I’ve been on a journey with God for about 15 years now. During that time, I’ve experimented with just about every method there is out there for spending time with God and have discovered that there are essentially three steps to a devotional process.
Spending time with God involves intentional time in God’s word. There is the temptation, at times, to spend most of the time in devotional literature. So, for example, someone might read an entry from My Utmost For His Highest and call it a day. That may be ok and enough for some people, but I’m convinced that spiritual leaders have to go deeper. They have to spend more time in the Bible than just a few minutes.
By the way, through the process I’m outlining here, I’ve found that my time with God has increased.
I begin this process by reading 4-5 chapters of the Bible a day.
As an aside, allow me to make a brief comment on Bible study plans. I’m a big fan for anything that gets people in the Bible. Some time back I experimented with a Bible reading plan that follows a “rake” method. There is an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and also a reading from a Psalm or Proverb. While there are some that enjoy this method, I found that it’s not much helpful for me. Why? Because it makes you jump every day to different portions of Scripture and you lose the sense of story that I believe is part of the Bible.
After experimenting with this “rake” method without too much fruit, I switched to reading the Bible through one chapter after another. This has allowed me to see wonderful patterns in the Bible that I always missed before. I can come back the next day and still remember what I read the previous day. Stories develop with a sense of context and God’s unfolding narrative becomes evident.
By the way, allow me to also make a brief case for spending devotional time with a translation that is easily understood. I’m reading through the Bible this year in The Message translation and I’ve been really blessed. If you can’t understand what you’re reading what use is it?
The second step of this devotional process is to reflect and to ask “what does it mean?” I’ll usually focus on one particular chapter or section and seek to dive deeper and to have a sense of what it’s actually about. It’s at this point that I might pull out other devotional literature or even commentaries. I want to really dig in to discover the meaning of the passage and section.
This is the piece that I didn’t really spend much time on in the past. I’d read a section of Scripture, and even if I didn’t really understand the section or become inspired by it, I’d assume that my subconscious had absorbed something, and I’d be on my way—I had spent time with God. But now I try to be intentional about zooming in on one of the chapters or stories and seeking to reflect on it.
Here are the kinds of questions that I ask myself during this section:
What’s the meaning?
What’s the point?
What’s the main idea?
What was God trying to teach His people?
I’m reflecting and thinking about the story.
The last piece is to respond. God has spoken to you and revealed Himself to you. Now it’s your turn to respond to Him. This is often the prayer time for most people.
I pray in two ways.
First, I pray and respond to God through a journal. I confess that this is a relatively new thing for me. I’ve been journaling now for about the past six months and I’ve been really blessed by it. I do it on my iPad. I use the Penultimate app. (You can read more about how I use the iPad here.) I open up a new page, write down the date, and write down the text that I’ve been reflecting on. I then talk to God about it.
For example, here’s a recent entry from a reflection on 2 Chronicles 8:14:
(I quoted the text)
“Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter from the City of David to a house built especially for her, ‘Because,’ he said, ‘my wife cannot live in the house of David king of Israel, for the areas in which the Chest of has entered are sacred” (Message Translation).
(Then I wrote part of the following)
“Lord, Solomon knew that his actions were wrong, but he did it anyway. He didn’t want to desecrate holy areas with her presence. Lord, what about me? In what ways am I bringing unholy things into my presence? Things that I know will affect me?”
It’s simple, but it’s me talking and praying to God. I’m thinking about what happened. This is a really important step for me.
Second, after I’ve spent time journaling, I do like to spend a few minutes on my knees talking to God about other things. This is where I spend time confessing sin, praying for others, and bringing requests to God.
This whole process can easily take an hour or more. It goes quickly.
What’s The Bottom Line?
After writing something like this, it’s easy to come away with the impression that my devotional time is perfect and that I come up off my knees on a spiritual high every day. That wouldn’t be accurate. Sometimes I don’t come away with a sense of a deep lesson in the story. Sometimes I don’t feel like I was able to connect with the story very well. And that’s ok. Through this process, I know that God is building me. He’s changing me. He’s fitting me. He’s growing me.
It reminds me of this quote:
We all have those times when there are no flashes of light and no apparent thrill to life, where we experience nothing but the daily routine with its common everyday tasks. The routine of life is actually God’s way of saving us between our times of great inspiration which come from Him. Don’t always expect God to give you His thrilling moments, but learn to live in those common times of the drudgery of life by the power of God. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 167)
I continue to come back every day. One day might seem a little average, but then I’m able to see something really powerful the next day and it’s all worth it!
This process has been a big blessing in my life.
So what about you? What have you found to be helpful in your time with God? (To leave a comment click here.)
[image by Jasmin]