This is my annual New Year’s post about establishing the discipline of devotion. I hope it encourages you to new depths of intimacy with him this and every year!
Nothing is more essential to experiencing the riches of God’s grace than our regular time with him in prayer and study. However, disciplining yourself to spend time with God can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips and suggestions to help you on your way.
- Set a specific time—ideally the same time every day. I believe there is real wisdom in setting aside the first part of your day for this time of intimacy with God. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the Scriptures seem to commend the practice of rising early to meet with the Lord.
- Choose a specific place—again, ideally the same place every day. Having a place set aside will help you to stay focused in your time.
- Start with a small amount of time (ten or fifteen minutes) and slowly work your way up as you become more disciplined. I would even suggest setting a timer if you are just beginning—perhaps five minutes for reading the Word and five minutes for prayer.
- Ask God to give you the discipline and persistence you will need.
- Keep the purpose—to grow closer to God and in godliness—in your mind always. Just as practicing scales on a piano takes on new significance when you hear the sonata you hope to play someday, so picturing the relationship you hope to have with God will give meaning to these times. This shouldn’t be mere ritual.
The two essential components of your time with God are prayer and time in the Word. There are many other fruitful disciplines, of course, such as fasting, solitude and silence, and meditation. But to begin, focus on these two essential disciplines. Here are some suggestions for these two activities.
- Keep a prayer journal so that you maintain focus in prayer. You are far less likely to let your thoughts wander if you are writing as you pray. Keeping a prayer journal also gives you a record of God’s faithfulness in hearing and answering prayer.
- Keep prayer lists so that you know what to pray for. You should pray for your family, friends, self, school or work, church, country, and leaders regularly. Keeping a list of individuals in each category will give you focus. You will soon find you have more to pray for than time in which to pray! (You might also consider praying for a different “category” each day of the week: family on Monday, friends on Tuesday, political leaders on Wednesday, etc.)
- Pray through Scripture to ensure you are praying God’s will and learning from the example of prayer warriors in God’s Word.
- Take time to listen to God. Make sure the conversation isn’t a one-way street. Include a time of silence in which God can speak to you.
- If you haven’t already, try a yearly Bible-reading plan. For some suggested plans and other information, see “Reading through the Bible.”
- Reading through the Bible in a year can be difficult. If you fall far behind, start over at the current date and try again. Remember which days you missed, and try to read them when you have extra time. But always being behind can lead to discouragement and ultimately giving up. Don’t quit! Pick up on the right day and press on.
- Read the Bible with a pen in hand. That is, don’t settle for just reading the Word; study it.
- When doing study, start with the “then and there”questions: what did this passage mean in its original context? A good study Bible will help you enormously in this regard.
- Who are the people in this passage?
- What is happening in this passage?
- Where and when is this passage taking place?
- What is the main idea of this passage?
- Look at key words, structure, emphasis, repetition, tone, genre, and the relationship between ideas (such as cause and effect, questions and answers, etc.).
- Then ask the “here and now” questions: what does this passage mean for me today?
- Do I need to change my thoughts, words, or actions in light of this passage?
- Is there truth I need to accept, where before I had clung to a lie?
- Are there promises to believe? warnings to heed? examples to follow?
- How should this passage change my relationship with God and/or others?
Meeting with God every day is an expression of our love for him and our desire to know him more. We do not meet with him because we should; we meet with him because we long to. He alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68); in his hands alone are found pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Start today—and enjoy the richness of fellowship with the Almighty God.