Our lives are under a bit of a microscope these days.
Our home life is right in our faces. We have a tighter visual on our daily habits, our emotions, and what’s going on around us. This can be daunting but it’s also an unmissable opportunity to buckle down and see real improvement in certain areas.
One area that I have seen improvement in during this season is my devotional life. Consequently, I’ve been thinking about how it’s evolved over the years and what really needs to be included in it.
I truly believe this is one of the most misunderstood spiritual disciplines in the Christian life. We have created many obstacles for ourselves out of our own minds.
Some people think you need a ton of time or absolute quiet or the stamina to wake up at 4:30am—criteria that causes them to conclude that a “perfect” devotional life is only attainable for certain lifestyles and temperaments. I have news for you: these thoughts are excuses generated by fear or laziness.
Another misconception is that devotions have to be super complicated, with lots of “equipment”, such as a detailed Bible study or reading plan or lots of books and journals.
The biggest misconception is that only “certain types of people” can be “successful” at devotions. This comes from our tendency to compare ourselves with others who have radically different lifestyles and options than we do.
Over the years, I’ve subscribed to these wildly different expectations myself and the result has been a lot of trial and error. To this day, my devotional life is still a work in progress. And it’s meant to be. The reason for that is because it’s part of our life journey into spiritual maturity. It’s not about checking some box.
I have found that anytime I am struggling with a concept or a discipline, it’s usually because I am viewing it in terms of ME—what I am able to do and how well I feel able to do it. But let me give you a better way.
The key component that has changed everything for me has been the knowledge that the God of the universe wants to meet with me.
He is always with me, He lives inside me through the Holy Spirit because of what Jesus did, and He loves me so much that He designed me to live in unity with Him, growing in maturity as I pursue Him.
Do you want freedom in areas you struggle with? Do you want to grow in a particular area? Then view everything in light of HIM!
Devotional life is about pursuing the Lover of your soul—the One who pursued you first and transforms everything He touches.
As you pursue Him, He will bless your pursuit. He will make Himself known to you. He is not trying to trip you up. He is not watching you with a grade book to see how you “do” at devotions.
This is a relationship. A dance. A daily impartation. A lifelong walk. Every day will look different. This is okay.
Now that this is clear, I would like to present three brief notes on timing.
First, you’re going to hate me, but there is something symbolic and special about mornings. There is an immense amount of power in kicking your day off with Christ as the center. Giving God the firstfruits of your time makes a huge difference in your day. It honors God and benefits you greatly to surrender your day to Him when it first begins. Not only did Jesus and many other people in the Bible rise early to seek the Lord, the Psalms are full of references to the morning being a prime time to do so. Psalm 119:147 is just one of those verses, “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for your words.”
Secondly, I used to roll out of bed and immediately try to pray or read the Bible and it made me want to go back to sleep. It doesn’t have to look that way. Your devotional activities can be stretched throughout the morning, with different aspects occurring at different times. For instance, you could sing along with a gentle worship song while you get your kids up, and then move into quiet Bible reading time after they’re off to school and you’ve had your coffee. If something isn’t working with your routine, change it up.
Thirdly, there is also something to be said about giving God time before bed. We often make it way too hard on ourselves, loading down our minds with chaos and stress and media. All the while, the Prince of Peace is right there with us wanting to fellowship. Readjust your thoughts and align them on Him. Release the events of the day, fill yourself with His Truth, and let His Presence surround you as you go to sleep. Psalm 16:7 tells us that the heart that is open to God’s counsel receives it even at night.
Again, it’s a grace-filled walk, engaging with God throughout your day and into the night. He is King of your time.
With this in mind, I do believe there are a few key elements that a solid devotional life needs.
1. Praise. Praise centers you in God’s Presence, changes the atmosphere, and calls the meeting to order, so to speak. It readies you to receive, fills you with joy, and reminds you of who He is. Praise is so powerful that the biblical kings of old used to sometimes send worshippers out before their armies (2 Chronicles 20:21)! You can start by just talking to God as you wake up, thanking Him for everything you appreciate about Him.
