I feel like I should start by saying that I'm not at all a Bible scholar. But, I'm betting if you had wanted a Bible scholar answer, you would have asked a Bible scholar. You want an everyday, ordinary woman answer. I might be too weird to be be ordinary, but I can certainly share what I do.
This is what I try to do every morning. Now, it doesn't always happen, but its the goal I shoot for. I like to do my devotions while I'm having breakfast. Toa of Boy is usually watching pbs kids at that time, so few distractions there, and Sweetling is off getting her morning stuff done. There's something about sitting at the kitchen table by myself with a cup of hot chocolate, an egg on toast, my Bible and my journal that just appeals to me. I don't think it matters what time of day you pick to read the Bible, as long as you can do it without many interuptions and you aren't so tired you'd be lucky to remember your middle name. For a mom, those are two pretty big preconditions! When I was working, in those prekid years, I did my devotions during my lunch break....not in the morning when I was rushed and frantic and trying to get up and get out the door on time!
So, I sit down with my breakfast (and hot chocolate...I haven't found a scripture to back this one up, but I'm sure it's pretty spiritual!). I have a little journal, nothing fancy, and a Bible that is easy to read. The NIV is my favorite, but find one that you can read and is pretty clear. I also like a Bible with footnotes, cause sometimes if I don't get it, there might be a footnote that can help clarify.
Everyone always says over and over that the most important thing to start with is prayer. I'm going to repeat it, cause I'm sure they know what they are talking about. I'm going to confess that I'm not the most consistant or prayerful person in the world BUT I do find that I get more out of what I read, more insight, on the days that I do remember to pray. So pray :)
Then I open my jounal, before I open my Bible. I jot down the day and the date, just because it seems the thing to do. Here's the part that makes a huge difference to me.... I start my devotion time making a list of seven specific and unique things that I'm thankful for. They have to be slightly different every day. No fair just writing "my husband" every day. Otherwise it becomes a rote list, not something reflective and beneficial. I do this for a few reasons. It puts me in a positive frame of mind both for the morning, and for the rest of the day. It helps me focus on my blessings and not my "to do" list. It helps me notice, as I go through the day, specific details that I can store up for tomorrow's list.
After I've written my list of blessings (and I put a little heart in front of each one, cause I love cute things!), I'm ready to start my Bible reading. Personally, I have a pretty short attention span. So, every few weeks I found myself changing how and what I'm studying about the Bible. I think the important part here is to find something that works for you. However, here are a few things I've found helpful. I'm just going to put them in a list, cause I like it when things look organized, it helps me focus. If I knew how to add a heart in front of each one, I totally would ;)
Keep your daily reading selection "bite sized". Dont try to read too much at once. Some Bible reading plans will list several chapters to read each day. When I try to read through multilple chapters, I totally don't absorb what I read. I read the words, but they just go in and right back out, and I may as well have not read anything at all.
Keep your daily reading selection in ONE PLACE in the Bible. Don't 'skip around' and read from three different places in one day. Some Bible reading plans have a reading from the old testament, from psalms, and from the new testament for each and every day. Talk about confusing. Its like trying to watch tv with someone who can't stop flicking through the channels on the remote. You get bits and pieces of a ton of stuff, without ever having a clear picture of any one program on any of the channels.
Keep your daily reading selection interesting. Don't get bogged down in the begats and in the levitical law of what can and can't be eaten or how many measures of wheat and oil make a sacrifice. Yes, I'm sure they are important...but they need a whole lot of digging and digesting to make them meaningful. The Gospels are a good place to start (especially John and Mark). After that, Acts, then Genesis and Exodus. Reading one or two gospels, Acts, Genesis, and Exodus will give you a very good overview of the story of God's love for his creation. By then, you'll be practiced and able to chart your own path on where you think God is leading you next in His word. Beware, if you're reading the Bible in bite sized chunks, that's a lot of chapters! Just the few books I mentioned will take you a few months to get through.
