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I remember going to the dentist as a kid. After all of the picking and cleaning I was given fluoride. I picked the flavor, marinated in that gushy material, and then spit it out. The hygienist would then treat me like a prize-fighter and give me a tube for water. I compliantly, swished and spit. Then I was done, out of the chair and on my way out the door.

I am afraid that too many of us practice dental chair devotions. We grab our Bibles, spend some time in it and then we are done. We promptly put down our Bibles and walk out the door or on to our daily tasks. Five to eight hours later someone could ask you, “What did you read in the Word today?” The answer, too often, is, “I can’t remember.”

What happened? We grab a little Bible reading, swish it around in the morning, then spit it out on the way out the door. The treasures from the Word don’t get swallowed and digested but rather spit out quickly. This is because we often practice a “swish and spit” devotional time. We don’t really engage the mind and heart with the Word.

How do we resist this “swish and spit” mentality?

  1. Pray before you read. I like what John Piper wrote in his book When I don’t Desire GodHe advises Christians to pray specifically before they come to the Bible. He developed a helpful acronym to remember it, IOUS:  Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. (Psalm 119:36), Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word. (Psalm 119:18), Unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11), Satisfy me with you steadfast love. (Psalm 90:14). This is a cry for dependence while making your requests known to God.
  2. Pray while you read. In Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life he advocates prayer while reading the Word. As Whitney shows, this is not a new practice but it is a regrettably neglected practice. The discipline of thoughtful, prayerful Bible reading engages the heart along with the mind. It produces meditation as we are chewing on the Scripture.
  3. Prioritize Quality of Quantity. It would be great for us to be jamming through large portions of Scripture with great impact. However, most of us cannot do that effectively and consistently. So instead, purpose to spend time with a smaller text and ensure that it is getting in you and over on you in a good way.
  4. Meditate upon the text. This is the intentional chewing, tasting, ruminating, upon God’s Word. Far from “swish and spit” meditation is “sit and steep.” We need to steep the Word in the water of our soul so that we are flavored and colored by the Bible (Ps. 119:15,16, 27, 97).
  5. Read the text aloud. I was surprised recently to read that until the 20th Century most people did not read silently. Instead they read aloud, sometimes quietly and others more loud. Perhaps you know an older person who still practices this reading style. It helps with Bible reading because it engages another one of your senses.
  6. Interrogate the passage. This just means to ask questions. Who wrote it? Why did they write it? What does this teach me about God and his character? What is the correct response to this truth about God? When you read in Mt. 5:45 about God caring for all people that oppose him, what does that teach you about God? In what ways does he do this? What attribute is on display here? Where else do I see this attribute in neon lights?
  7. Make specific application to your life. As you interrogate the text you will find that there are specific personal areas that need to be addressed. Considering again Mt. 5, what does the fact that God cares for all people even those who do not love him, what does this mean for the way you treat other people? How do you look at people who do no look and act like you? How do you feel about them? Do you have a unjustified hatred of people? Does it show? What areas do I need to repent of? What does repentance look like?
  8. Ask and answer how this makes you treasure Christ. This is so often neglected. Like Jacob with the angel, do not leave until you are blessed! Here is the blessing: how does it showcase the work of Christ? Well, if you are mistreating enemies or friends you need to remember how Jesus treated his enemies. He died for them. He loved them. He gave everything for them. By the way, I was that enemy! (Rom. 5:11) I see Jesus and all of his obedience to God’s law fleshed out in his particular perfections in my place. My life as an enemy before God and my life in not loving people who are different than me. The fact that God judges us based on Christ’s merit and obedience instead of our own is a cause for worship.
  9. Take it with you. Find a verse or verses that have a grip on your heart and write them down. In some way put them either on a sticky-note or your hand or your phone or the fridge or wherever you can put them. Our church has a number of men who work in government facilities that do not allow electronics in and out. I tell them to write it down on a yellow sticky-note. They put it in their pocket and carry it about with them all day. In between meetings, on the way to lunch or the bathroom, take it out and read it. Pray through it. Apply it. Marvel at it. Keep it with you. This is the treasuring of God’s Word in your heart.

Bible reading is far too precious and important a time to just go through the motions. You must get that word into your heart, mind and life. This takes work. So, resolve today to not practice the swish and spit, dental chair devotional life. Instead prayerfully marinate in the text, interrogate it and take it with you.

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4 thoughts on “Resist “Dental Chair” Devotions.”

  1. Danny says:

    I always think of the dangers of forced theological education. Going to a Christian College which required theology a few theology classes I always felt that theology is detrimental to people who are not interested in it I feel the same way about Christian education at lower levels. A lot of students benefit from it, but for those who are unsure it often has detrimental effects. Receiving the word of God in the wrong way is more detrimental than not receiving the word of God. I know a lot of people would disagree but that is the way I see it.

  2. Chuckt says:


    I spent time reading the Bible and one of the problems is geography and needing to read the Bible with a map and the second problem I have is being able to put the prophets or minor prophets on a timeline and being able to put all the stories together on a timeline.

    If you read the Bible all the way through it would take about 70 to 80 hours at dictation speed but because we try to understand it, our reading speed is first like years and then like months.


  3. Valerie says:

    I am certainly guilty of the “swish and spit” program of Bible reading, You’d think I would know better, when the times I have truly searched the Word, meditated on it, prayed through it, I have come away hugely blessed and energized. Thank you for these helpful points. I plan to write them in my journal for future reference.

  4. Carey says:

    I think busyness is ever the problem. My favourite mornings are the ones where I don’t have to rush into the day, but can sit in the quiet with Jesus and a cup of coffee. But some mornings end up being the swish and spit. When we have a million things on our to-do list for the day, of course we want to start checking them off as quickly as possible. Devotions becomes a to-do item and one we learn we can check off quickly and easily. And while there may be a bit of guilt for not doing our devotions the way we wish we would, we get a huge sense of gratification from the go-go-go pattern of our lives, so we keep doing it.

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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