Devotions vs. Academic Study: Is One More Important Than the Other?

by on February 3, 2014

When I was accepted into seminary, I was filled with wonderful ideas about how soul-enriching my studies would be. After all, I’d be studying the Bible all day and learning about God and his character in every class. How could this not lead to deeper devotion and richer worship? I thought that, perhaps, in the interest of saving some precious time, I could combine my devotional time with my studies. Good idea?

Well, yes and no.

Once I began my studies I quickly realized that while  what I was learning was edifying, it was not enough. I was reading Scripture and studying deep theology and the ways of God, but there’s no denying that it was in large part to pass the test or to ace my final paper. With those sorts of goals in mind, I read and study much differently than I do when I’m simply pouring over the pages of the Bible in my personal devotions. I found that without my devotional time, my spiritual life had something significant missing.

My day job often allows me to interview renowned scholars and seminary professors such as Craig Evans, Doug Moo, Dan Block, Tremper Longman, and more—a privilege for which I am very grateful. One of the questions I always ask the professors is this: “Do you separate your devotions and your study, or do they intertwine?” The scholars almost always answer that they do maintain private devotions, and yet maintain a worshipful approach to study. But their studies often influence what they meditate on devotionally. For instance, Tremper Longman does his personal devotions more frequently in the New Testament, since he is an Old Testament scholar and works in those texts most frequently. In contrast, when Dan Block writes a commentary on a book he lives and breathes that book, both in his professional studies and in his personal devotions.

There are a few things we can learn from this approach:

1. Let your studies inform your devotions

In seminary we are, in a sense, putting tools in our toolbox. We are learning the art and science of biblical interpretation, the nuances of the original languages, the flow of the story of Scripture, and the many melodies that run throughout. These are all tools to be used for enriching not only your current or future ministry, but also your personal time with God and his Word. As you study, allow the things you learn to inform your devotional time, and that time will be the richer for it.

2. Let your devotions fuel your studies

Typically, we go to seminary to equip ourselves for ministry, and as suggested above, we should also be equipping ourselves for our personal relationship with the Lord. If loving and serving God and his church in this way is our reason, then it follows that as we grow closer to God through his word, and as we come to love his Word more and more, we will be all the more motivated to pursue our studies with a renewed vigor. I can speak from experience when I say that, without a strong devotional life fanning the flame of passion for God, seminary studies can become increasingly boring.

3. Let your studies be worshipful

Not only is it important to maintain a separate devotional time, but it is equally important to devote your time spent in study to the Lord. We are not here to simply fill our heads with knowledge and achieve academic excellence! Knowledge is good and important, but if that knowledge does not lead us to better know and love our Savior, what is the point? If you approach your studies with a worshipful attitude, I trust God will bless that time and deepen your love of him through your learning.

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