2. Prayer. Pour out your heart to God, verbally, musically, or via writing, but don’t let this go on too long before listening. Prayer is an encounter, not a soapbox, and you can stress yourself out by simply recounting your problems without receiving from God. Sometimes, if I don’t know where to start, I will go down a list: five declarations of praise, four attributes of God that I love, three wonderful truths that I’m anchored in right now, two things I want to ask for, and one declaration of hope to close things out. Consider the heart behind how Jesus taught us to pray—joyful acknowledgement of the Father and surrender to His Will, releasing of our needs, and confident trust in His forgiveness and keeping (Matthew 6).
3. Listen. Follow the Spirit’s Leading here. This stage can encompass many things. Over time, He will illuminate Bible reading plans, books, journals, music etc. The main thing here is to ask Him what He wants to do or say, and then receive it. Don’t become fixated on making this complicated. God knows you inside and out and He knows how He wants to reveal Himself to you. It doesn’t have to be via an audible voice or an angel.
4. Study. This could include deeper topical studies or books or devotionals, but the Bible is a key component, and it’s okay to meditate on one section over and over. Again, the focus is the revelation of God. Let the Holy Spirit lead you and make sure you ask Him what a particular topic or verse reveals about God and what action you can take. Then pray it back to Him.
5. Record. This can be via video, voice memos, journaling etc. Writing down or recording what God says and what you’re learning in His Presence is so vital. This will help lead into the action step, and it’s always amazing to look back and see progress later on.
6. Action. Ask God what steps you can take. Is there something to memorize or take with you into your day? You’ll be surprised at how He has anticipated what you will need. Receive His Perspective as your Battle Plan for the day. It’s so worth it. Your faith will grow as you continually remember what He gave you. We receive the life of Christ so we can go and do likewise and share what we’ve been given with others.
Devotional activities can happen in the midst of other things but it is true that you will make time for what is important to you. If you are serious about your desire to pursue God and grow in Him, you will set aside time for Him, regardless of what else is in your life. You will practice and try new things and ignore comparison as you figure out what works for you in this season because you know you need God.
As you start the ball rolling and get used to hearing His Voice, you will start hearing Him everywhere and seeing His Hand in every area of your life.
We often get very religious about devotions, like there’s a minimum requirement we have to meet in order to check the box on our spiritual chart. We also know that it’s important, in theory, and so that’s added pressure. However, again, it isn’t meant to be something we earn like a merit badge.
The main goal is PURSUIT OF HIM!
Devotions is all about God, His worthiness to be pursued, His desire to pursue us, and what happens when we do!
However, in the midst of trying to “get something done”, we often forget the relationship aspect, and the goal, which is transformation! In the same way that we often procrastinate on the most important task of the day, we will often fight to do anything but what God wants to do, talk about anything except what He wants to talk about. We fight to protect our religious obligations even if it means we miss out on encountering God.
But He desires to reveal Himself to us in His Word, in life, in our personal struggles—everywhere.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do for God is the thing He told you to do just now. But this is where our mindset needs to change.
Again, we do need structure and routines. But I am learning that devotions can’t be about meeting requirements. You have to start seeing it as a need for HIM. He will grow more irresistible to you as you pursue Him in faith.
When you are in love, you don’t fully know the person yet but you pursue them and drink them in every chance you get because you believe they are worthy of knowing better and you believe that knowing them will change your life. We have to think about devotions in terms of pursuing God’s Heart and letting Him reveal Himself to us because that is what produces real change. And that is what the world is looking for. Real change. Brought about by real people who know a real God and really know what He can do because they’ve seen it in their own lives.
Transformation starts with surrendering to how God wants to reveal Himself. Be willing to go into any subject with Him, no matter how awkward or painful. He wants to redeem everything. He wants to equip you and fill you to overflowing so you will be ready for any season, equipped for every good work, and ready to share with others (2 Timothy 3:17).
Call out to Him, let Him lead the way, and He will teach you great and wonderous things that you did not know (Jeremiah 33:3).
This is what our devotions are meant to grow into: a headlong, heartsick pursuit that stretches into our entire lives and causes orchards of fruit to spring up that will last for generations and glorify God. This is how we show ourselves to be Christ’s disciples, by bearing fruit. And in order to bear fruit, we must pursue the Vinedresser (John 15).
If you do anything differently in this set-apart season, learn to know Him better. The resultant encounters will transform the rest of your life in ways that you will never regret.