In nearly 20 years of regular Bible reading, one of the most frequent mistakes I’ve made is trying to do too much.
Over the years, I have sat down many times to brainstorm and outline my ideal “time in the word.” I would drum up fresh resolve and dive in again to the newly demanding scheme: read broadly in multiple places, study deeply in one, identify applications, journal, memorize, pray through lists. But if I had ever paused to make a realistic assessment on how long the whole process would have taken, I may have realized how undoable it was (two and a half hours would have been tight). That kind of time may be hard to come by for a monk.
Idealism about daily devotions usually has some good in it, but it can be a recipe for frustration and ungodly guilt over time. I don’t want to disparage good intentions — may God fulfill your “every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). And as someone who’s walked the path for a few years, I’ve found help in this simple word for faithful realism in daily Bible meditation: gather a day’s portion.
As Much as You Can Eat
The phrase comes from Exodus 16. God’s people have been freshly freed from slavery in Egypt and passed through the Red Sea (Exodus 14). Moses and the people erupt in a song of praise (Exodus 15:1–21). And then, in barely three days, the people already are grumbling (Exodus 15:22–24). God responds with grace, “heals” the bitter water, and then brings them to a place of plenty, an oasis with “twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees” (Exodus 15:25–27). Soon they set out from the oasis, and then they are grumbling again (Exodus 16:2), now to the point of delusion (Exodus 16:3).
Their collective immaturity has come out immediately, but again God responds with grace: “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day” (Exodus 16:4). This bread from heaven they call “manna,” and Moses gives the further instruction, “Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat” (Exodus 16:16).
Of course, the story is not first and foremost about Christian Bible reading today. But God does give us a glimpse into who he is, and what it means to have him as our God, and for us to be his people. He is the kind of God who provides for our needs on an everyday basis. He is the God who is with his people every step of the way, to give them, by his own hand, daily provision in the wilderness to get them safely to his Promised Land. His Son teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), and warns us not to adopt the build-bigger-barns mind-set of the rich fool, who put his hope for the future in his own store rather than in the Father’s daily, active care.
God wants our sitting down with his Book each day to be more like coming to dinner than going to the grocery store. Come to eat and drink here and now, for today, not mainly to store up for someday in the future. God doesn’t mean for us to focus on developing our own stash and personal pantry, but to feed straight from his warehouse.
Coming to God’s word to gather a day’s portion has come to have at least three facets for me.
Modern life is harried enough. What I desperately need each morning is to slow down in God’s presence for an unhurried season steeping my soul in his grace and truth. This means taking in his words at a more reflective and enjoyable (you might even say “leisurely”) pace — rather than rushing through to cover as much ground as possible. I remind myself that the goal is to find food for my soul, with the accompanying pace, not check reading-plan boxes and just avail my mind of additional biblical data.
Call it “eating mindfully,” or just use the old-fashioned, biblical term, “meditation.” Whatever you call it, finding a slower pace goes hand in hand with faithfully gathering a day’s portion.
Feed Your Heart, Not Just Head
My natural tendency is to engage God’s words with a cerebral bent. What takes more work is reading with and for my heart. The mind, of course, is important. Even essential. And so too are our spiritual affections. God means for his word to meet us, and change us, in the whole of our person, including the depths of us. He means for us to read with our minds, all the way down to our hearts, and through them out into the outward dimensions of our lives.
Aiming to just gather a day’s portion not only helps me slow down, but slowing down is vital to engaging the heart, which takes more time and attention, and patience, to stir than the mind. I have found that when I’m not just reading for breadth, but reading to feel the weight of the text, I’m freer to pause and linger over some striking glimpse of God’s goodness — not just to learn more, but to enjoy more.
Focus on Today
In seeking to simply gather a day’s portion, I am liberated from needing to make up for yesterday, on the one hand, or get ahead for tomorrow, on the other. When coming daily to God’s word is focused on finding food for my soul for today, I’m kept from the pressure and distraction of trying to go back or surge forward. God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22–23). I can’t go back to collect yesterday’s mercies, or go forward to seize and store up tomorrow’s, but I can receive and relish today’s. And as Jesus says, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).
This also means I’m free not to finish all the assigned readings for the day. The point is finding soul food, not reading every chapter and verse. When God gives me some fresh, compelling, soul-satisfying glimpse of himself, I want to linger there, and meditate there, not run on to the next chapter.
Faithful Realism in Daily Reading
Gather a day’s portion is my reminder not to try to do too much in morning devotions, and not to miss the main thing. My most pressing need is not to master the Bible in a few short months (or weeks!), but to be mastered by God, through his word, just a little each day, for a lifetime. Developing a daily habit of feeding on him is more the marathon than the sprint. The sprinters may feel good about their progress for a few laps, but in the end it will be those who persevere, one day’s meal at a time, who will be most reshaped and reformed.
Trust God to supply what he loves to supply: today’s portion.
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.
A version of this article appeared on the desiringgod.org website.
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