Do you pray daily? Read your Bible or any sort of devotional daily? If you’re Christian but don’t do these things, you’re not alone. Studies suggest that around 80% (Rankin, 2012; American Bible Society, 2017) of Christians read the Bible less than 4 times per week. While most churches tend not issue concrete directives or exact requirements on how often to pray and/or read the Bible, most encourage their members to make a regular habit of them, and with good reason: prayer and Bible reading work in terms of making us into more involved, engaged, and integrated Christians, helping us to better communicate with and align ourselves with God. They can help us remember what is most important, calming us enough to get on with doing God’s work in the world, which some of us struggle with in times of trial.
Progressive Christians need not and should not cede regular prayer and Bible reading to more conservative Christians. Accepting modern biblical criticism, liberation theologies, and science doesn’t somehow “graduate” us from needing to do these things regularly. Lest I sound like a stern disciplinarian, I would like to encourage those who believe such routine to be stifling and uncreative that a daily discipline of this sort actually frees us up spiritually and creatively to more attentively hear God’s voice in our lives. In my case, part of the issue had been integrating my Christian faith and spirituality with my love of social justice. In seminary we learned about biblical prophets, their thirst for God’s justice, as well as how Jesus’ ministry was all about bringing about/ushering in the baseilia/kingdom/kindom/realm of God. For the past 13 years I have been well-versed in the theological rationale for the place of social justice in God’s realm and progressive Christianity as a whole. In seminary course work I largely learned how to write, conduct library research, and articulate coherent positions on a wide variety of theological subjects.
Seminary professors have regularly begged seminary students to take care of their spiritual lives, to set up a schedule of regular spiritual practices, because “if you don’t learn how in seminary, you’ll have a hard time doing it when you’re in a congregation.” They were absolutely right, but at the same time, seminary, a wonderful place in which I became familiar with the word and idea of “praxis” (reflective practice), didn’t necessarily encourage an environment in which reflective spiritual practices would grow and flourish. Even in the midst of incredible courses such as Introduction to Spiritual Practices and A Rhythm of Writing as Spiritual Practice, the constant pressure to keep up with course work and the many other seminary demands meant that something had to give – and that something tended to be prayer and Bible reading, as God neither issued grades nor evaluations on those.
Connecting with God / Preventing Burnout
As Christians who thirst for God’s justice, progressive Christians have allied ourselves with several progressive causes that we believe reflect God’s justice in our world. As progressives in the 2017 political and societal climate, it has become more important than ever that we find our spiritual centers and take time regularly to connect with the One who creates and sustains us. As democratic principles and institutions that we have taken for granted as “the way we do things in the United States” continue to be tested, we may find ourselves feeling overwhelmed as the sheer amount of structural/institutional sins and injustices continue to climb. While we may find ourselves discouraged from time to time, our faith consistently calls us to find hope in the midst of whatever is going on in society and our lives.
Resources About Prayer and Bible Reading
As far as Bible reading goes, some progressive Christians have addressed it with a certain amount of success – Burklo’s “How to Read the Bible: A Progressive Christian Guide” offers great ideas for the ways in which progressive Christians may read and/or interpret the Bible, without addressing the daily habit of Bible reading and prayer. In fact, the site on which Burklo’s post is, Patheos, has an entire series: “2014 Religious Trends: Rediscovering Scripture for the Twenty-First Century” considering the role of scripture in the lives of progressive Christians. I recommend reading it – but nothing in there addresses the role and value of daily Bible reading. It says it’s important, but it doesn’t really tell you when or how often to read the Bible. Same with Wolsey’s post “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible.” All these are excellent things to read, but again, nothing about how to go about reading such a large and vibrant book as the Bible. The web site ProgressiveChristianity.org has excellent resources on the Bible and Bible Study, but again doesn’t address how to make it a habit. In this regard conservative Christians have often made far greater strides, and progressive Christians can learn from
Regarding prayer and progressive Christianity we encounter similar resources: Brussat and Brussat write about the role of prayer in progressive Christianity in “Our Vision of Progressive Christian Spirituality: The Shape and Substance of a New Christianity for the Twenty-First Century,” while not going into the specifics of prayer. One of the most insightful posts I’ve encountered on the subject, “Do Progressive Christians Pray?” by Christ Glaser states in a footnote, “Someone in publishing recently told me that there is no market for devotional materials among progressive Christians. I was told the same thing when I began writing prayers and meditations for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, but have since published four such books that have enjoyed multiple printings, two of which have been translated into Spanish. Last month I began writing a contemplative blog entitled Progressive Christian Reflections .”
This selection of resources is the best group I have come up with in terms of Missional Faith Thinking: faithful, intellectually sound resources that help Christians think, pray, and act toward God’s love and justice on small and large scale. For me to get on board with the whole prayer/devotional/Bible reading thing as a daily habit (a spiritual workout, really), I needed to find tools to help me that were deeply faithful, of a more progressive nature (i.e. didn’t make me groan and/or curse due to uninformed biblical or theological interpretation), were easy to use (online, or neatly contained in one book), and inspired me to action and/or to connect with broader communities of faith-based activists.
