In the last three weeks we have been talking about the making the daily reading of God’s Word the core part of our lives – the foundation of our relationship with God. We’ve said that God’s Word, the Bible, is our umbilical cord to Jesus.
We started with looking at the Parable of the Four Soils and which was a story Jesus told about how receptive our hearts are to hearing the voice of God. God is speaking all over the place, and makes His voice available, but the condition of our heart can make it so that we completely miss hearing Him.
Next we talked about the problem that our hearts are so messed up that not even we know what’s going on inside them most of the time. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). And the solution to that problem was to cultivate desperation for the presence and the power of God that comes through knowing Jesus as our personal Savior and reading His word.
Last week we talked about how the Holy Spirit uses our daily Bible reading, not only to connect us to Jesus, but to give us a road-map of what is going on inside our hearts. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)The living and active word of God is the living and active Jesus! The voice we read in the bible is the very voice of God speaking to us every day.
Today we are going to start to get practical. I’ve already covered the problems that come with not reading our Bibles, and hopefully I’ve made a case for why we need to be in proactive in our daily bible reading and spiritual discipleship process. That, without coming to Jesus for our daily spiritual bread, we will spiritually starve. And so today I’m going to begin to share with you a practical guide to Spiritual Journaling using Scripture.
Let’s talk about some traps first. These are some of the thoughts that cripple us before we ever get started and I want to address them first.
Trap 1: There is a “Right Way”
The first trap is believing that there is a “right way” to do this. I’ve known people (and I’ve struggled with this myself) who don’t do daily devotions, never journal, and rarely read their Bibles because they never really feel like they’re doing it “right”.
Maybe you’ve felt this? You feel God saying that you and He need to spend more time together. You get inspired to go deeper with God. So what do you do? You look for a way to do that. But how does one “go deeper with God”?
You think, “Maybe I should get a book that teaches me how to do this?” – but you get stuck on which book. There are like a million books on how to connect to God. So you put it off until you can get some advice on which book to pick. Someone says, “just read the bible!” And you think, Ok”, I’ll do that.”
But now you need to find a good time. Do you do it early in the morning? Nah, you’ll never stay awake? Before bed? No, tried that and always ended up putting it off. During lunch? That worked for a couple days, but it was hard to stay consistent.
You think, “Well, maybe I’ll just fit it in when I go to the bathroom and have nothing better to do – and I’ll call my time in the shower my prayer time!” But that makes you feel guilty and never really fills your spiritual tanks. So you get frustrated.
Ever been there? I have. It’s easy to give up when you feel like you’re always failing in what you are doing, that it never gets any better, and that you’re always letting God down.
Avoiding Trap 1 – A: Remember Relationship
So let me share with you a couple of ways to avoid this trap of having to do it the “right way”.
First, remember that this is a personal relationship, not a meeting. A lot of people treat their relationship with God the way they would treat their boss. Check in once or twice a day to make sure that everything’s ok, but then get back to working by themselves. That’s not a relationship. I like what Rick Warren says in the Purpose Driven Life:
“Because God is with you all the time, no place is any closer to God than the place where you are right now.”
That’s why we are encouraged in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Jesus wouldn’t ask you to do this if it was impossible — or if He was unwilling to help you.
What I’m going to share with you over the next while is a method for how to start your day with God, but that doesn’t mean when you walk away from your Bible that Jesus leaves you alone.
Let me quote one more thing from Rick Warren that I appreciated.
“The key to friendship with God, he said, is not changing what you do, but changing your attitude toward what you do. What you normally do for yourself, you begin doing for God, whether it is eating, bathing, working, relaxing, or taking out the trash.… This is God’s ideal. In Eden, worship was not an event to attend, but a perpetual attitude; Adam and Eve were in constant communion with God. Since God is with you all the time, no place is any closer to God than the place where you are right now.”
So even if you can’t finish the whole thing, or if it’s happening at odd times during the day, or you miss a day, or you don’t know where to start, or you’re not feeling it. Just start with something and continue in the presence of God that day.
Ask God for forgiveness – again – that you didn’t plan properly, that your flesh is weak, and then make time to do it later that day. Remember the story of Jesus who was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter when a woman who had been suffering for 12 years snuck up behind him and touched his cloak and was healed. Did He just keep going? No, he stopped, looked down and sought her out to bless her. (Mark 5:21-34)
In the same way, Jesus is always available to us. He’s not too busy, and doesn’t mind if we mess up our schedule and then sneak some time with him later that day. It shows that our heart desires Him, and that’s a blessing and an act of worship.
I strongly believe that as you develop the habit of starting your devos – even if you don’t always finish them – that your priorities will shift, your hunger and desperation will grow, your desire to be with Him will grow, and you’ll find more and more time and desire to finish your Daily Devotions.
