I had become a Christian around the age of twenty, it was six months on. One of my new friends, a Christian guy whom I had met at church asked me: ‘How are you enjoying the Christian Life’!
How would you answer that?
I had no idea what to say. ‘Um…it’s good I guess!…I am enjoying finding out more about Jesus…Um…is that what you were asking?’
Seeing my discomfort, he asked ‘Are you enjoying your Personal Devotions?’
Well now I was totally lost! What on earth did he mean by ‘personal devotions’ – is he asking if I have stuffed up like I used too? (the answer was yes, but I didn’t really want to tell him that). Was there something that I was supposed to be doing that I had not read in the manual of How to be a good Christian?!
‘Um, I’m not sure what you mean’ I ventured. ‘Your Quiet Times?’ he said. Nope, still no help. Maybe being a Christian meant that sometime in the day I was supposed to be silent and quiet, and although I didn’t think I was particularly loud, I know that I had not given any thought to the idea of being quiet! Oh help.
Maybe it was the blank look that I was giving him, but he got the point. ‘Would you like me to show you what a Quiet Time is – it is a helpful discipline which Christians who are serious about growing in faith tend to make part of their daily lives?’. Yes, please!
Friends, a Personal Devotion (or Quiet Time) is a wonderful discipline (and sometimes a struggle) which helps a Christian to grow in their love and knowledge of God – and it happens by regularly reading his Word and talking to him in Prayer. You listen to Him and he listens to you.
1 John says that the fellowship that Christians have is not just with one another, but with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3). His encouragement is to be people of fellowship, that is people who don’t walk in darkness but who walk in the light (1 John 1:7). Being people of the light is to be a person who obeys the Word of God with the benefit that through it they might be strengthened and not overcome by the evil one. (c.f. 1 John 2).
Reading the Bible and Praying to God is for our benefit.
What does a ‘Personal Devotion’ look like?
Let’s not make this complicated.
First – Read the Bible Daily. Find a part of the day where you know you always do something, and attach to that, some extra time to read through the Bible. For example, if you always have breakfast, then read your Bible whilst having breakfast and schedule in an extra five or ten minutes to do that. Or, if you always watch TV each day, discipline yourself to read five or ten minutes of your Bible before you turn the TV on! Make reading the Bible a daily habit.
Here are some tips (adopt what is most helpful to you, not all of what follows):
- Reading Plan – it may be helpful to follow a reading plan which will guide your through sections of the Bible in a logical and disciplined manner. Keeps you regular! Here is a good suggestion which guides you through the Bible in a year, with videos giving an overview of each book as you come to it.
- Don’t be limited to reading through the whole Bible in a year. Often it is the ‘burden’ that stops people progressing especially if they fall behind the schedule. If you miss a day, then just start where you left of when you get back to it. Equally, you might want to read further than what the ‘plan’ says to read. Key is to keep at it.
- Mark the text. Read with a pencil or highlighter in hand and mark things that stand out (yes, that may mean scribbling over your Bible!). It is a helpful way to look for the important or interesting ideas or themes that unfold as you read through each passage. For some, it will help you remember.
- Put it into your own words. Think to yourself, ‘what is this saying?’ and try and write that down (or draw a picture capturing the idea). It is helpful to think about what it is saying to the original recipients, and then think about what it would mean to us today given what Jesus has done.
Second – Pray to God daily. This goes neatly hand in hand with the reading of God’s Word. He has spoken though his word, and prayer gives us the opportunity to talk back!
And some tips here (again suggestions, don’t feel pressured to adopt them all, just what works for you):
- Pray from the Passage. If you are praying following your reading of the Word, then there will always be things to praise or thank or maybe ask God for. Let the passage be a prompt for prayer.
- Prayer Plan. Praying daily means that you don’t have to pray for everything that is of a concern to you all at once. Pace yourself! Come up with a plan that helps you pray through matters or people that you care about. For example use a thirty day plan that rolls around each month (this previous post may be helpful), or have a file card system which you can write prayer points on and then cycle around, or use a published prayer guide like the CMS Prayer Journal or Operation World.
- Journal. For some, writing a journal of thoughts and prayers can be a useful and personal way of thinking though and responding to what God is saying in his word. Helpfully, it also means you can look back over time and see what God has been teaching you and what prayers he has been answering.
- Accountability. For some, it is helpful to have a friend who you ask to be accountable. Give them permission to ask you how your personal Bible reading and prayer is going. If you do this, recognize that this person is not to be a police enforcer but rather a friend, and the aim is that together you grow in faith and Christlikeness – for the glory of God.
A Personal Devotion need not be a burden nor a long drawn out experience, but it should be a regular experience. And it will be a rewarding experience.
A great resource that I have used for years are the Scripture Union reading Guides.There is a variety of guides at different levels with helpful commentary each day. I have been a member of SU for more than 40 years! They also do a lot of valuable work with chaplaincy and holiday work.
We can thank God for many years of excellent resources – and Scripture Union have lead that way in many areas especially their Daily Bible Reading Notes. Thanks for the testimony Sally.