Part 2 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.
Planning is Everything
It’s 10:30 pm. You crawl into bed, tired from a long day. You set your alarm bright and early. You want to give yourself plenty-o-time to “get into the word” before you have to run off to class or work.
The alarm goes off, and to your surprise, you are actually motivated to jump out of bed. You splash some water on your face, make some coffee (OJ for me, thanks) and sit down with your Bible. Deep breath. You have planned up to this point, but now your plan runs into a brick wall. After anxiously flipping through the deep waters of Isaiah, Zephaniah, and Malachi, you sigh. What do I do now?
The famous quote goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Though not an absolute truth, I believe it’s true for a devotion time, which I call my “morning worship.” That’s what devotion times are! Imagine being at a worship service at church on Sunday morning where the pastors and music directors failed to plan. It would be a train wreck of a morning. If you want to avoid a train wreck of your own personal, daily worship time, you must plan.
I never go into a morning worship time without a plan. If I am not on a reading plan, I always work through books of the Bible slowly. Right now, I am studying Romans verse-by-verse (a weighty project!) and Psalm chapter-by-chapter. Monday I might study Psalm 116 and maybe for the next three days I’ll do Romans 7:14-16. Whatever the case, each morning, when I wake up, I know exactly what I am going to do, which keeps me consistent and from becoming weary in my discipline. Each night I go to bed, I know that tomorrow I will spend 45-60 minutes reading, praying, and interacting with God before I go to work. Any plan is better than no plan–so make one!
Oh, and a wise man once told me that “getting a good night sleep is a very Christian thing to do.” Plan to not yawn by getting rest!
Elements of Personal Time with God
How do you interact with God? Or better, what do I do during a devotional time? It might seem obvious to most, so I don’t want to insult you. But for those who are just getting started or are at a fork in the road, let me suggest a few elements to consider.
First of all, a time in the word is incomplete without, of course, the word. And by “the word,” I mean the both Bible and Jesus himself (we’ll talk more about how Jesus is God’s “word” in a later post). If you are not a Christian, spending time reading the Bible will not save you any more than stopping cussing will save you. Keep reading, yes, but give your life to Jesus! Repent of sin and believe in him as your Savior! Nevertheless, though Bible reading doesn’t save you, I am convinced that people who truly love Jesus and trust in him for life, forgiveness, justification before God, and future redemption will read their Bible.
Secondly, prayer is integral when you read the Bible. The Bible without prayer causes us to become cold-hearted, legalistic academics. Prayer without the Bible causes us to become emotionalized, subjective spiritualists. Pray the words of the Bible back to God in praise, confession, thanksgiving, and intercession. Pray for your heart, which tends to wander. Pray for your family. Pray for courage. Pray for the lost. Pray. Pray. Pray. Don’t read for 10 minutes. Then pray for two. Your times with God should be holistic and genuine. A conversation with the Divine is happening. C.S. Lewis wrote that God is doing something extraordinary “in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.” As the Bible infiltrates your life, the natural overflow will be to pray to your heavenly Father.
Thirdly, singing should be a frequent element of your personal devotions. A quick glance at the Psalms reveals that it was normative for the ancient writers to declare their praise or cry for help to God in the form of singing. A Puritan prayer says, “Thou has given me the ordinance of song as a means of grace.” There is something about singing that awakens joy in the believer’s heart. I often grab a hymnal or sing one from memory (normally under my breath so my wife doesn’t think someone is strangling me).
The Lost Art of Journaling
Fourthly, you need to write things down.
Whether you are a writer or not, journaling is also good for the soul. If I don’t write something down, I probably will forget it. I bet the same is true for you. To have a lively, disciplined devotional life, it is imperative that you write things down.
Whether it’s one verse, a short thought (a Tweet?), a sermon on Romans 1:16-17, or a simple prayer, it doesn’t matter. You write to remember, so remember to write! Do this to review and reflect on what God taught you in the past, and because layers of discovery, meaning, and application will flow once words hit paper. It is hard (impossible?) to collect and organize ideas that only stay in your mind and never make it to paper.
I use Evernote, a free journaling software, for my devotions, and other notes. This is helpful for me because I can write a lot more in shorter periods when I type, tag notes for easy reference (as I would a blog), and cut and paste from online Bibles, commentaries, or other texts. I switched from hard-copy journaling because I am able to easily find things without flipping through pages. It just works for me. Outside of my devotional times, I do keep a hard-copy journal close by, and I am never without an abundance of sticky notes, a small Moleskine journal, Google Docs, and my phone for Tweets.
Find what works for you, whether a wide-ruled spiral notebook or an eJournal, and commit to it.