“…because the scriptures are the word of the Lord—the communication and revelation of the living God—they have effects on us that are better than the effects of anything else we can read or study or watch or listen to. God understands you better than anyone else. He knows how people get to be the way they are and how they are affected by their surroundings. God understands society and groups perfectly. God knows all facts about how the world works. God knows the future and how everything will come out in the end. God is wiser than any wise writer. God is more caring than any counselor. God is more creative than any poet or artist. It simply stands to reason that what God says will be more useful to us than what anyone else in the universe has to say. Not to sit at his feet and soak our minds with his wisdom is sheer craziness if not suicidal.”
Ten Ideas to Help Your Devotional Life
by Albert Turner
First, WHY These Ideas are Important
The word of God—working through the Spirit of God—has incredible power to transform our lives. That is what it does—that is its responsibility and ability according to God’s plan.
But our responsibility, to quote Mike Bullmore, “is to create opportunities for the word to exercise this intended effect.”
And so that’s what I’d like to share with you here: a few important ideas and ways we can go about creating opportunities for the word to exercise its intended effect of transformation. And as I share, I want us to avoid two extremes:
First, these recommendations aren’t “rules you must keep.” Much of what follows is about practice grounded in Biblical principles, but it is possible that some of them may not be the best practice for you. What God commands is that we let His word dwell in us richly, that we grow in it and use it. But how and when and how often will be different for each of us. Singles may have much more ease of opportunity with these practices than parents with toddlers at home. So please understand that I am NOT dictating that these are the ways you MUST study the word of God or else you’re sinning.
Second, the other extreme to avoid is thinking that pursuing God’s word is optional. It isn’t. When Paul said in Colossians 3:16 to let the word of God dwell in us richly, it wasn’t an option. When the author of Hebrews warns us that we “must pay much closer attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away” and fall under God’s judgment (Hebrews 2:1-4), it was not an optional command. When David said, “blessed is the man who delights in and meditates on God’s law night and day,” he was counseling us in the way we should go — a way to avoid the destiny of the wicked who are burned up like chaff. When Jesus — led by the Holy Spirit to face the devil, fought Him off with the word of God — along with fasting from food 40 days — it was so He could tell Satan with integrity: “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus was not only battling Satan for us — He was teaching us what we must live on if we want to truly live.
So, I pray you avoid both extremes. Don’t read these ideas and think you must practice them exactly as presented or else you are sinning. And do not conclude that the pursuit of God’s word is optional and it can be neglected and ignored without consequences.
Rather let’s feed on the richest of fair and through the Holy Spirit find out what David meant when he said, “Your love is better than life!” (Psalm 63:3)
So, without further ado…
Ten Ways to Help you Interact with God’s Word
(Ideas from Mike Bullmore, George Muller, John Piper, and others.)
#1—Set aside the same time and place daily, where you can be quiet and alone with God’s word.
When I was a kid, I used to watch Batman and Robin. Every episode ended with “tune in next time – same bat time, same bat channel!” What can I tell you? Consistency worked. I watched a lot of Batman.
It helps with your devotional life too. Pick out a place that is quiet. Have a Bible you can keep there and not take away. Keep any other devotional materials there.
If at all possible, give yourself unhurried time so you can relax and not have to rush. There is no perfect time, but the point is be able to relax and concentrate.
Husbands, If you have young kids at home, can I suggest that one of the best ways you can lay down your life for your wife is by caring for the kids in the morning so that she can have a devotional time?
#2—Consider making it as early as possible.
After George Muller came to a passionate conviction at age 37, he wrote, “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.” Scripture testifies that meeting with God first thing each morning is to be cherished:
Psalm 5:3 – “O Lord in the morning you hear my voice, in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”
Psalm 88:13 – But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.”
Psalm 92:1-2 – “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.”
Jesus told us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Implies that the day is still ahead of us and that we pray on a daily basis.)
Isaiah 50:4 – “Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”
Mark 1:35 – “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
My typical experience is that as soon as I get up there is a frenzied war from my flesh, the world, and the devil to fill my mind with everything but God and His truth. I think, If the devil can keep me from meditating on God’s word through the morning, He has a much better chance of keeping me away for the rest of the day.
#3—Prepare for distractions and mental drift.
- Turn off your phone!!! (READ THAT AGAIN!!)
- Turn off the computer!
- Get to the quietest place possible.
- Try to keep the kids away.
- Get enough sleep.
- Do push-ups if you get tired.
- Drink coffee!
The world, the flesh, and the devil don’t like it when you spend time with God. Not one bit. And they will conspire to interrupt you. So, knowing that – whatever it takes for you to prepare for that and set up wise countermeasures – get to it!
