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Question

What is the best way to pray and study my bible diligently and not out of obligation?

Answer

Thank you so much for your question. It’s a question that is so vital for a Christian to answer as we know that as Jesus himself said:

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)

For those who want to grow as Christians, the Bible is to them as food is to our physical bodies - without it there will be no growth, and our spiritual life will stagnate. However, with a healthy diet of scripture in our lives, we will grow and be changed more and more to be the people who God would have us be. Therefore, to understand how we go about feeding on this healthy diet of the Word of God is an incredibly important thing for us.

As with God’s word, prayer is also a vital part of our Christian lives. It is our means of communicating with God, as He communicates to us through His Word. There is an incredible mystery to prayer - why God even asks us to request things from Him when He already knows what we need, but the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that a healthy Christian is a praying Christian, and so this too is a vital aspect of our life as a Christian.

In answering your question, I will deal with it in two parts, relating to the two words you have used. Firstly, you have asked how to pray and study the Bible ‘diligently’. As I answer this part of the question, I would love to be able to give you some kind of secret as to how we go about being diligent in our prayer and study of the Bible. I would love to just give you a 2 or 3 step plan to being more committed and faithful in these things, but sadly those kinds of answers don't really exist. Though we may not like to hear the answer to this question, the truth remains that to be diligent in prayer and study of the Bible simply takes good old-fashioned hard work. We have to be willing to put in the effort that is required of us, just like we would in any other discipline in any other area of life. We need to find the time in our busy lives to read and pray, and we need to be committed to doing this as a priority over so many other things which are far less important than our fellowship with God.

When we commit to studying and praying, all kinds of other things will try and pull us away. We’ll suddenly think of a whole list of things that we could do at that moment, but we must resist, reminding ourselves that those things can wait, whereas to spend time with God in His word is absolutely vital for our spiritual lives. As with any kind of discipline, the same kind of practical approach may not work for everyone. I’ve always thought that there is something healthy about spending the first part of your day in God’s Word and prayer, but there is nothing to say this has to be the case, and for some people they may enjoy their most fruitful times late into the evenings, when others would be falling asleep. There is no set pattern, the important thing is this: that we allow God the time and the space to speak into our lives and transform us through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

This brings us to the second part of your question, which is such a helpful and important addition to the idea of being a diligent studier of God’s word. When we discipline ourselves to do a certain thing over and over again, and we sometimes have to force ourselves to do it, that thing can so easily become something that we just do out of, as you say, ‘obligation’ - just as a tradition, and something that we have to do, rather than something we really want to do.

As you have suggested by even asking this question, we should do whatever we can to make sure that our Bible reading and prayer do not become this, as it can so easily become stale, boring, and will as a result be really unhelpful for us if this happens. Sometimes spending time in God’s word will be hard and we need to press through those times, but here are just a few thoughts on how we might be able to do this, while retaining a reality to what we’re doing:

1. Remember the privilege of Bible reading and prayer:

If our time spent with God is becoming stale and unexciting, that can only be because we’ve forgotten just what it is that we’re doing. It is the most incredible thing that we get to do when we pray and study the Scriptures. As we do so, the God who created the whole earth - the God who is bigger and more powerful than we can begin to imagine, comes and meets with us. The Bible is His revelation to us, and as we study it we hear His voice - small and insignificant though we may be, God wants to speak to you and me! As if that wasn't enough to take in, there is more - God not only wants to speak to us, He wants us to speak to Him - God delights in the prayers of His people, and He loves to answer their cries for help. If we remember this, and indeed cling to it when things get more difficult, then it will surely benefit us. How could we ever see studying the Bible and praying as just a tradition when we remind ourselves of the reality of a God who wants to communicate and share fellowship with us? We must always remember that these aren’t things that we have to do, they are things that we have the privilege of doing.

2. Remember the purpose of Bible reading and prayer:

Another truth that will help us when these disciplines get hard is the fact that what we’re doing is necessary for us. Bible reading and prayer can only become just a religious kind of tradition when they are emptied of any significance for us, or any real reason for us doing them. It is so easy to fall into a place where we just pick up the Bible because we think we have to, and then when we get to the end of our time we’ve effectively just ticked off another day on our tick-list of things we have to do to keep God happy. This is completely absurd; the purpose of Bible reading and prayer is not to keep God happy, it’s so that we would be changed more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ, and that our lives would shine brightly in a world of darkness. This whole idea leads us on to our third point:

3. Remember Grace:

The whole idea behind a religious tradition is that I have to do it to somehow keep God happy; appease Him, and atone for the mistakes that I’ve made. The temptation to do this with so many areas of the Christian life is there for all of us, but we must be so careful to guard ourselves from it. The truth is, when we start thinking this way we have lost the essence of the Gospel itself. The Bible doesn’t teach us that Jesus came from heaven to earth to save people who, after He’d forgiven them, made sure they lived disciplined lives and stuck close to the tradition that He gave to them to retain His love and favour - no, Jesus came down to save people who couldn’t live the disciplined lives He calls for, and could in no way save themselves. The Bible tells us this in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

The Bible makes it clear that there never was, and is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation from God. It is entirely an undeserved free gift (that’s what grace is) that God has given to us in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Though this is such a basic truth of the Christian faith, it’s sometimes such a hard thing for us to grapple with because we’re so used to having to earn our way through life. We’re so often told that if we don’t match up then we’re out, or we’ve failed, but God doesn’t do that. He knows that on our own we’d fail, so He gives us the gift of salvation completely unconditionally - not dependent on anything we could ever do, whether good or bad. What that does is it leave us in a place where all religious traditions are, by themselves, ultimately worthless. God has called us into a relationship with Him, not just a rule-following religion. The Bible also helps us to see what this means when it says these simple words:

We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

All of our seeking to live the life that God has called us to live should never be out of a sense of duty. It should never be because of this sense of ‘I have to’, but it should be a simple response to the amazing love that God has shown to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we realise more and more the greatness of the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross, and the wonder of the undeserved love and kindness that God has for us; how can we do anything but desire to love, honour and obey Him in return? Of course we could never pay Him back in any way, the price was just too great; in fact, for us to try and pay God back is to despise the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

It's when we truly understand and live under the free grace of God that we are liberated from the bondage that a religion based on rules and regulations will bring. It is only when we are enabled to respond to God out of love rather than a sense of duty that we will be truly free, and truly able to live out the life we have been called to.

So my friend, let me encourage you to both be diligent, organised and persistent of God in your prayer and study of the Scriptures, and more importantly, allow your heart to be strengthened by grace (Hebrews 13:9). Meditate on the amazing grace of God shown to sinners such as you and me, and allow your heart to be moved with love for the God who loved you and gave Himself for you (Galatians 2:20).

Bible Verses for further consideration:

  • Psalm 119
  • Ephesians 2:1-10
  • Matthew 6:5-15

I hope this answer helps you to find peace with God through Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: Watch the video

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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise

*If anything in this answer affects you directly, then please feel free to call our confidential prayer line in the UK on 0845 4567729, where trained Christian volunteers will take your call and pray both for you and with you. If you are outside of the UK then you may submit your request for prayer on line at www.ucb.co.uk/prayerline


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