Has the thought of doing a daily devotional ever felt similar to the feeling you get when you think about doing your taxes: You know you should do them; you know you need to do them, but getting started leaves you feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed? And like taxes, you’re downright horrified by the thought of being ‘audited’ by those well-meaning saints who ask specifics about how your quiet time is going, how consistent you’ve been, and what you’re learning. So you make yourself a promise that it will happen tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the first day of consistent daily devotions. Somehow, tomorrow it will be easier.
But when tomorrow comes, you decide that matching socks, cleaning gutters, sorting the recycling – any dreaded task – is more urgent right now. And another devotional-less day passes with that same guilty feeling nagging at the back of your mind. You wish that the thought of daily devotions didn’t leave you feeling like such a failure.
I know that feeling!
This quarantine has been shaking things up in my life. My time and relationships have definitely been impacted – some for the better and some, not so much. It has taken intentionality and scheduled time to nurture the relationships outside my home and it’s taken just as much energy to nurture the relationships within my home. Relationships where there wasn’t much overlap to begin with have become even less significant in my day to day, and some relationships have become altogether irrelevant. On the other hand, relationships I’ve intentionalized have deepened and grown to be even more dynamic as we have flexed and prioritized in the reality of these unusual circumstances.
It’s easy to recognize the way that intentionality and prioritized time positively impacts our relationships with friends and colleagues. We sometimes forget that it is the same in our relationship with God. The more intentional quality time we spend in fellowship with God, the deeper and richer our relationship with Him becomes. The opposite is also true.
Here are a few thoughts to stimulate and encourage your individual time with God, and perhaps some ideas to answer the How To of daily devotions.
Joyful Expectation – Like any exciting relationship, joyful expectation is the engine. Think about how exciting it feels to pull up to a coffee shop for a meet up with a friend or loved one you have been missing. You can’t wait to see their face, to catch up, to connect. That is joyful expectation. Throw off any dark, heavy feelings of appeasing God or easing your guilt. Meeting with God is a joy and He’s really excited about it too! God is equally waiting in joyful expectation of his time with us. Scripture says that he sings over us. He is a father longing to commune with his beloved child and to transform us day by day into a nearer version of who He has designed us to be.
Creating Space – For good things to happen, space must first be created. Bakers start with a clean kitchen, artists start with a fresh canvas, the day is cleared for a special celebration, musicians clear the sound waves before they begin to record. Creating space in our day and removing ourselves from distractions and interruptions for our time with God is an essential practice. The space isn’t because God doesn’t like the competition – the space is for us. Your brain actually needs the uninterrupted space and separating from stress triggers to settle and come to a place of receiving. Creating space allows us to turn off the stress response part of our brain and turn on the creative, receptive part of our brain. Step away from your device. Put a movie on for the kids. Step outside or into a quiet space. Exhale. Be still. Breathe.
Open Your Bible (I mean a real, actual, paper bound Bible) – Isn’t it crazy that one of the easiest ways we can miss out on reading our Bible is by spending our devotional time reading devotional books? This is not to disparage devotional aids. God can absolutely use devotionals to speak to us and to change our lives, but devotionals are no substitute for Scripture. There is something unique and powerful about opening your Bible and reading straight from the the Good Book. The Word of God is living, active, and powerful – there simply is no substitute for the living Word of God. Sometimes it can be hard to know where to jump in, but that’s part of the adventure. Start by asking the Holy Spirit to direct you and to speak to you through the scriptures. Lean in with trust. As we trust, God shows himself trustworthy. Open your Bible and see what God has to teach you today!
Sip, Don’t Guzzle – Start by taking a verse, a paragraph or a small section. Maybe something you’ve marked in the past, maybe something new. Read it several times. Read it slowly. What do you see? What does this remind you of? Allow your imagination to work. Put yourself in the story. How would you feel? Maybe read more of the context. Maybe don’t. Keep it simple. Keep it small. Sit in it. Close your eyes and ruminate. Be still. What do you hear? Is the Spirit impressing an idea on your heart?
Meditate on What You’ve Heard – Are there other ways God has been speaking a similar message in your life? Are you seeing some uncanny Coincidences? (Ken and I talk about “Coincidences with a capital C” meaning, coincidences that have God’s fingerprints on them). What other connections are you seeing? Keep asking, “Lord, what do you want me to see here? How are you trying to change my heart?” Does other scripture come to mind? Follow the trail: there are no rules to daily devotions.
Conversation – There is power in the spoken word. Speak your heart to God. What are you thankful for? What are you afraid of? Observe creation, how do you see the goodness and the majesty of God around you? What are your concerns? What is your pain? Who do you need to forgive? Out of the heart the mouth speaks. God knows your heart. He loves you; period. As a good friend of mine says: God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it! So speak your truth to God and then allow the Spirit space to have the final word. Be still. Listen. Receive.
Take Away – Write it down! You really won’t remember these insights with the same clarity in a week – even if it seems super profound right now. Journal your thoughts. Pen your prayers. Boil down the take-aways and write them as succinctly as possible. Is there a verse you’d like to memorize and take with you this week? How is God transforming your heart? In what ways did He show you how great is his love for you? Is there something that kept popping up in your thoughts that you need to give over to God’s care? Is the Spirit prompting you to act on something you heard? Don’t forget to date your journal entry so you can come back to it and see how the Lord has answered your prayers and used your insights to transform your life.
Devotionals do not have to be daily, but I think you will find that the more you taste, the hungrier you will be for more. As you begin to experience the presence, comfort, guidance, and power of the voice of the Lord in your life, you will find yourself coming back more and more frequently and the scriptures will become food for your soul and nourishment for your bones. As the counsel of the Lord soothes your weary soul and calms your frenzied mind you will find your daily time with the Lord something you anticipate and rely upon in order to really feel like yourself. It will become a great joy in your life.