Also, don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to have any sense of God meeting you. Often times, it takes time to see our hearts become soft towards Him in prayer. Consider D.A. Carson’s reflection on an old Puritan saying “Pray until you pray”:
“‘Pray until you pray’…This is Puritan advice. It does not simply mean that persistence should mark much of our praying—though admittedly that is a point the scriptures repeatedly make. Even though he was praying in line with God’s promises, Elijah prayed for rain seven times before the first cloud appeared in the heavens … That is not quite what the Puritans mean when they exhorted one another to ‘pray until you pray.’ What they mean is that Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying. We are especially prone to such feelings when we pray for only a few minutes, rushing to be done with a mere duty. To enter the spirit of prayer, we must stick to it for a while. If we ‘pray until we pray,’ eventually we come to delight in God’s presence, to rest in his love, to cherish his will. Even in dark or agonized praying, we somehow know we are doing business with God. In short, we discover a little of what Jude means when he exhorts his readers to pray ‘in the Holy Spirit’ (Jude 20)—which presumably means it is treacherously possible to pray not in the Spirit.”
—D.A. Carson in "Praying With Paul"
#4—Have a plan.
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Not that the Bible fails. But I find it so much more difficult to get into God’s word when I don't know where am going to go.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Mike Bullmore recommends one Psalm and one part of another book of the Bible each morning. When he finishes going through Psalms, he begins them again and keeps progressing through other books.
Put a little mark or the date where you finish so you know where to start the next day. If you don’t finish a whole chapter, come back tomorrow right where you left off.
#5—Keep a journal.
Keep it for your thoughts on the passage, your prayers, and even things that are interruptions to your quiet time but are practically important for your day or work.
Write the scriptures you read that inspire you or that God affects you with. Writing scriptures can help with concentration.
Go back over your journal weekly to see how God has been at work. You will be awed to see the prayers Hhe answered when you prayed specifically and recorded your requests in a journal. You will see that God remembered and answered many prayers that you’ve already forgotten about.
#6—Use your weakness and sinful attitude against the enemy.
I find a lot of encouragement from the fact that John Piper does not expect to want to read his Bible when he wakes up! The fact is we all have sin and it wakes up with us every morning. But don't let your lack of desire – at any time – discourage you.
Instead, use your lack of appetite to rely on scripture’s invitation to cry out to God. To fight his lack of desire, Piper came up with a helpful acronym from scripture: I.O.U.S.
Psalm 119:36 – Incline my heart to your testimonies. (Since my heart is inclined to sleep and work and lots of things other than the Bible.)
Psalm 119:18 – Open my eyes to see wonders in your word. (Since my heart is so often dull and blind to the wonders of the word.)
Psalm 86:11 – Unite my heart to fear your name. (Since my heart is often divided and distracted in many directions.)
Psalm 90:14 – Satisfy me with your steadfast love. (Since my heart is so tempted to be satisfied in other things.)
Use the opportunity to be honest with God and to begin to write in your journal how you are feeling and humbly confess your lack of desire, asking for His help. God is not surprised by your lack of desire – He knows and He wants you to come anyway – so that He can help you.
But even if you feel no lack of interest – it’s wise and humble to begin your devotional time asking God to speak to you through His word and to believe that He will.
#7—Because of Jesus, “enter into God’s presence,” expecting God to be gracious and merciful and to speak to you through His word.
It honors God and the sacrifice of Jesus when we believe that because Jesus has paid the price for our sins, God is eager to honor that sacrifice by meeting us in His word through His Holy Spirit.
This is why God tells us in Hebrews 4 to come “boldly” to His throne for grace and mercy. We are to be very confident of God’s love and lavish acceptance of us because Jesus is such an overwhelmingly worthy sacrifice to merit that acceptance. In addition, because Jesus is not just God but also man, He understands our struggles and has sympathy for all our weaknesses and temptations. This should only make us more confident of His help.
Furthermore, Paul tells us in Romans 8 that since God gave His very own Son over to death for us in His love (the greatest gift we could ever receive), he will likewise give us everything good we need in addition, since anything compared to giving us His Son is so incomparably small a thing for Him to do for us.
The point is, scripture commands us trust God and trust His great love for us – no less when we are praying. But where does this faith in God come from? It comes from considering how worthy Jesus is to win our access and testify to God’s love for us. When we come boldly depending on Jesus’ great worth and love – not our performance – we have every reason to expect God to meet with us!
#8—Use scripture prayerfully.
You don't want to be concerned about quantity – getting through the Bible as quickly as possible. It’s more important to be concerned with quality – the Bible getting through you as deeply as possible. One help in this is to read the Bible so that you can pray it. Robert Murray McCheyne elaborates: “Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you were reading the First Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before you, and kneel and pray, ‘O Lord, give me the blessedness of this man’; ‘let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly.’ This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible and of learning to pray.”
This idea changed George Mueller’s life. Speaking of his devotional life, he said this. “Formerly, when I arose, I began to pray as soon as possible and generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer.” The result: “Often after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then began really to pray.”
(Do you ever feel like that? You want to focus …but it’s just not there.)
