As many of you know, I grew up in a Christian home and in church. One of the real positives to this was that from an early age I was encouraged to have a time with God every day. The kind of churches I grew up in emphasized “daily devotions.” Good Christians have “daily devotions.” I wanted to be a good Christian so I approached it somewhat legalistically (See Bridges’, Disciplines of Grace). In fact, in some ways I still struggle with that. When I had my daily devotions, I approached my day confident that God was with me, loved me, and that he would help me ace the test and not get beat up by the upper classmen. In other words, when I had my devotions, God was with me.
When I didn’t have my “daily devotions,” I had better be on the lookout because I was likely to be punished that day. Things were likely to go bad for me. The upperclassmen would be like the Assyrians in the Old Testament, marauders sent by the hand of God. I was a disappointment to God. Maybe not even saved. My saving grace was that I could always pray before I went to bed and get good with God again. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep. Magical words that required the God of heaven to like me again.
What was lost on me was what it really meant to commune with God throughout the day and how a time set aside free time with God to help draw near to him.
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that many Christians deal with some level of anxiety about this. Perhaps daily devotions should be renamed “daily anxiety.” Did I do it or not? Did it do it rightly? Is God mad at me? Does he like me?
Another group of Christians should have anxiety and they don’t. There is little if any effort at the daily walk. They rarely pray or even think about God during the day.
A third group would be many sincere Christians who want to have a daily walk but simply don’t know how. No one close to them has ever given them a model and they just feel at a loss as to how or what to do.
So when we put this summer series together, this weekend held a special anticipation for me. This is not a message to guilt you into more prayer and Bible reading. This is not a message intended to say I have this figured out. Much of what I say comes out of what I do and some represents what I wish I did. In fact, preparing for this message has challenged me to make improvements in my own daily walk. We’re all pilgrims in progress.
I want to begin with what is for me the most important truth when it comes to a daily free time with God.
Every day is a fight to center my life on God and find my joy in Him
I can tell you when this really dawned on me. I was listening to a sermon CD from John Piper and he said that when he wakes up in the morning, the devil is sitting on his face. I thought that was a vivid illustration. And you thought that was morning breath. If John Piper feels spiritually flat in the morning, then what about me? He went on to say that he had to begin the day finding his happiness in God because his heart was always bent toward selfishness and pride.
Paul describes this struggle in Rom. 7, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:15-18, ESV)
If you have been a Christian for any amount of time, you know this to be true. At times we feel spiritually bold and strong. Other times we feel weak and cold. Don’t most of us wake up in the morning spiritually cold? I do.
A good analogy is a campfire. The night before the fire was hot and warmed everyone around it. By morning, there is still fire there but only embers. Most of us go to bed with warm affections for God but by morning things have changed. Just ask a pastor why Monday is such a struggle.
The daily walk is the challenge of keeping that fire burning. The flesh and the world and the enemy will do everything they can to extinguish it. God wants it roaring and has given us means by which we can stoke it each day.
This is where so many miss the point and end up in performance based Christianity. The purpose of time with God is to fuel love for God. I must get happy in God every day.
George Mueller is considered one of the greatest Christians in history. Famous for his orphanage and his prayers. He wrote an article out of his own experience entitled, Soul Nourishment First. In it he writes, It has pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, the benefit of which I have not lost, for more than fourteen years. The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit… I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, while meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experiential communion with the Lord…. How different, when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one.
The first and most important help I can give you is to throw out the performance approach. Don’t think checklist. Rather, seek to have a time each day set aside for the express purpose of stoking joy in God so that when you walk out the door, your joy is in Him and you are ready to offer that day as an act of worship.
Fuel for the Fire
– Bible Reading, Understanding, and Application
I list these three. There are more but I have found these three to be key. Here is some Scripture;
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. “ 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16
“pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he [Jesus] prayed.” Mark 1:35
train yourself for godliness, 1 Timothy 4:7
Remember the goal, stoke the spiritual fire. Anything that helps do that is helpful. But these three are the basics.
I would encourage you to read your Bible nearly every day. I say nearly because if I say every day, now there is a performance mentality. The Bible doesn’t say, Read me every day. Your body doesn’t say, feed me every day. But if you go very long without eating, your stomach starts growling. We want our soul’s appetite to be such that we can’t go very long without our soul growling, feed me. This is why the long-term stack of Bibles in the Lost and Found of a church speak eloquently to how many Christians live without God’s Word in their daily life. No wonder we are so weak. Try not eating for a couple days, how does that go? Spending time in God’s Word feeds the soul. Some suggestions.
– Seek quality reading more than quantity reading
Performance based devotional reading wants to feel good about how much it has read. I must be good with God, I read three chapters today. Really, what did you read that you remember? Um. What did you read that you are meditating on? Um. I would encourage you to read at times for depth and times for breadth. There are no rules here. Only goals.
– The Three Question as you read – What do I learn about God? What do I learn about me? How should I apply this today?
In a moment I am going to do a sample morning devos with all of you and I will try and show you how to do this.