Don’t get stuck believing that if you can’t do it 100% right, then you won’t do it at all. I believe that’s a demonic trick when you hear the words, “Isn’t God worth more of your time? Doesn’t he want you to do this right? He doesn’t want you to rush through it. You should put it off until you can really do it right… maybe this evening… maybe tomorrow when you’re fresh. Maybe you should get a new journal… a different version of the bible… you shouldn’t do it on your phone because it’s not right… it doesn’t count if you’re at work…” That’s not God’s voice. His voice beckons you to come to Him, not to avoid Him until you can measure up. That’s not the gospel at all! That’s either your own perfectionism or the voice of Satan giving you an excuse to avoid the voice of God, habitual prayer and bible reading.
Avoiding Trap 1 – B: Learn, but Don’t Copy
The second way to avoid this trap is to avoid copying people exactly. That’s the problem with a lot of people’s devotional time, journaling technique, or Bible reading plan. It’s not their own.
This week, Anita wanted to take the kids on a bike-ride. Her bike and mine are almost exactly identical except mine is about 2 inches taller. She grabbed my bike because it had the trail-a-bike connector and thought she could ride it. It wasn’t too long before she realized that those two inches make the bike very uncomfortable for her and she had to switch over to her bike.
In the same way, someone else’s devotional method can be helpful to get you started – you can learn to ride on their bike – but that bike won’t fit you when you really want to get going. You’re going to need something custom made for you, your relationship with God, your schedule, your family structure, your proclivities and your needs.
I realize how ironic it is, to start by promising to teach you a method, and then say that you shouldn’t follow someone’s method. I think it’s important for us to learn from other people and adapt what they’ve done to our own use.
Learning from others has a lot of advantages. They can challenge you to do things you haven’t tried before (like reading the bible in a year or memorizing pieces of scripture). It can also solve problems that you don’t have a solution for (like learning a system for how to highlight things and take notes in your bible or a prayer format that helps you remember to include different aspects of talking to God (A.C.T.S. – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication)). It can give you a boost of encouragement when you need it and guide you to experience things you hadn’t before.
You do want to learn from them, but you don’t need to copy exactly what they do. Eventually, you need to personalize it.
How Do You Devo?
So, for fun, I asked some people to send me pictures and descriptions of what they do during their daily devotional time. My hope is that you will be inspired to see that there is no “right way” to pray and read your bible, but that God can meet us in different ways. (Some of these have been edited for length.)
This is Denis’ method. He does his daily devotions using the Promise Keeper’s mobile app which gives access to daily scriptures, a devotional, articles and podcasts. He says, “It allows me to do my study no matter where I am.”
This is Andrew’s method. He says, “I need a ‘spot’ for it to happen. For me now, it’s [a] comfy chair in the corner of my office. No music or other distractions.” He says he starts by “clearing” his head then having a quick look at a couple verses on his iPad from the YouVersion and The Essential Jesus apps. He then does a bit of a bible study from his study bible, pray through the passages, pray about other things and “sometimes jot down a few key ‘learnings’ into a journal.” He says he’s “…been trying to live by the creed ‘no Bible, no breakfast’.”
Sue sent a picture of her own chair and says this about her method, “I’m reading Living Truth’s daily devotional called My Daily Journey with Christ. It gives me a great start to my day and I’m also doing the ‘read the bible in a year’ prompts from the same devotional. [Her husband and her] pray together before this and then we go off do our own thing separately.”
Charles says, “My devotional life takes place in two parts, namely, a personal time after the dog is walked and a joint time later in the day with my spouse. The two are quite different. The morning time is always in the same quiet place and at the same time each day. This avoids drifting away to other pursuits. I make detailed notes from the scripture passage for later use and review. Some of these notes actually seem fairly inspired on later reading. The evening session with spouse is also at the same time and place (though different from the morning one), but consists of a daily reading from the Bible and notes from a Scripture Press booklet…. Both sessions end with prayer.”
Jay says, “I tend to catch a sermon while I’m in the truck [on the way to and from work] and I read a book of the bible while on the john in the morning. Right now I’m in 1 Kings. I started in 1 Samuel and just kept going. I just finished Malachi in the truck and [my wife] and I are slowly doing James in the evenings. To be honest my prayer life is pathetic.”
Doris describes her daily time with God this way: “I start my day with coffee time with [my husband], than after about an hour I go to my room where there is an old sofa facing a window. I usually sit down comfortably and within arm’s reach is my Bible, concordance, journals, hymn books, and some other books. Most times, I start with prayer….. Sometimes, a thought would come into my mind, and I would think about it, (e.g. worship, idolatry) and then a verse will come and it expands my thinking on that topic…. Sometimes a song comes, sometimes a prayer, and I journal these in my book…. Since January, I am using the Bible League diary as my devo. [I] read the daily verse and follow the readings…. My Bible reading since March has been here and there and not following through a [reading plan]. I am finding that following through the book, no matter how long it takes, is more beneficial for me than jumping here and there….”
Each of these people is working out their faith in different ways, seeking God, struggling in some ways and growing in others. My hope is that we will all be encouraged to keep seeking God, learning from people, but also building that personal relationship with Jesus in a uniquely personal way.
Trap 2: Shortcutting it.
