Getting Started in your Devotional Venture
"Remember the Morning Watch," was the rallying cry on the Cambridge University campus in 1882. Several students intended on growing deeper in their faith at a time when the popularity of Godly devotion was being replaced by scientific and liberal thinking. These students decided to take a stand against adversity and academic backlash. Their lives would echo, as they do today on our public high school and college campuses when young people have to fight their way all the way to the Supreme Court to go to a flagpole to pray. These Cambridge students found the harsh reality that Christianity was not just an academic pursuit, like filling their schedules with lectures, sporting events, studies, and student gatherings and so forth, just like we do today (but without TV!). The students found a fatal flaw in their busyness, even though they made a commitment to honor Christ: They had little time for the One they were honoring. As they described, "A crack in our spiritual armor, if not closed, will bring us disaster!"
So, they sought an answer to their dilemma, a scheme to balance their hectic schedules and still honor God. They came up with a plan called "The Morning Watch." The first few minutes of the day would be dedicated to knowing the Lord. One of the young men, who was not fond of mornings, devised a mechanical contraption with all kinds of levers and pulleys to persuade him out of bed! This idea spread like a wild fire and was used by God for a revival in England, which was depicted in the film "Chariots of Fire." The modern missionary movement was born along with many Evangelical Ministries that are still in existence today, such as YMCA and the Boy Scouts, who trace their roots to these fine young men. Many famous pastors and missionaries have influenced many generations-all stemming from giving God the first fruits of their day. So, will you meet this challenge?
The Challenge is simple, the idea is pure and practical, and it only requires your obedience and persistence. God desires our intimacy, our relationship, and our communion with His holiness. Wow! What an honor and opportunity to go before the Holy Creator of the universe!
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." "My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. Psalm 5:2-3; 57:7
So I challenge you to set aside time each day for devotions-the best time you have, when you are the most alert and able to go before your Creator and Redeemer, whether you are a new Christian desiring to know how to read the Bible, or if you have been away from it for a while. If you have not ever been discipled or never really put in the time and effort into your "Walk with Christ," then get ready to start. It is never too late, unless you, well…you die!
Getting Started with Devotions: 7-Up!
Here is a simple means to get your devotional life started or rebooted that I learned over twenty years ago. The following "7-UP" guide is an excellent way to start your new life in Christ, or renew yourself and get back on track! I believe I first learned of this from my mentor Ray Stedman while attending "Navigators" (a Christian outreach Bible study committed to discipleship on the college campus) meetings when I was in college.
Start it off simple, say seven minutes, and you can call it "7-UP!" Seven minutes a day, seven days a week.
First, pray for guidance, and prepare your heart and mind; take half a minute. Tell God how much you love Him. This is worship!
Second, read a passage from God's Word, spending at least four minutes. That can be just a couple of chapters.
Don't know where to start? Start with the book of John. Or, use one of our Bible reading plans or the "The One Year Bible" from Tyndale. It has a passage from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and a Psalm and a Proverb that take you through the whole Bible in a year. (This is reading at a rate of 15 minutes a day. To start out, cut it in half, and you are on track for 7-up.) You can also read half when you wake up and half when you go to bed to start off with. Or, create your own schedule; just keep it up! If you are new to God's Word or have been away from it for a while, get the "New Living Translation." It is easy to read and understand.
Third, pray again, spending the rest of the two and one-half minutes in specific prayer. Pray for things such as your parents/family, school/work, people in your life, what you are thankful for-and don't forget to confess your sins. You may add the problems of our society, or spend the time in silence and reverent meditation over the passage you just read; and that's it!
Then, as you progress, you will have the desire to spend even more time. Most committed Christians will spend more than an hour in prayer each day plus time in Scripture. You say you do not have the time? Well many Christian leaders do it and they have schedules that would blow yours away!
There is always time; the question is will you take it? So, when the morning watch comes…. what will you do?
Where are your desires?
Our desires must be focused on Him-Christ our Lord. We must feel the anticipation and the excitement to be with and in Him, so that we not only hear His Word, but we do His Word-the Word of God. So if we become stuck in our anxious thoughts, confusion, or the stressed-out urgency of life, we can stop and get our focus right! Pray that the Holy Spirit intercedes in you and removes the disruptions. Allow yourself to receive His comfort and grace. Remember, it is not anything we do or any effort on our part; we are only to receive what Christ our Lord gives us. And to receive, we need to make sure that the stuff that gets in the way gets out of the way.
Augustine, also a "Catholic Saint," was one of the foremost philosophers and theologians of early Christianity. While serving as bishop for Hippo Regius, the leading figure in the Church (396-430), he was perhaps one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time and the one person with the biggest influence in theology for Catholics and Protestants, even more than the Reformers; Calvin and Luther were influenced by him. He also was the main person who influenced the "western world view," our cultural identity both in Europe and the U.S.! Augustine fought vigorously against his bad habits and sin nature so he could grow deeper in our Lord, until he learned a lesson from a small child, which he felt was the Word of God. Let Augustine's influence keep influencing you! His point? Don't let your desires rule you; you rule them by focusing on Christ.
The Benefits of doing your Devotions
Devotions are the trust step where the rubber of the tires of our faith meets the road of life. All this is the main point of why we study the Bible-to do something with it. Of course, we all do something with it. Either we ignore it or we are transformed by it. We can master, even be transformed by the Word; but if nothing comes from it, it is meaningless and nearly worthless. This is one of the main points of the book of James. Our faith must have a response to it. Yes, we may be saved; but what good is that if we do nothing with it?