Print/Book Prayer and Daily Bible Reading Resources
Online Prayer and Daily Bible Reading Resources
ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has a Daily Bible Reading site available. This is a shorter reading with just the text, no commentary, and no option to e-mail. It doesn’t say what translation of the Bible it comes from, but I appreciate its presence and simplicity.
Luther Seminary also offers God Pause Devotions, which includes the scripture reading (NRSV) and brief commentary, and is available by e-mail.
Today’s Daily Lectionary Reading from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship – This is only scripture, no commentary, so if you want to have more time to explore scripture and think of your own commentary, this is a good way to do it. There appears to be no e-mail/text option with this.
These Days is a print publication of the PCUSA that includes daily devotions. It does not appear to be available online, but for people who love print, it could be a great way to keep things fresh.
The UCC (United Church of Christ) Daily Devotional – You can read this online, and/or sign up for e-mail and text message updates. The devotional format includes a short on-page scripture followed by commentary from various and varied people.
The United Methodist Church has an entire site The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide – It is available as a print, ebook, audiobook, the website, and you can sign up to have it e-mailed to you on a daily basis.
The Our Bible App is one of the more promising forthcoming online resources of which I’ve recently heard, noting that “Our Bible App supports the belief that spirituality is a spectrum and that faith is a journey. At its core, the holy text was written to be inclusive of all of God’s creation especially those on the margins. Our Bible App is bringing it back to the roots celebrating the diversity of God’s creation with devotionals highlighting the inclusiveness of the text. Whether one goes to church to find spiritual clarity or to the sanctuary of nature, Our Bible App supports the belief that we are each trying to understand our place in this grand universe. Our goal is to untangle the binds that Christian colonizers have spread across the globe over hundreds of years. Through devotionals highlighting pro LGBT, pro-women and encourage interfaith inclusivity we hope to provide a tool that is needed to create healthy prayer and meditation habits.” (https://www.ourbibleapp.com/mission/)
You may be, as was I, surprised to see that there are so many interesting and robust options available when it comes to mainline-to-progressive options for daily devotional, prayer, and Bible reading resources. The important thing is for you to explore your options and experiment for a bit, find something that works, and make a habit out of it.
The Ideal BiblioMinistry Daily Prayer and Devotional / Bible Reading App / Resource (It Doesn’t Exist Yet.)
All of the above resources are wonderful and faithful resources. After exploring a number of them, I’ve come to have some preferences about what I would like to see in a prayer/devotional/Bible reading app/resource.
- Moves people toward a Missional Faith Learning mindset: Think! Pray! Act!
- Combined (or a link to/between) devotional and biblical text – most of them you have to have 2 books out, or thumb back and forth between biblical text and devotional/prayer material. For busy people, this could make the difference between reading and not reading the Bible. (I know it has for me sometimes – and think the two complementary arguments go something like, “If you were really serious about reading the Bible daily, you wouldn’t let any of that get in the way” vs. “If you were serious about encouraging people to read the Bible, you would get all obstacles to their doing so out of the way.”)
- Phone notifications/e-mail/text reminders. I don’t know about you, but I use my iPhone for just about everything these days, and as long as I give it good information, often count on it to give me back good “just-in-time” information – for instance, if I’ve scheduled Bible reading time, it would be great to have a daily reminder pop up that took me right to the spot in the resource from which I’m reading, from which I could then make notes. The thing is, people aren’t lazy, but so much of the message in our world is to “work smarter, not harder!”, in which technology has made amazing advances. I don’t expect to have everything handed to me, but the things that can be scheduled, I like to schedule them, and I like it to be easy to get to and do the things I’ve scheduled if possible.
- Note and choice of Bible translations including: NRSV, NIV, CEB, the Message, and any other more modern, progressive versions. See here for why biblical translation matters and the differences between various translations.
- A mix of progressive/activist and scholarly devotional text. What I mean by this is that I would like devotional authors to bring faithful, intellect, and activism to their reflections. This can be difficult in the short space that many texts occupy, but is an important part of integrating faith and action.
- Attribution of author. As a librarian and someone who has studied the Bible in academic settings, it seriously bothers me when we have the ability to provide attribution/authorship for something and fail to do so. Some of the resources above name the author of the day’s devotional text; some don’t. Obviously, when it comes to the biblical texts themselves, it can be difficult to determine authorship, though brief discussion on this could be a very helpful part of scholarly devotional material.
- A community of prayer/devotional/Bible readers. Technology has the ability to connect us – if we’re going to read the Bible online, let’s at least read it together and get to know each other! We may not be able to connect in person, but it would be great (particularly for those in more isolated/isolating areas) to be able to find other progressive of people of faith online to pray and read the Bible together.
Do you have a favorite prayer/devotional/daily Bible reading resource? Have I left any mainline/progressive resources of this nature out? Any other thoughts? Feel free to share it in the comments!