Keep in mind that this isn't a race. You're making a comment for a life time habit. Don't worry if a month from now, you're only half-way through the book of John. You are growing deep roots, and deep rooted trees grow slowly, but they are strong and well grounded! Avoid the habit of comparing yourself to what others may or may not know. God is working on you. You are his masterpiece. Be patient and content.
Keep in mind that the Bible doesn't "read" like a regular book from cover to cover. It's more like a library of separate books. It was written by many different people, in different languages, over the course of a couple of thousand of years. Its not even completely chronological. It took me a while to figure that one out (or to come across that information.) I kept thinking that if I started in Genesis and kept reading, the Bible would read like a story book. Then I'd get to Kings and Chronicles and get totally confused, cause it jumped back and forth. And THEN the books of the prophets were actually written during the life times of some of the Kings mentioned in Kings and Chronicles...and so on and so on. Anyway, I wouldn't recommend picking up the Bible and trying to read it from cover to cover.
All that being said, I've made my list of seven blessings, and I read a little bit of the Bible, depending on what I felt called to study at that particular time. Then I jot down a sentence or two, or a couple super quick notes about what I've read. This helps me make sense of it and retain it. But I don't let myself turn this into an essay assignment. As you can probably tell, I like to write, and I write A LOT once I get started. But the point of this is just to remember the key point or the main application of what I've read. Not to start developing my own commentary book. When I jot a few words down, I make sure that I don't just read and let the words wash over me and away, like so many waves on the beach.
Last, I pick one verse from what I've read that I thought was particularly poignant to me. I copy it to a little yellow post it note, and I put it somewhere where I can see it through the day. (I put mine on my bathroom mirror, cause I'm home during the day, and I see it there often.) This helps, because I found that even when I did my devotions in the morning, and even when I'd make a couple notes in my journal, by 4pm...I often had NO IDEA what I had read that morning. Glancing at a key scriptue through the day helps me remember, reflect, and hopefully apply what I'm learning. Plus the yellow note is a little reminder for me to shoot a quick "popcorn prayer" to God about what he's trying to teach me that day.
Anyway, that's what I do. It doesn't happen every morning. And it doesn't happen perfectly on the mornings when it does happen. But every day, that's my goal. And more often than not I met my goal. Let me leave you with a couple other bits of advice. First, don't be afraid to try something new...and don't be afraid to change how your studying the Bible if one system or plan isn't working for you. God makes us all differently. There is no one "right" way of reading and learning His word. Second, if you miss a day, or two, or three....don't beat yourself up over it. This isn't a diet that you can "blow". He makes His mercies new every morning. Just open up your Bible and start again where you left off. Third, if you possibly can, get involved in a Bible study with other women. I'm not always in a group Bible study, but I do make an effort to "complete" at least one group Bible study once a year. Its hard for me to fly solo all the time, and I find that participating in a group study really refreshes my learning time and my perspective.
I hope that was more helpful than it was lengthy (which is a pretty tough measurement!) I've heard of several people who also use their devotion journal as a prayer journal, writing down specific prayer requests and then coming back and writing down the date when God answered those requests. I'm not that consistant, but its a neat idea, so I though I'd pass it on ;)
Finally, I like examples. So, I'm typing out for you my devotion journal from yesterday and today.
Tuesday, April 1
--squirrels building a nest
--Toa of Boy's cough is better
--got to sleep in this morning
--Jedi says every day he looks forward to being with me
--our cupboards are so full
--Easter dance coming together
--God gives me many creative outlets
(read Psalm 119:33-40)
We need to ask God for understanding. Even the esteemed author of 119 beseeched God for insight!
Post-it verse: Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Ps 119:33-34
Wednesday, April 2
--Mom's car is done and covered under warranty
--Jedi's car didn't need towed
--both squirrels still there after hawk visit
--time reading and talking with the Jedi
--song with Sweetling
--snuggles with Toa of Boy
--the golden light of morning
(read Psalm 119:41-48)
true liberty comes from following God's plan
"Doing whatever I want" is really bondage!
but since God is my crator, I am in perfect freedom when I am fulfilling my purpose. When I do what I am designed to do, my spirit leaps and bounds, full of joy and life :)