Insights to help you on your Devotional Journey
Invite God into your study as your teacher. Ask Him to free your mind from distractions and help you concentrate. You are entering a learning partnership with Christ!
· This will give you greater personal conviction! (Philippians 3:10)
· Your life will change! (John 1:1-3)
· Your attitudes will change! (1 Cor. 5:10)
· You will be pointed in the right direction! (Isaiah 40:31)
· The glory of God will be pointed out to you! (Jeremiah 1:6f)
· The Bible will break through your self-will and deceptions, including sin, temptations, and rationalizations, because the Bible is the voice of God! (2 Cor. 11:1f)
· Jesus' temptation involved the satisfying of His physical hunger; but His focus remained on the Father!
· You will realize that there is no other final authority than the Word of God!
· A good plan is essential to any undertaking, and learning about our Lord gives you His plan.
· Imagine yourself as a participant-as if it is your story, as if you are there.
How can I make sure my desires are toward church? Go over the "The Three Essentials of Discipleship" that will endure, "faith, hope, and love-and the greatest of these is love." 1 Cor. 13:13 (NLT)
Read 1 Cor. 13:12 and Col. 1:3-8. Then ASK:
· Faith is our…?
· Hope is our…?
· Love is our…?
Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36 NLT)
Read Heb. 12:1-2
Committing to a Plan of Growth:
Ask what do we need to do with Faith, Hope, and Love?
1. What do we need to "FIND" ____________________________
"We all have some people around whose lives tell us what faith means; so seek them out!"
2. What do we need to "REMOVE" ____________________________
"We must remove from our lives anything that would get in the way of our Lord, including the sin that holds us back..."
3. What do we need to "FOCUS" ____________________________
"We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus; as a racehorse has blinders on to keep it from being distracted, so must we."
Bible, Prayer, and Accountability
4. What do we need to "DON'T" ____________________________
"So let us run the race with our focus on the Lord and blinders to everything else-and never give up."
More insights to help you with your personal walk with Christ
With the knowledge we have learned, it becomes our responsibility! And then we are to ask, "How then do I live?" What can I do now, today, or this week to implement the instructions given to me concerning my relationship to Christ, to others, and to myself? Keep in mind that true application comes only from the result of a life transformed. You may do good works without Christ, but they are done out of a sense of obligation and guilt, and not out of a response to your sin nature that has been covered by grace, creating a willing and loving heart ready to model the character of our Lord!
The Fruits of the Spirit are the result of a life transformed by Christ!
How we are un-transformed: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal. 5:19-21)
How we are transformed: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." (Gal 5:22-26)
- God uses His Word to transform us; it is what He does, and then what we do. He sends us His Spirit; we respond.
- Satan would like nothing better than for you not to do the above!!! Do not procrastinate. Press on!!! Do not assume that because you understand something, that you have applied it!!! Do not get frustrated. You cannot expect instant results.
- Studying the Word without putting any application to it is like buying a nice new car, taking it home, and keeping it in your garage. Then all you do is sit in it and pretend you are driving and listening to the radio, but never actually turning it on or going anywhere with it.
- When we read God's Word and do nothing with it, we become the biggest fools in the universe!
- This area of putting feet to God's Word is the most neglected aspect of our Christian life! But it is at this part that our lives change and God uses us to change others.
Read Romans 12 or choose a short book like II or III John or Jude or…) and go through it together or in small groups as a devotional.
· Jesus urged us to build our lives on His Word. (See Matthew 7:24-27)
· What must I do to make God's Word real in me?
· When will what I learned end up in my day planner?
· What is my response?
· The Word of God is to lead us to model the character of Christ, to be formed in the image of God.
Mediate over the passage you are studying-that is reflect on it, ponder it, and think of it so that you are seriously going over the passage again and again in your mind. Then the memorization will become easier since the verses have taken root in you!
· How are you encouraged and strengthened?
· Where have you fallen short? How can you improve?
· What do you now intend to do with the information given to you by the Holy Spirit through God's Word?
Remember: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching…" We must never substitute personal beliefs for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16)!
Doing our devotions is simply getting into God's Word, and it must affect our everyday life including how we think and how we feel. From this come our values.
We are to be active in God's Word even when we are not reading it.
Our lives must be based on analysis, synthesis, valuing, organizing, and comprehending our Lord Jesus Christ to our very "existential core," that is the very soul and being of who we are in Christ!
We must have the confidence that the Bible is truth, and the truth is living within us.
Without such confidence, we can in no way transform ourselves, let alone infect others with the Gospel message! This is Knowing It!
We must allow God's Word to bend and break our will and desires over to His!
More questions to ask yourself and God while doing your devotions:
· What did God say to you today?
· What/whom did God nourish with you today?
· Are you appreciating it?
· Are you not only receiving the great benefits, but offering them to others around you?
· Are you a changed person as a result of receiving the Word?
· Service is who we are in Christ, and not so much what we do for Christ!
Do not skip your meals in God's Word!
Spend the remaining time in prayer for your individual needs and for others and how your learning can apply to both. You can also "Meditate" (read slowly several times quietly with a sense of being surrendered to Christ, and not full of the noise of your thoughts and plans).
A paraphrase of Hebrews 12:1-2:
"We have around us many people whose lives tell us what faith means. So let us run the race that is before us and never give up. We should remove from our lives anything that would get in the way and the sin that so easily holds us back. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish."
More passages to mediate upon: Psalm 119:133; Proverbs 2:4; Phil. 1:9-11; 4:8-9; Romans 1:18-32
So let us go out and live as our life belongs to our Lord, as it does, and be holy!
© 2000, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org/