During His high priestly prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ noted specifically that “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Did you catch that? Eternal life is directly connected to knowing God. In fact, that was the Apostle Paul’s prayer, “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).
We are to know God.
In recent years, however, there have been extravagant measures taken by women to try to “get more” of God; to hear from Him; to know Him better. Some of these efforts have ranged from painfully shallow to downright heretical. From the fallible, presumptuous words of Jesus Calling to the dangerous practice of contemplative prayer, eager Christian women everywhere are desperately seeking to know God better. However, the one thing we’re lacking is the one thing that’s sitting right under our noses—the Word of God; and further, a right understanding and application of it.
Many women routinely read their Bibles, and they are also prone to seek the aid of devotionals. Now, it must be said that there are very good devotional materials available; resources that help give insights into key verses and biblical concepts. Other devotionals, however, are not helpful, and even detrimental to our Christian growth. But what I’m hoping to explore with you is a journey into devotional theology.
What is Theology?
First off, what is theology? Unfortunately, this word has suffered terrible damage in recent years. It has become synonymous with nerdy intellectualism. A cure for insomnia. A way to put your kids to sleep at night. But I fear that we have simply misunderstood and misconstrued the word.
We get the term theology from the Greek words theos (God) and logos (word or discourse). So, theology quite literally means “a word about God.” And to study theology, is simply to learn about God.
Further, systematic theology attempts “to apply Scripture by asking what the whole Bible teaches about any subject.”1 It’s almost as if we could open the Bible, sweep our hand across the pages, and collect every verse that pertains to a given topic (God, sin, Christ, faith, etc.).
In devoting ourselves to studying theology, we are seeking to learn God’s Word in context, and then derive from it our doctrine (teaching) to be applied to life. The temptation is to hang our hats on stray verses, taken out of context; or worse, on pithy sayings shared on Facebook. In order to grow in godliness, we must learn to focus our attention on God’s Truth—the very thing Christ uses to “sanctify [His bride], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:26-27).
How must we do this?
How Should We Study Theology?
My heart for this series is to provide devotional articles that will be beneficial tools in your daily devotional time. Each article will encourage you unto worship, prayer and meditation as you study theology in this devotional context. With that, there are four attitudes we should manifest as we approach the study of theology. We should study theology devotionally, faithfully, humbly, and discerningly.
So what is “devo time” and how do I study theology “devotionally”? Devotional time is a time set aside each day for private worship, prayer, and meditation. It is what we do in our “inner rooms”. Matthew 6:6 instructs, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” I want to encourage you, because I have seen some pretty extravagant shrine-like inner rooms, my inner room is my bedroom. I lock myself in and sit on my bed with my books sprawled all around me. If we wait until we have the perfect space and the perfect quiet moment with the perfect candles scented with the “Bible Pages” fragrance, devotional time will never happen. If I have to stop in my tracks and do my devotions next to a heap of laundry, so be it. It is less about the environment and experience for me than it is about my heart-attitude for God — private and sincere.
To study theology devotionally is to study in the context of private worship, prayer, and meditation. It is important to approach the study of theology with worship – setting yourself in an attitude of adoration and reverence; with prayer – confession and repentance, thanksgiving, and supplication, asking for a softened heart, a teachable spirit, and a disciplined mind; finally with meditation – take the time to be still, to ponder, take notes, journal, and memorize Scripture. Prepare to meditate through the day on the things God has specially revealed to you through His Word.
Be encouraged, when one is growing in the Lord, she can’t help but study even the most massive tome of systematic theology with a contrite attitude of devotion. Contrary to popular belief, the nature of the study of theology lends itself to this disposition. As we are seeking out the knowledge and wisdom of God by His Word and Truth, the Holy Spirit testifies our spirits of our daughtership and we are moved toward worship, prayer and meditation (Romans 8:16).
Unfortunately, we women know too well that our flesh and the devil often have other plans for our “devo time”. It gets muddied with interruptions in the form of little heads peeking in the door jam, text messages from mothers, sudden urges to tweet a verse or Instagram the coffee cup, and even slothful minds or hearts.