Let me just make a comment about journaling. As you know, we retain a much higher percentage when we write it down. Journaling is a way to write down thoughts as you read. These might be applications or prayers or verses. I think this is good and helpful and encourage you to consider doing it.
What should I read? All of it is inspired and profitable. I would encourage you to have some kind of plan, perhaps for the next month. plan. In June I am going to read Luke. Or, the minor prophets. I am a fan of variety. I will occasionally read a shorter book every day for a few weeks. You really get to know it well by reading it over and over again. Mix it up. Don’t get in a rut.
I would also encourage you to have some study help. We live in a day with great resources available. Try a study Bible. I would recommend the ESV study Bible. I would also recommend you not read out of it but have a different Bible that you are reading. This keeps you from too much dependence on the study notes. The Bible is inspired, the notes are not. It can easily be a crutch and keep me from the Spirit’s illumination and application. This also allows you to mark up your extra Bible which I also encourage you to do.
Devotional readings can be helpful.
I think this is the lost element in most Christian’s arsenal. Why do I say that? Remember the goal, fuel the fire. I find that singing a song in the morning gets my soul awake and the lyrics get my mind centered on God.
But I’m not so much a singer. I’m not talking about your family hearing you do your Josh Groban on the Hallelujah chorus or anything. I am talking about a simple song of praise to God. I can’t tell you what a help this is to me.
How Great Thou Art
In Christ Alone
Holy Holy Holy
It is Well with my soul
Come Thou Fount
Praise to the Lord the Almighty
I love you Lord
Great is Thy faithfulness
My Jesus I love Thee
Spirit of the Living God Fall Fresh
There is a Redeemer
Your song list may be different. If you don’t know them by memory, they can easily be printed from the Internet.
Why sing? Singing is the overflow of joy in God but I find singing a worship song helps get me going. If it is a Godward song, it’s just praying with a melody. Try it. Tell me if it doesn’t do something spiritually good.
After reading and singing a song or two, now my heart is ready to go to prayer. This is not a message on how to pray but rather how to stoke the fire daily. So to the end I have suggestions.
– Prayer Walking
Unless I’m weird, I struggle to pray for any length of time sitting down with my eyes closed. Can’t do it. My mind wanders. My body wants to rest or sleep. My mentor Kimber introduced me to prayer walking when I was in college and it is about the only way I do it now. Nothing magical here. By walking I find it keeps blood flowing to my brain. I can concentrate better. My eyes are open. Walk around your basement or backyard or neighborhood. Talk out-loud as you do. That helps as well.
– Prayer Non-talking
I read the quote earlier, pray without ceasing. What? How can we pray all the time? I think what that means that we are to be in a ongoing spirit of prayer. In our time with God, this means I don’t have to talk. Fellowship with God is a recognition of being in his presence. Of consciously seeking Him in my thoughts. This doesn’t mean I have to be talking.
Most of what we hear taught on prayer is on speaking in prayer. Good. However, we need to learn not-speaking in prayer too. This is called meditation, opening my heart to the Lord and consciously think about God and life and realities from his perspective. Meditation is thinking about God or thinking about life from God’s perspective. As I am prayer walking, there are times of prayerful not-talking. I am also listening. Not for a voice. God can do that when he chooses but he never has for me. What I do here are my thoughts shaping around God’s thoughts I just read in Scripture. Turn it over in my mind. Then say something. Pray over the day, meetings, responsibilities, etc. Put it all there before him and commit it to him.
I can’t tell you how often in times of meditation I find resolution to my problems. My life. The church. Whatever. Here is where what I have read in the Bible is important. The Bible is God’s perspective on reality. As I meditate on my reading that day, my thoughts shape around that truth. I need to get better at this but this is the biblical concept of a “renewed mind” means. I’m thinking God’s thoughts after him as they relate to my life and all its categories.
I find it helpful to have some Scriptures memorized that I can pray to God. Must knows:
Psalm 139:23-24 – Search me O God and know my heart…. See if there is any way in me….
Matt. 6:9-13 – The Lord’s Prayer
Galatians 5:22-23 – Spiritual inventory from the Fruit of the Spirit
1 John 1:9 – If we confess, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us
I also have been blessed to read prayers. We think for it to be a prayer, we have to make it up. Valley of Vision is such a helpful guide. A prayer can be read and affirmed in my heart.
Chapter a day/Verse a Day – If you are looking for a starting point, my friend Kimber taught chapter a day, verse a day. Read a chapter in the Bible. Walk away with one verse that is your meditation verse. In the past, I have used tear away business cards. Write down the verse. On the other side, write a prayer request for the day. Put it in my pocket and every time I put my hand, I thought of it. The truth and the prayer. Do your own thing.
Share it with someone during the day – I find if I can casually work it into some conversation it helps. “Its like what I read this morning…. I just read this morning” Then share the thought. Helps establish it in your mind and heart.
Start the day with a prayer – what is the first thing you do? Head for the bathroom? Try to go back to sleep. When I can begin by saying, Good morning, Lord. It begins my day Godwardly. It sets my heart in the right direction. Try it.
© 2011 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s web site address(http://www.bethelweb.org/) on the copied resource.