When we think about developing disciplined rhythms of the Word, we should keep three ideas in mind: encounter, internalize and apply. Let’s briefly revisit each.
Encounter the Word
This is the first step. If we are not encountering the word regularly, we’re effectively cutting ourselves off from God’s voice. But there are multiple levels of encounter.
Hear. We hear the Word when we listen to a sermon or attend a Bible Study. Hearing requires the least amount of engagement with the text because we are listening to someone unpack the significance and meaning of the text for us. But this doesn’t mean hearing is unimportant. We need to listen to those who have studied deeply. And if we are not regularly joining the saints in listening to the word together, we rob ourselves of a profound opportunity for growth.
Read. Don’t stop there, however. Get the Bible in your own lap, on your own time, in your own space. If you are not regularly reading yourself, consider the following steps:
Get a reading plan. You can read through the Bible in a year, or a book in a year. There are advantages to both. If you are just starting out, take a single book that you can read through a couple times. This allows you to 1) take smaller chunks; 2) more easily see how it all fits together, 3) quickly review the content. Not sure which book to pick? Start with the book being preached on Sundays. That way, you’ll be hearing and reading from the same source.
Pick a time. There is always something to do. And there is rarely ever a chunk of grand and glorious unscheduled time. You have to intentionally build it in. Schedule a 15-30 minute block into your daily routine and stick to it. You will find every reason in the world to not keep that appointment, but fight for it.
Tell someone. Accountability always helps. Get someone to ask you about your reading and keep up with you.
Study. As you get more familiar with the Word, you’ll find yourself going deeper. You’ll use tools to better understand the text, its meaning, context, history. You will find the Scriptures to be a diamond mine where the treasures get bigger and better the deeper and more consistently you dig.
Internalize the Word
But don’t stop with encounter. Scripture must make its way into your heart. If encounter is the front porch of your heart, internalization is the invitation inside to spend the night.
Internalization requires time and focus. And it doesn’t come automatically. We have to choose to do so. As you think about internalizing, consider the following:
Plan for Internalization. You may be on a plan where you read through the Bible in a year; you may be reading through Romans in a year. Either way, you need to build in time for internalization. Plan to spend 5-15 minutes thinking. Once this becomes normal, 15 minutes will feel way too short. If you’re regularly working through long passages of Scripture, plan on nabbing a part of that text – perhaps one that grabs your attention or convicts you – and focusing on that smaller piece.
Ask Questions. God still speaks, and He does so through His word. So as you encounter the word, you also must ask, “What is God’s word saying about Him? What is it saying about me as a human, as a Christian? How should this change how I think? What I do?”
Write and Pray. When you have a clear answer to your questions, from the text, take time to journal your answers. The act of writing these things is an act of commitment. It slows you down and helps you to place your convictions on paper. Then pray through them. By doing this, you are learning to use the sword of the Spirit as it was intended: in conjunction with prayer. And by doing so, you are telling your Father in heaven that you want to be obedient to Him.
Memorize. It’s amazing how the Spirit can use Scripture which has been tucked away in our hearts. O how I’ve been helped when talking to someone and the Scripture flips to the front of my mind – rather than, “I know the Bible says something about this…” The act of memorization also drives the truth deep into our hearts.
Apply the Word
Even though internalization is critical, we must not remain here. We have to apply it. As you’ve worked to internalize the Word, you should have a clear sense of what you need to do, believe or think. The application piece is what makes this truly an act of worship: we take hold of this truth and make it happen.
Pray and Ask for Power. You are not meant to do any of this alone. The beautiful thing about our God, and about the life He calls us to is that He empowers us to do the things He calls us to do. So bring your application to the Lord and ask for courage, help and strength to do what He calls us to.
Be in Relationship. What does community have to do with our disciplined spiritual rhythms? There is power in discussing what we’re growing in with a trusted fellow Christian. We confess what we need to do, and we are able to encourage one another onward.
We love immediate gratification. But the rhythms of the Word are less like the thrill of finding cash money on the ground, and more like mining for diamonds. Without a doubt, there will be days when we read and our lives are turned upside down for joy. But there are plenty of other days when it feels like we’re knee-deep in mud, swinging a pickaxe. But don’t forget: the reason we find the buried diamonds is because we’ve been digging.