One of the most basic instincts of the follower of Jesus is a daily quiet time. Some people call it their “devotions”. Simply, it’s a time set aside each day to get alone and, at the very least, read the Bible and pray.
This is such a vital activity for fueling a Christian’s spiritual walk, and yet many struggle to make it a consistent discipline in their life. We know we should do it; we quickly realize the benefits when we do, and sense our loss when we don’t. But busyness and the distraction of less important things so often crowd out our best intentions.
If you’ve struggled with this up until now, let me suggest some simple plans for having a truly transformational quiet time. If you begin to experience real impact and life change, what once was hard will become so life-giving that you’ll start looking forward to it every day with expectancy.
1. Come as you are
It’s a mistake to think that you need to somehow make up for lost time and broken promises. Guilt only paralyzes us; it is a very poor motivator. By all means confess your past failure to God, but accept the forgiveness He promises (1 John 1:9), and realize that He lovingly desires for you to come and fellowship with Him and grow strong. Our relationship with Him is based on Jesus’ perfect work on our behalf, not on our own “performance”.
Be realistic and start out modestly. If you try to dive into very long sessions immediately, the typical result will be that you will just fail to keep it up and be discouraged all over again. Better to consistently spend 20 minutes at it, than to try for an hour but only be hit-and-miss.
2. Find your “place”
Jesus talked about going into “your room” to pray (or “your closet” in the Authorized Version – Matthew 6:6), and it says to shut the door. You should have a designated place where you can be alone and uninterrupted, and reasonably comfortable, without a lot of distractions. It might be a study room or a nook in your basement or attic. In good weather it may be out on a porch or in your garden.
Once you’ve identified that place you like to go to, use it as often as you can so that it becomes familiar enough to fade into the background of your focus.
3. Establish a dedicated time … and stick to it
You want to put your quiet time into your daily routine, and protect that time slot so that it becomes a consistent habit.
A question often asked is “Does it have to be early in the morning?” The answer is no. Some people find they focus better in the evening, and for moms with young children the early morning can often be too busy and prone to little interruptions.
Having said that, the fact is that for many of us, if we don’t get our devotional time in the morning we won’t get it at all. Period. The old saying is true: “Lose an hour in the morning and you’ll have to chase it all day.” Often people claim they are “not morning people”, and that may be true, but it may also be just an excuse. Try disciplining yourself to get to bed early and then honestly evaluate how effective morning devotions are when you do have them. Spending time seeking God before the issues of the day begin can change your whole perspective.
4. Send up a prayer for help
As you begin each day, don’t forget to ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. He is the Author of the Bible, and will help you understand it as you read (John 16:13). He will also lead you in prayer when you don’t know what you should pray (Romans 8:26-27).
5. Start with a Bible reading plan
The Bible is how God will speak to you every day. Read it first.
You may decide to use a book of devotions. Lots of people do, and they can be very beneficial, especially some of the proven “classics” like Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening”, or Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest”. But our primary spiritual food is not other people’s thoughts about God’s Word, but God’s Word itself.
Use a reading plan so that you are working your way through your Bible in some systematic way.
6. Use a notebook (but I didn’t say the “J” word)
“Journaling” has been a very helpful process for lots of Christians down through the years, helping them to conserve the things they discover in their Bible reading and their musing on it, and to record things they prayed for and saw answered.
But there are many people who find that the pressure to have to try and write something every day becomes a chore that they dread. My simple suggestion is that if you’re one of those people, DO keep a notebook handy to jot down anything you don’t want to forget, but don’t impose the expectation on yourself to have to write daily. Notebooks make wonderful servants, but terrible masters. And write for yourself, not for generations to come – that thought will most definitely stop you writing anything.
7. Grow in prayer
“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
We’re not coming on our own initiative; God invites us to come confidently before His throne (Hebrews 4:16). Not with arrogance, but the confidence of a son or daughter coming to their Father.
If you struggle to pray, you’re in good company: so did the disciples (Matthew 26:40). It’s a spiritual battle. Here are a few hints for the fight:
- Prayer is a glorious privilege; don’t demote it to a mere “duty”. We do this when we approach it as just having to “get through our list”. Prayer is a living conversation, not a dead monologue. God is listening, so speak to Him with sincerity. Nothing will kill prayer faster than what Jesus called “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7).
- Experiment with models. When Jesus gave his disciples “The Lord’s Prayer” it wasn’t intended for memorization and rote repetition, it is a model; each line is a prompt for all the important things prayer can and should include. You can use other models too. Many of us were taught to pray “A.C.T.S” - Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. A model like that can help keep your mind from wandering.
- Let an old prayer warrior” prime your pump”. Some great men and women through history wrote down their prayers, and we have them today. The Prayers of John Wesley, David Brainerd, etc. Reading one of their prayers can be a great inspiration as we begin to pray ourselves. One resource that I cannot recommend highly enough is “The Valley of Vision”, a compilation of Puritan prayers. Many mornings it has helped me direct my prayers toward the greatness of God. Which brings me to the last thought:
- Prioritize worship and thanks. Prayer should not be merely a “shopping list” of needs. God does want to hear those concerns (“give us this day our daily bread”), but great prayer that changes our lives is when we focus on God Himself, thanking Him for all He has done and adoring Him for Who He is. Another help you might bring to prayer with you is an old hymn book. Speak out to God the words of an old hymn of worship.
I hope that one or two of these things have given you some ideas and inspiration for freshening up your daily quiet time, or given you hope to get started again.
Found something that has really helped you have great devotions? Leave a comment and tell us about it .