the Technical University of Munich I’ve been assigned to work on “coherence” in paragraphs. That often requires the subtraction of distraction to make things flow more smoothly.  Applying this to Bible reading meets with automatic resistance. There’s a curse at the end of the Revelation to St. John the Divine upon anybody who adds to or subtracts from this book. Since the Revelation is the final “book” in the Bible, that curse is often assumed to apply to the entire Bible, not just to the Revelation.  In the 1970s when The Readers’ Digest Bible was published, I denounced it without even opening the cover. 

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Reading this morning, though, I was sorely tempted to do some trimming. I had begun in I John 4 at the middle of verse 15, with the words “God is Love”.  That’s a great place to begin, isn’t it?  I continued to the end of the chapter. What I found was a clear stream about love running from beginning to end, but like a mountain stream, it was interrupted by a lot of rocks on the way.  The exercise removes the rocks and sets them beside the stream. They are not discarded (we can’t do that with the Bible). Here it is as found in the New Revised Standard Version.  (If you want to do the same exercise and prefer another translation, that’s fine with me.) Maybe THIS is what devotional reading is about. If I can learn to do this, I’ll get over my “text centered” struggles.

The Whole Text

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.  Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters,[b] are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister[c] whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

The Clear Stream

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.  As he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  We love because he first loved us. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan. 

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