Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jump Start Your Devotional Life! Part 1

This is the third article in a series on devotional life.  If you would like to start at the beginning, click here.

I recently had dinner with a Christian friend who shared with me his struggles with his devotional life.  I asked him how he was doing in his time with the Lord.  In reply, he showed me his "verse of the day" on his phone.  He stated, "I read the verse that comes up on my phone, pray for my son, pray for my day, and that's about it."  He courageously shared with me that he knows that there is more to devotional life than this, but he can't seem to get there.

I encouraged him first of all that it is God's mercy that he realizes there is more to it than this perfunctory "cross it off the list" type of devotions.  I'm afraid many Christians go for years thinking they can pray for a minute or two in the morning, read a verse, and be off on their way, thinking somehow that they had "performed their duty."  There is so much more available to us than this!  If we think of devotions as a "duty", we really are missing it.  My friend got this.  He was asking for help, and I commended him for this.  I shared with him a few things that have helped me in my devotional life, and I'd like to pass them on to you here as well.

In this article, I'd like to share some "pointers" that may help you in your prayer life.  In a future article, I will share some ideas on how to get more out of your time in God's word.

As they say, let's "begin at the beginning!"

  1. Start early - David said, "In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice..." (Psalm 5:3a) and "...in the morning, my prayer comes before You." (Psalm 88:13b)  The best time to begin devotions for most people is in the morning, before the clamor of life hits us.  We live in an age where most of us are being pulled in many different directions throughout our day.  Whether you are a mom with kids to take care of, a factory worker, or perhaps a busy executive, your day is probably full of stress. You need the Lord's help early to help you to handle the stresses in life before they overwhelm you.
  2. Start Small - Think Big!  - We men especially tend to want to grab a problem and solve it immediately.  However, if your devotional life is like my friend's, you probably are not going to be able to start out praying for an hour or two.  I made this suggestion to my friend, and I would make this to you: Set your alarm fifteen minutes earlier than you usually do.  Can you handle fifteen minutes?  Most people can easily manage to come up with that small amount of time.  Now, in my case, I found I couldn't stay with just fifteen minutes for very long, and I hope that eventually you will find that you want to spend more time with the Lord than this.  However, if you are only praying two to three minutes (or not at all), fifteen minutes is a good place to start.
  3. Think Of Your Devotions As An Offering To God - This one suggestion seemed to hit home with my friend more than anything.  We all know that in Old Testament times, Israelites were expected to bring a daily offering to the temple.  In these New Testament times, we are not asked to make such a physical offering, but nevertheless, we are expected to bring an offering to God each day.  Paul said, "...I urge you...to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." (Romans 12:1)  Many of us know this very familiar verse.  But what does Paul mean by "presenting your bodies" as a sacrifice?  It means many things, but I believe that part of what he is talking about is giving the Lord our time.  Our time is not really our time anyway, just like our money is not really our money.  However, we often live our lives like we think we own our time.  Is it too much to ask to get up a few minutes early each morning as an offering to the Lord?  You might say, "But I'm so tired anyway!"  My response to that is that maybe you are so tired because you haven't been giving the Lord his due.  Here's a truth that was shared with me years ago that I have found to be right.   If you get up early, God will redeem for you the time you've lost.  When I started getting up earlier several years ago for the purpose of prayer, I actually found that I felt less tired than I did before!  I believe you will as well.
  4. Praise and Thanksgiving - I spent a lot of time on the importance of thanksgiving in my last post, "The Greatest Single Ingredient Of A Successful Prayer Life," so I'll not spend a lot of time on it here. We often think of "Praise and Thanksgiving" together, and they are certainly related.  However, they are not the same thing.  Thanksgiving is thanking God for what He has done.  Praise is acknowledging God for who He is.  If God had never done anything for me (which is anything but the case!), He would still be holy, pure, and above reproach, and worthy of my praise.  Praising God for who He is gets me off of "Me Mountain."  In other words, it puts my focus not on me but on the reality of God Himself. 
 Here's a biblical suggestion on something to praise God for:  Praise Him for His three O's.  What do I mean?  Look at these verses with me from Psalm 139:
Praise Him for His Omniscience - This means that God knows all things.  All things about me.  All things about others.  He is never ignorant of anything.  David says, 
O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. (Psalm 139: 1-4)
That is simply breathtaking!  To realize that God is "intimately acquainted with all my ways", all my faults and failures, all my eccentricities, yet He still loves me, has to move me to praise Him! 
Praise Him for His Omnipresence - This means that God is always present everywhere.  He is never absent anywhere.  Pretty startling!  David goes on to say,
Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. (Psalm 139:7-10)
Not only are these beautiful words, but they are bedrock truth.  What a comfort to know that no matter what is going on in my life, God is there!
Praise Him for His Omnipotence -  This means that God is all-powerful.  It wouldn't be much consolation for me to know that God knows everything about me and is always present with me if He couldn't do anything to help me.  However, that is far from the truth.  Let's look one more time at Psalm 139 as well as a verse from Revelation:
For You formed my inward parts.  You wove me in my mother's womb.  I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13, 14)
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Revelation 19:6)
If God created me, He is able to help me no matter with whatever I need!
5.   Don't forget confession! - Confession is a vital part of our prayer life.  Confession is actually telling God what He already knows.  In fact, just as I was writing this, I received some frustrating news...news that I didn't handle very well.  I had to ask the Lord for forgiveness for allowing myself to get frustrated about something over which I have no control.  We don't confess to inform God of anything.  We confess to acknowledge that He knows.  We confess to ask forgiveness.  What an awesome privilege! John says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9)  God is a God of grace and will forgive us of our sins and our failures...but only if we ask Him.  Confession draws upon a "well of grace" that is only open to us when we acknowledge our mistakes.  James makes a statement about this that seems harsh to our modern ears:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)
Humility is rather humbling, don't you think?  This verse isn't telling us to go around in mourning and gloomy all the time.  Rather it is exhorting us to truly humble ourselves before God on a regular basis, even to the point of mourning for our sins.  The great promise is that when we acknowledge our sins and humble ourselves, He will exalt us!

Going back to Psalm 139, David writes a prayer that would be worthwhile for all of us to pray:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139: 23, 24) 
Not sure what to confess?  Well, God doesn't want us just making up things.  But I believe there are few prayers that are more pleasing to God than the prayer to "Search me, O God, and know my heart..."  I try to ask God daily to show me my "secret sins." (Psalm 90:8), both sins of commission and sins of omission (see James 4:17)  My "secret sins" are things about me that He knows but that I am blissfully unaware of.  Believe me, when you pray this prayer, it will be answered!  As He shows you more about yourself and you acknowledge your failings before Him, He will reveal more of Himself to you.  As James says, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you!"

To read "Jump Start Your Devotional Life! Part 2 click here.

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