One of America’s leading churches came to this realisation back in 2007 after conducting extensive research amongst its people to see how effective the church was at making disciples of Jesus. Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels said, “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders. We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
In other words, spiritual growth doesn't happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age-old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships.
That’s why this year we’re focusing on teaching people the daily devotional approach to the Bible. This method is concerned with what the Bible has to say ~ especially what it has to say to me personally. What does the Bible tell me about God? Jesus? The church? My relation to the world? What does it tell me about what to believe? About how to act? About social responsibilities? How can the Bible help make me closer to God? How does it help me to live? Daily devotions help us to read the Bible in order to find out what to believe and how to live our life in a way that is pleasing to God and the best for others and us.
When Willow Creek were looking for help with this they turned to Wayne Cordeiro, Senior Pastor of New Hope church in Honolulu. Many years ago Wayne developed the SOAP method of Bible reading. Watch this video where he explains how to do daily devotions using SOAP.
I’ve taught SOAP daily devotions several times over the years at Bayside Church, but it’s time to refresh it and teach it again and get everyone on the same page ~ literally!
In a nutshell, SOAP in as acrostic that works like this:
S – Scripture – From your daily reading write down a verse or two that particularly speaks to you.
O – Observation – Write a brief observation from this verse as to what you see in it.
A – Application – What truth can you apply to your life from this scripture? How will you be different today because of what you have just read? (Use words like: me, myself & I)
P – Prayer – Finish your time by writing a prayer using the verse(s) through which God has spoken to you. Then take the scripture with you through the day; read it regularly and meditate on its truth.
Here’s an example from my own journal:
S: “Do not be afraid Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…” (Luke 1:13)
O: Zacharias, as a priest of God, was going about his daily work of serving God and His people. Zacharias and his wife were elderly, and his wife Elizabeth was also barren. This was no doubt a point of distress and disappointment to them both and a matter of regular prayer that, until now, had gone unanswered. But that was about to change… “For your petition has been heard!”
A: A lack of immediate response to my prayers does not mean that God hasn’t heard me. It does mean that the time has not yet arrived to answer them. As I continually and faithfully serve God and His people each day, God will answer my prayers at the right time and in the best way ~ not just to bless me, but also to bless others.
P: Jesus, help me to exercise faith and patience in life and not to see divine delays as unanswered prayer. Amen
When reading the Bible, look for lessons to be learned, examples to be followed, promises to be enjoyed and Jesus to be revealed.
Finally, here are some things to help you on your disciplined journey of feeding yourself on God’s Word.
Don’t try and read the whole reading every day (unless you want to). Read until you get something and then start journaling. Make it work for you – don’t bite off more than you can chew. Better to read, remember and practice one verse than to read and forget four chapters!
If you’re new to the Christian faith focus on the New Testament readings and Psalms. If you find something that you want to study further, make a note of it and go back to it when you have more time. If you miss a day, skip it. Don’t try and catch up. Make it doable so that it is a blessing not a burden. The goal of your time with God is to grow closer to Him. It’s not to check off your list. You can get together and “SOAP” with others too. Take an hour ~ 20 minutes to read, 20 minutes to journal, 20 minutes to share.
The Christian life is not rocket science. It’s wonderful to belong to a vibrant Christian community and to be taught God’s Word on a regular basis, but who would only want to eat once a week? Learn to feed yourself on God’s Word everyday, put your roots deep down into eternal truth and become steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the Lord's work!