Then Mueller tried a different approach which lasted for his next 40 years. “I began to meditate on the New Testament, from the beginning, early in the morning … searching into every verse for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found almost invariably is this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation; yet, it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.”
This led Mueller into prayer for others as he read – and he found God used the insights from his morning time to minister to others during his day. You might find this approach comes very easily to you. As you read, you’re able to organically discern ways to praise God and to pray to God from the text itself.
Others of us might find it more helpful if we bring some questions to a passage we have before us. Perhaps, ask these three questions of a text:
1) Who is God (character, attributes, or actions)? THEN PRAY: God I praise/thank you for…
2) Who am I (who do I identify most with)? THEN PRAY: God I confess I am…
3) In light of 1 & 2 above, what does God want of me (does He want belief, repentance, praise, mercy, deed)? THEN PRAY: God please help me to... (fill in the blank)
#9—Memorize and/or carry scriptures for key areas of battle.
Life is warfare and scripture is the most crucial weapon we can put in front of us. Ephesians 6 calls scripture the Holy Spirit’s sword – “The sword of the Spirit is the word of God.” “…and take… and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Ephesians 6:17 ESV)
Two important points about the sword:
1) The sword is the only offensive weapon listed – used not merely for resisting, but also for taking ground against the enemy. The Greek word for sword is for a specific kind of sword. A “gladius.” This was a small cut-and-thrust two-edged sword – not the broad sword Paul may have been referencing. “As Jesus used the words of scripture to repulse the tempter, so must the Christian use the words the Spirit has inspired to drive away Satan.” – Allan
2) According to some scholars – in the context here, the sword is most likely a metaphor for the specific, apt, and appropriate words for a specific situation. “It is significant that in Matthew Jesus himself refers to every word that comes from the mouth of God and employs relevant scriptures to defeat the devil’s strategies.” – p. 89, Expositors (emphasis mine)
There is a reason God gave us so many books in His word. There are specific battles you and I have with fear or anger or laziness or lust – and we are to use God’s word specifically and aptly – not vaguely. I tend to want to be able to live with a vague recollection of scripture. I want to take “a pillow to sword fight.” I am comfortable with my faith being ethereal and mystical and cloudy, but God doesn’t talk to us only in ethereal and vague ways in His word – He speaks to us in precise ways, to deal with precise temptations and fears.
If I am struggling with self-condemnation, I might not need verses about God’s holy requirements for my life at that moment. I might very well need verses about God’s grace in the cross of Christ. I need to see Jesus’ worth on the cross and the sufficiency of His blood for all my sins.
If I am struggling with anger, I might not “hear” verses about God’s call for being ready to share my faith. I might need verses about the danger of rash words and the rewards of gentleness. Or I might need a passage that speaks to my underlying anxiety and fear which is fueling my anger. The point is, I want to find the specific and direct guidance that helps focus precisely on the attitudes my heart needs help with.
And the more I know of God’s word, the more ammunition I give the Holy Spirit to give voice to His expression in my heart.
As David says in Psalm 119:9-11...
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
#10—Remember, your QTs are not your righteousness… Jesus is!
This is an as important a principle to remember as any here. Indeed, if you forget this, then it automatically becomes your most important principle.
We can slip into two wrong attitudes about spiritual disciplines: #1– we can think that because we’re practicing them well (in our eyes) we are more favored by God. Or #2– more commonly, we can think that because we are struggling with them, we are under God’s condemnation. Spiritual disciplines – like prayer and time in the word – are a means – not the end. They are a tool – not the goal. They are a means to experience our relationship with our Father, purchased – not by our spiritual discipline – but by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Just as we can weaken our experience of our relationship with God by failing to spend any time with Him, we can also weaken our experience of God by making our spiritual disciplines the goal rather than the means.
Do you remember what happened to David as he contemplated God’s word in Psalm 19? After seeing God in His word – especially in His laws and statutes and commandments, David said this in verses 12-14...
“Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
This the effect of a spiritually nourishing “quiet time!” David wasn’t led to self-sufficiency. He didn’t say “cool! – quiet time done – check off that box.” He was led to see His need for a Savior and to see God as that Savior.
Well, every time we come to the word of God we should, likewise, see our need and put our confidence in our Deliverer.
Psalm 19 tells us that God’s word “restores” our souls. But apart from the mercy and grace of God expressed in Jesus, God’s word would not restore our soul – it would only condemn our soul. Listen to the author of Hebrews 4…
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
The author of Hebrews is telling us that the word we see, sees us. And apart from a Redeemer, God’s words – which reflects His holy character – call us to places we can never fully live up to and that will bring condemnation upon us.
But we have a Redeemer – we have a Savior – and in spite of our sin, in spite of our weakness – we are not called to despair, but to press deeper into God with confidence through Jesus. And so, the author of Hebrews 4 continues…
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Let the word of God lead us to run to Jesus, to delight in God, and to see how wise and true and faithful He is.