In the midst of busy lives, it can be hard to take time out to spend with God. Here, Sarah shares some tips on how to make the most of your devotional times.
Now, more than ever, our devotions are divided. We have a job or job hunt that demands the best part of our day, or small children who need constant attention; relationships to invest in; community to cultivate; those in need to serve; family matters; marriage; church commitments; social activities, birthdays, weddings and baby showers to attend; the side hustle; the hobby; travel; the gym; the pursuit of bae; the latest Twitter debate to get caught up in; keeping on top of political goings-on; watching this week’s episode of that show; laundry; dishes; ironing; cleaning. You get my point.
Sometimes it feels like some of these things are vying for our attention before we’ve got out of bed. There are so many things that we pledge ourselves to in time and energy, and in the midst of them there is one devotion that must not be forgotten and that’s our devotion to God.
Work is good, as are relationships and hobbies and celebrating and eating out! God has given them as gifts and He loves that we enjoy them, but our primary enjoyment should be Him. And part of enjoying Him is devoting time and energy to Him, not just in corporate settings (which is vital) but also on our own. More than listening to sermons or worship music or reading Christian books, personal devotion is intentional listening to God, praying and reading the Bible.
Spending time alone with God is integral to our faith but for many of us, personal devotion is difficult. We can’t stick to the routine or our lives are too hectic, or when we have committed to it, it has felt fruitless. For some of us, the problem is that we don’t even know how to have personal devotion.
So here are some suggestions on how to make personal devotion a part of our daily routine and what to do as part of it.
1. Set a time and stick to it
Of course this is easier said than done and won’t always be possible due to changes in schedule, jobs, children, travel etc., but it’s helpful to have some sort of consistency when you can – it also means that those times when you fall out of the routine or really cannot stick to it, you have something fixed to go back to you when you’re able to start again.
Everyone’s different, but for me, I find the mornings a great time for this.
“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” Psalm 90:14 NIV
With all the above things competing for our attention and demanding our energy, making time for God before it all is important – firstly because He’s worthy but also because it can help to prepare us for the day ahead.
For me, I find my phone to be my biggest distraction. I turn off the internet on my phone before going to sleep, that way when I wake up and turn off my alarm, I am not tempted by the notifications that will have popped up during the night and I won’t jump on to any apps. (This hasn’t had a 100% success rate!). Another option is to turn your phone off and use an actual alarm clock.
2. Have structure and focus
As with most things, lack of a plan will make your time less fruitful than it could be. A rough structure to devotion can help you when you are at a loss for what to do or say, but it can also give you the freedom when you feel you’d like to be spontaneous.
Prayer, Bible reading, singing and meditation can all be key features of devotion.
An example might look like this:
(20 min devotion)
Prayer – 5 mins
I like to follow the ACTS method: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (or put simply, asking).
Whatever you do, it is important to praise and adore God first – this puts God in His proper place in our minds, above our problems or the worries we might have for the day ahead.
Bible reading – 5 mins
If you struggle to stay focused while reading the Bible, reading out loud might help. This could be one chapter or it could be just one verse. If you do not know where to start, some good places are: the book of Psalms in the Old Testament or the gospel of John in the New.
Meditation – 5 mins
What does this reveal to me about the character of God?
What does this reveal to me about humanity and/or myself?
How can I apply this to my life?
Singing – 5 mins
I love singing, and find it helpful to sing during my times of worship. Not everyone is a natural singer, but that doesn’t matter to God! There might be a song on your heart because of what you’ve read, or you might like to put on a worship song that is pertinent to the season you’re in and sing along, you might sing your own song to the Lord, or you might read a Psalm of praise and adoration as these were originally written as songs.
It might seem unnatural but you can set a timer for each of these sections. If you have longer, you can extend these times and you could also include some time to journal what God is saying.
If you can only do 5 minutes (you’d be surprised how much time this actually is!), perhaps you could pray – one sentence for each letter of ACTS – then you could read a few verses or a whole chapter if it is short, then meditate on it, thanking God for what it showed you about who He is. To close, if you’re able you could play a worship song (pre-prepared) and listen to it intentionally as you go on with your day.
3. Don’t get legalistic over it
If you miss your personal devotion or find yourself struggling to keep up, do not feel guilty! This practice is not the way that you earn affection from God nor is it the way to merit grace or get your salvation. If you don’t spend time with a good, loving parent, you are not penalised or disqualified from being their child, but there may be some natural consequences. You will find that when you do spend time with them, it is good for your relationship and strengthens the love you have for them and allows them to share more love and guidance with you.
4. Be intentional and expectant
Don’t just do this to tick a box or because it’s what you think you should be doing. Go in with purpose, expectation and excitement that you are going to meet with the God of the universe! It is no small thing. Thanks to Jesus’ finished work we are able to come before God freely. Before we face the world with all its problems, our work with its challenges, our families with all their demands – and even all the good things that they bring – we get to meet with the Creator of the earth – what a joy, what an honour, what a privilege.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV