The great struggle. That is how I would characterize my journey to work on my relationship with God in a consistent and structured manner. There were times when I would read and pray every day and there were times when my bible actually collected a thick layer of dust. I have the feeling that most Christians know what I am talking about.
So what is the current situation you might wonder? At which ends of the spectrum is he now? Well by now I have established a habit of spending time 95% of the week with God. Establishing the habit has been a grueling process which eventually yielded this result.
Definition of devotion
The word devotion in its capacity as a noun can be defined as: “Time used for the sole purpose of performing acts conveying love, respect, and admiration for an object, entity or cause”. In our case as Christian men, it is thus the time we take to praise, thank, confess to and converse with the Creator. At the bare minimum, it is our time of prayer.
Day and night
Studying the Bible one might notice, that the mentioning of prayer is often accompanied by the phrase “by day and by night or day and night or night and day”. I confess that for the longest time I read this and just chalked it up to be the go-to phrase for the meaning “continuously/always”. But when you dig a little deeper and see that the prophet Daniel beefed this up with a noon prayer, ending up with a three times a day schedule, you realize that it just meant what it said. By day (for example in the morning) and by night. Twice a day at least.
This realization is strengthened when you do a little research and find out that the Israelites understood the phrase to be meaning twice a day. As a consequence, they had a minimum daily prayer schedule of a morning and an evening prayer. This was the minimum as there was also a custom of praying thrice a day; In the morning, afternoon and in the evening. It is believed that this custom arose from the reading of Psalm 55:17 (“Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice”). The life of Daniel must also have had a powerful impact on devotional practices.
It was Jezus Himself who pointed out the necessity of feeding ourselves spiritually as we do physically, when He rebuked satan as recorded in Matt 4:4; “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”.
It is ironic that many of us feed our bodies 3, 4, 5, sometimes even 6 times a day, but that we withhold our spiritual nourishment by not spending time with God. But if we take our physical nourishment as a guide, we should be feeding our spirit daily as well to stay healthy. And if we are honest, not many of us are so adventurous that we go OMAD (One Meal A Day) permanently when it comes to physical nourishment.
Structuring the daily devotion
The thing is that in many of our congregations we are not taught how to design a personal daily devotion. Yes, as a child growing up I was taught to pray and read the Bible regularly, but not even in the youth group was there any emphasis on the how, what the basic structure should look like, let alone the why of such a structure.
As Christian devotion is very much a moment of two-way communication between God and us, our time with Him should include both prayer and reading of the Word. God in His omnipotence has written a letter to all of us personally regarding our entire life in one text, reaching us across time and space. As our comprehension is limited, we should also include some time to let Him make the right portion of the message sink in and become clear to us.
Growing into the habit
So now that we have identified the basic building blocks of your personal devotion, it is time to come up with a structure that works for you. Before we continue, I want to recommend growing into your daily devotion and letting it change with you during the different seasons in your life.
In our continues conversation with God, it is a wise thing when you realize that it probably is best for Him to be the one starting. Starting to read the commandments (either from Ex 20:1-17 or Deut 5:6-21) gives us a clear understanding of how easily we tend to drift away from God in our minds. Studying them, the sequence, the meaning behind the sequence, their focus. Just reading the commandments every day and finishing with prayer (just pour out your heart at this point) is the start I would propose, as it is the one which I used and I benefitted greatly from it.
In the next article, we will be looking at how you can start to structure your prayers during your devotion so that you don’t have the feeling that you are in the cockpit of a space shuttle and Houston is at 5 in their countdown.