With all these distractions the question becomes, How do we achieve faithfulness?
Faithfulness is a spiritual discipline. Specifically, faithfulness to prayer and the study of God’s Word is the most important spiritual discipline because out of the knowledge of His Word flow all other disciplines. Further, we cannot live without His Word, and this makes my faithfulness to the study of His Word a matter of life and death! “For man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Understanding the importance of faithfulness in devotion is the first step toward faithfulness. The second step is providing safeguards so that you are no longer providing the flesh and the devil a foothold for sin that will keep you away from faithful devotion.
Action steps for safeguarding your study time:
- Discuss with your husband a daily time you can commit to devotion – my husband and I call it “doin’ our devos”. When are you going to “do your devos”? Commit to it as a couple. My husband and I talk extensively about guarding each other’s time in the Word. Your husband, as your covering, must be your time-guardian. This means holding you accountable to follow through with what you say you want to do. Likewise, as his helpmeet, it is your job to guard his time in the Word as well. This means keeping the kids, and yourself, from interrupting.
- Whatever distracts you remove it from your inner room – phones, iPads, coloring books, hobbies, you name it. I know too well that even the mind can distract itself. If you have a lot on your mind (things you need to do, people you need to contact etc.) keep a notepad next to you. When something comes into your mind that needs to be addressed, write it on the notepad. It will be there for you when your devotional time is over. Let it go for the time and focus on God.
- Stay disciplined. This might sounds like a conundrum or a circular argument — the action step for discipline is to be disciplined? Yes, it is. We need to constantly fight laziness and apathy. We need to do the things we don’t feel like doing – that is discipline. It takes that step to overcome the flesh in obedience and submission to God before we can receive the blessing.
As daughters of Eve, our achilles heel, rooted deep within our deceitful hearts, is the desire to usurp the headship that belongs to our husbands. In Genesis 3:16, when God cursed Eve, He said to her, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This desire is not a physical desire for him. The desire that pains our flesh is the desire for his position. We want that headship. We want that authority. And because of the curse, this is a desire we must fight moment by moment, day by day. We must strive toward humility and submission.
This is an expansive problem in the church today. Often women are the ones engaged in Bible studies – corporately and personally. Women are often the ones gaining the knowledge, while the men are apathetically waiting in the wings (part of the curse of Adam, but that is for a different conversation).
While this may be true, and you, dear reader, may have more biblical knowledge than your husband, it is imperative that you do not lord your knowledge and spiritual understanding over your husband.
What is the consequence of seeking out his headship and lording it over him in this way?
The terrifying consequence is that he is bullied into feeling dejected, and his God-given responsibility to lead his family is usurped. In the end, undermining your husband will frustrate him toward apathy and will create nothing but discord in your house.
Paul tells us that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). Ladies, you will not find this exhortation in any other theology book, but for us women our striving in biblical knowledge must be exercised with a humble and submissive heart.
Only God’s Word is inspired revelation; authoritative and inerrant. The study of theology is an imperfect human process, as we can only move as far as the Spirit gives us understanding. It is vitally important that we get our theology from Scripture and not church traditions, personal feelings, or philosophical constructs.
As we approach the discipline of learning theology, we must also be discerning and make sure that we are seeing doctrine rightly as it is derived from God’s Word. An important question to ask is: Can the doctrine be supported by a fair amount of Scripture? There have been countless doctrines that have been built on obscure verses, or no verses at all! Be sure that you see doctrine clearly derived from Scripture.
Be careful to consider doctrine from all angles, and evaluate it for yourself. However, God has given Bible teachers to the church as gifts (Eph. 4:11-12) and you would do well to heed their counsel.
The goal of this series is examine Scripture, zooming in on one aspect of theology at a time. This will certainly not be exhaustive, as you will likely spend the rest of your natural life learning doctrine. But our hope is that this journey will encourage you, enrich you, bless you, and give you cause to rejoice in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
**Note: Moving forward, when “I” is used, it is Jess speaking. When “we” is used, it is Nate and Jess together.
Miss an installment of Devotional Theology? Find the rest of the series here.
- John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), 9. ↩