Most believers struggle to keep disciplined in Bible study during the most routine days in the predictable, settled environment of their home. Imagine how easy it is to abandon personal Bible study during busy short-term ministry in far-off places.
Think of all the adjustments to make. The clocks seem to run differently: they’re either too fast and everyone seems overworked and out of time, or they’re too slow and people just hang out. There isn’t enough to do.
Your living situation is usually different from home. It can be noisy; crowded; and without electricity, safety, or even privacy. And there’s a physical challenge. Food can be tough to cope with. Sleep can be hard to get. Low-grade fevers can hit at odd times. Exhaustion or emotional stress can knock out anyone.
It’s sad to see some short-termers try to “glide” though all of this irregularity. Some figure they’ve reached sufficient spiritual altitude before the mission so they can coast overseas and not crash before they get home. But they can end up as spiritual kamikazes, nearly committing spiritual suicide trying to get work done for God. Don’t try it.
Satan wants a strange sort of urgent complacency for you. It’s something like sleepwalking. You’re in motion, but useless. Don’t find yourself swordless in the battle. Commit yourself to keep in God’s Word during your short term.
Build Convictions by Seeking God
Be sure that you really desire a strong life in God’s Word. If you’re just telling yourself that you should do this or ought to do that, you’ll fall into a trap of guilt.
How do you strengthen your convictions? Refresh yourself in the truth of how inadequate you really are to serve God on your own. Grasp anew the truth of how much God longs to communicate with you. He has plans to transform you by his Word. Realize how much you could miss and how truly useless you might be without daily exposure to the Word of God.
Above all, set your heart to seek God. Get hungry for God. If you keep working up an appetite for God himself, then you’ll find yourself drawn to his Word.
Ask God to bring you to this place of conviction in his own way. Write down your request to God in a notebook, date it, and review it regularly so that you can readily cooperate with God as he answers your prayer.
Discipline Yourself by Anticipating Distractions
Discipline is the learned habit of submitting your daily living to the priorities God is giving you. Overseas, you’re going to be surrounded by all kinds of good things to do. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to do them all. Discipline only really starts when you get free from other good activities worthy of your time.
If you allow conflicts with individuals with whom you are working, mission policies, or other conditions to divert you from Bible study, you will be greatly hindered in your study. If your activities are governed largely by your feelings or moods, you will find added difficulty in being consistent in study.
Anticipate distractions. What has hindered you before? Determine that no “ifs” will keep you from the Word: if the whether is right, if I don’t feel too tired, if I get my letters written. Maintain a steady frame of mind in the midst of interruptions. James 1:2 tells us to count trials all as joy. This joyful attitude will help you have and maintain a good attitude when faced with unexpected change.
Keep Flexible by Making Plans
Make a plan for study. It doesn’t have to be perfect. A poor plan can be improved; it is better than no plan. Planning ahead doesn’t mean being rigid or unspiritual. Only when you have a plan are you free to change or adjust in response to new circumstances.
Try to plan your study in the first part of the day. If interruptions do come, you still have the rest of the day. If you are a night person, you might do your study after others have gone to bed, providing there is sufficient lighting and no “lights out” curfew.
Plans are only facilitators. Try not to waste emotional energy worrying or feeling frustrated when you can’t execute your plans. Adjust to the situation and press forward in faith (Phil. 3:13-14).
Keep Focused by Varying Your Method
There is no best method for study. A method is good only if it enables you to draw out from the Word the message the Author intended. In Bible study, the student wants to know:
- What does the scripture say?
- What does the passage mean (in context)?
- How can I apply the message to my present situation?
A bookmark could make the difference for you. Keep reading through selected books. A bookmark shows you where you left off. Just open the book there at any time and keep reading. (Don’t try to “study” if you are just reading.)
The hardest part of Bible study is to keep motivated.
So try different approaches to keep your interest. Devise your own. Here are just a few to get you started:
- Start with concerns that arise during your short term. Find answers to questions that arise while you serve. Better yet, find biblical ways to ask the same questions.
- Read a passage over and over for an entire week. Memorize the key verse. Share it. Let it sink into your bones.
- Pray through passages. Say them back to God in your own words. Use them in group prayer. Write letters home sprinkled with the truths you’re learning.
- Read Scripture out loud to yourself.
- If you are learning the local language, try to study a passage in a local translation by comparing it to a good English translation.
The key to any ongoing effort to study Scripture is what you do with what you hear (James 1:22). Your short term overseas could be the best chance you’ll ever have to grow in your Bible study life. That’s because you are already in daily, intensive action for God. With so many opportunities to obey God directly, you’re bound to understand his Word more and more. Don’t miss out on such an opportunity to know God. Keep in the Word.
Editor’s Note: See also Finding Mission Trip Devotions.