Do you manage to get some quiet at the beginning of the day in order to spend time with God? For many Christians it's a worthy goal but one that gets lost in the busy-ness of the beginning of the day and before we know it we've hit tea-time without finding that time to spend with our Father.
I've been thinking a bit about devotions recently, mainly because I have had 3 very different devotionals through for review - and although I haven't got around to reading through them all yet it has prompted me to think of my morning routine.
The Quiet Time
I have always been brought up with the idea that you spend time alone with the Bible and prayer (at least) every day. Some of the mission work that I have been involved in has laboured this quite heavily and each day time was set aside for a "quiet time" in the morning. My Dad was a brilliant model of this to me too, he was a lorry driver and would start early in the morning - so early in the morrning I would class it as the middle of the night. Occassionally when I needed a trip somewhere on his route or just for the fun of it I have been to work with him. He had a routine and he stuck to it. He would get up, sort his flask of coffee or tea and head out the door. Due to driving from Cornwall to Somerset each day, due to driving hours regulations he would have to stop for rest periods - and in this time he would eat his lunch and read his Bible and "Our Daily Bread" from the Radio Bible Class (now called Our Daily Bread Ministries) and spend some time in prayer.
Today with busy lives it is something that I think a lot of people are missing out of their day. Despite having this modelled to me so powerfully I still find it hard to get time in the day.
Perhaps your day is like mine. I get up before 6:30 am and my first child needs to be got up for school. Packed lunches need to be made before making sure everything is sorted for her to leave the house, as I work from home I am also beginning to get my working day organised as much as possibleand even starting making some of the first calls of the day. Then 7:30 the boys are woken up and sorted and dispatched for school then once they have left my head is down getting work done. When work is finished, at least for that part of the day, it's onto housework and maintaining this website, listening to music, writing about it etc. Then the kids arrive at home, tea, bedtime routine and then squeezing in a little time with my wife before needing to get my head down for the night so I can be up early the next morning! Does that sound anything like familiar? That's the hamster wheel that most of us live in. For those who manage a full time role and a full commute it can be even more packed and frustrating. Where in this world are we meant to spend time with God?
I think most Christians I know aim to spend time with God, but many of us miss badly. We know we should. We've all heard enough sermons on the benefits of knowing our Bibles and a constant prayer life, we can even see how it all makes sense. It's even something that Jesus modelled that early in the morning he would withdraw to speak with His Father. Ultimately we also know that we are weak human beings and if it comes to a choice between reading our bible and a prayer time, or an extra 20 minutes in bed, the duvet will win every time!
I once read a book called Discipline by Howard Guinness that suggested that if you have trouble waking up to read the Bible early, a cold bath may help you to focus! While I am sure this is a bit extreme but the theme of his book does suggest that it's not an easy thing to pursue God and to fulfill the desire to spend time with Him. Could I, if I really tried, find more time to spend with God - almost certainly. It is a case of denying myself in order to follow more closely.
Firstly I need to have the desire to know God better. If I am totally honest with myself I guess that passion isn't always where it should be, time and a little knowledge can make me complacent. So I need this resparked inside of me. I need the Holy Spirit to fire me up again, to give me a zeal to seek and know God. This desire is often something that is fired up when we have a particularly good church experience with other believers sharing what God is doing inside of them, but that small flame is so often snuffed out by midweek. So I must strike while the iron is hot and set aside time on Monday to spend this time with God.
I am very weak and know my own failings. I need to plan how this is going to work - where will this come in my day? Will I sacrifice time under the duvet, or will I take a break in my working day to set aside this time? Once that is worked out I need to work out what resource I will use to focus me. Procrastination is a weakness for me and if not planned I would spend my time set aside on the Monday flicking through the various devotionals available on my Bible app and before I know it I would be out of time! So I need to decide in advance what to read. There are some who say that we should be "led by the Spirit" into what we should read and I am not against that, but at this point I need to get into a good habit first by planning, of course the Holy Spirit can overrule this, but how will I know to recognise the Spirit if I haven't spent time in His presence recently?
It's great having a plan, but it has to be followed. This is the hardest part, the bit that takes determination. I can think of many reasons why I, or others, still could not get around to reading the Bible daily.
- It takes me an hour to drive to work. Great! That gives you an hour to listen to an audio Bible, listen to praise music, to even pray - just remember you don't have to close your eyes to pray!
- My commute takes me on public transport - I can't read my Bible on the bus, people will stare at me! Maybe lugging around a Bible on the bus or train isn't a great idea, but most of us carry something with us that we spend most of the journey looking at anyway. There are some great apps that give you a free Bible and devotionals.
- I know the Bible too well, I never learn anything new. This might be a tinge of the complacency I mentioned earlier. I have been a Christian for the better part of 26 years so I know my Bible fairly well. I know Genesis and Exodus, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, and most of the New Testament pretty well, but there is still nuggets of Gold to be mined in those, not to mention all the minor prophets and the books of wisdom. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes for new revelation when reading.
- My days are just too busy, I can't manage to find 15 minutes to read the Bible and pray. Yes, mine too! It's funny though because more often than not I have time to keep up with my favourite TV programmes and I'm normally aware of what people are up to on Facebook. I am pretty sure that some of this time could be used more effectively for me.
So there are many,many resources out there to help you read the Bible. In fact it is a whole subsection of the Christian publishing industry and that's what started me thinking about this whole thing in the first place. If you have limited time to really focus on God in the mornings then you want to read something worthwhile. A couple of days ago I reviewed "Daily Readings From Live Love Lead" by Brian Houston the Global Lead Pastor of Hillsongs, it scored just 3.3 out of 10. Why so poor? Well because to me it was all out of balance. There was one Bible verse, a page and a half taken from the main "Live Love Lead" book, a thought and a prayer. To me it seems the focus should be on God revealed through his Word, backed up with some inspirational thoughts and possibly some background and exposition of the reading where appropriate.
There are many good devotionals out there for people from all walks of life. I have one waiting for review that is a set of devotional thoughts for dog lovers! There are expensive devotionals from big names in Church circles and often there are free ones as well that can be found online, although be careful because starting your day with God can quickly move to just checking the news, sport or some other distraction. If you are someone who prefers something in print then Our Daily Bread is a free resource you can have posted to you, or you can read online or listen to an audio version!. If you can resist the temptation to play with your phone a free resource is YouVersion App (for Android, iOS and Computer) which gives you access to many different translations of the Bible, but also a whole wealth of devotionals from well known pastors and teachers through to reading through the Bible in a year. It helps you track your progress and you can set a daily reminder to read the devotional if you want.
It's not New Year but TODAY is a great time to make a resolution. To set aside 10 or 15 minutes from your day to seek God through His Word and in prayer. If you have time and maybe an empty house then possibly through worship too! Can you do it? I know if I do then it will benefit me Spiritually and change my outlook for the day, to start with hope and a conversation with someone who loves me unconditionally will always help. Bring to God your desire for intimacy with Him, to get to know Him better and to rejoice that He has gone ahead and prepared your day for you in all it's good and bad, and whatever you encounter today, tomorrow or after that He is right there with you!
And if you miss a day or two, start again - pick up where you left off. Don't give up, keep going!
This is a challenge for me, but will you pick it up and run with it? Feel free to comment below and share your reasons for daily devotions, or your habits you have developed or the resources you use.