Now, let’s talk about the other side of the coin: the trap of shortcutting your time with God. I get that we are a busy culture, and I don’t want to preach a sermon on the sin of busyness, but we have to realize that Satan, the world and our flesh always wants us to take the easy road that leads to spiritual death.
There seems to be a lot of Christian authors trying to deal with society’s ever-filling schedule and ever-shrinking attention span by putting out books that can cut our devotional time down to only a few minutes. They take 365 key verses, put them in a cool font, write a couple sentences about it, and then a question to think about. There’s a plethora of daily verses, posters, and inspirational quotes that people are using as their sole source of devotional time with God.
I’m not going to slam these authors, because I think a lot of them are writing with the hopes of helping people get closer to Jesus, and they may have their place somewhere. I’m assuming that the thinking is that if they can make it easy, and people will see how wonderful even one minute with Jesus is, then they will grow into wanting more. However, that might be a little too much wishful thinking. I don’t think that the path of least resistance is the way to build any kind of spiritual muscle.
That’s something like feeding people candy and treats in hope that one day they will want to experience a fully prepared steak dinner. Or giving people couch exercises to do during commercial breaks while they watch TV and eat chips in hope that it will inspire them to turn off the TV and join a gym.
The problem is that the little bits don’t seem to inspire people, but instead they inoculate them. They think that they’ve done something. They’ve put in their time. They can tell themselves that they think about the verse all day – but they don’t. They can walk around feeling like did something holy, and that now God will get off their back. They can tell everyone that they do their devos, and even share them on social media so everyone can see that they did it.
But they’re not really growing. They’re not really being challenged to dig deeper. They’re not reading the verses in context. They aren’t being fed the full counsel of scripture. They are getting Tim-bits (doughnut holes)… tasty little bits that neither fill nor satisfy… and which eventually cause spiritual health problems.
Avoiding Trap 2: Make a Plan
So the solution to “shortcutting it” is to set a time, place and make a plan.
God is all about humble planning. What is humble planning? It means being diligent about organizing resources and preparing for the future, always realizing that God is the one who gives resources and who knows what is supposed to happen. Proverbs says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (16:9) And it also says that a wicked man “dies for lack of discipline.” (5:23) It says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (3:5-6) but it also says, “…keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck.” (3:21-22)
Make a plan, be diligent and wise in your planning, but realize that it is God who sets the path at your feet. His plans are bigger than your plans. That’s one of the big reasons that you need to be listening to His voice in the first place – to find out what God wants you to be doing!
God’s Plan / My Plan
A lot of Christians struggle with this idea of making a plan. Should we? Isn’t that presumptuous? I was really struck by 1 Chronicles 28 where David is making plans for the Temple. It’s an amazing back and forth between David’s plans and God’s plans.
Verse 2-3 says,
“Then King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.’”
David made a plan to do something great, but God had other ideas, showed up in a special way and told him. David was listening and heard God’s voice. But keep reading.
Look at verse 9. It says “And you, Solomon my son…” Whose son? David’s.Then look at verse 10, “Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you….” David chose his wives, even in sin with Bathsheba, and God chose the heir to the throne and the builder of the Temple.
Look at verse 11, “Then David gave Solomon his son the plan…” Who drew up the plans and gave them to the people who would build it? David. He drew up detailed plans on how it would look.
Now look at verse 19,
“All this he made clear to me in writing from the hand of the LORD, all the work to be done according to the plan.”
David plans and acts, God guides and directs. David listens to God and does his best planning. When he goes too far, God stops him. When there’s a decision to be made, David listens. That’s what we’re doing. Making plan, listening to God all the time for His “Yes” or “No”. Desiring to do something great in our heart, and build up our Spirit, and choosing a way to do it… but always remembering that it is the Spirit of God who inspires and makes the work of our hands great. The building of our Soul is a partnership between us and God. We make ourselves available, give him all our resources, work out our faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), and God directs the course of our life.
I think this works exactly the same in our devotional planning. So, as I said before, use someone else’s plan at first, or adapt a few for your own use. Get a bible reading plan, a journal, a pen, a study bible and then set a time / place that you will meet with God each day. You can even write it down.
“Every day, after I get up, I will grab a coffee, sit down with my bible at the table, and spend 10 minutes reading and 5 minutes praying.”(It doesn’t have to be exactly that. I can be whatever time works for you. I do recommend it’s the beginning of the day though. If we are to “put on the whole armour of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18) every day, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put it on at the end of the day…)
Start with a plan, and then realize that God might change it up, that it might be wrong at first, and that things may have to be flexible for a while until you really sense what God wants to do with you. Make a plan and then adapt it. It took me years to hit a system that worked for me. Don’t be a Pharisee that locks down your man-made rules and makes them as important as God’s rules, but do have a plan. Don’t shortcut your time with God either. It’s not about how little you can do, but how to grow in Him so that His presence and voice inhabits your whole life.
So that’s a couple of the traps that we can fall in before we ever get started. Next week we’re going to look at the tools to use and get into the nitty-gritty of Spiritual Journaling using Scripture as your guide.