Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Pastor's Personal Devotions...

In church life we often hear about the need to read and study the Bible personally. We call it “walking with God”, or having our personal devotions, having a quiet time or something else. Maybe you’ve tried the “read through the Bible in a year” plan and here we are in March and “the plan” fell by the wayside because we got too far behind and we have no hope to catch up. What does all that mean and how does one go about having devotions? There is no shortage of devotional materials in Christian bookstores, or some collection of devotionals by famous pastors or based on some kind of theme. While I think these kinds of things can be good and I’m appreciative these are made available to help Christians wanting to grow; I often wonder if these things don’t stunt spiritual growth more than they do promote spiritual growth. I’ve said on several occasions that if all you read is someone’s devotional guide, you’re not having your devotions, your having someone else’s devotions. I think it would be like sitting down to a gourmet feast and having a host who enjoyed the 7 course meal in front of you, they chew on the delicacies for a while and put them on a plate and pass them around to their guests. They got all the flavor and the nutrients and you got the ground up food. You protest “that is so gross” as the teenagers would say. We’d never dream of doing that with physical food, but we do it with spiritual food all the time. As I look at the walk of many Christians today, I’m not at all surprised we have churches full of malnourished and anemic Christians. Now let me say, “left-over’s”  are not a bad thing and I haven’t become the size I have because I turned down warmed up leftover food! Sometimes though you get tired of the leftovers and you want a hot fresh meal. What I’m saying is if you use a devotional, make sure you focus on the Scriptures the devotional is written about.

I thought I’d share a few thoughts on how I have my personal devotions to help you see some of what I do to keep from getting stale in my spiritual nourishment. For years I used a tool called the “Word of Life Quiet Time Diary” which had a year long passage guide with a journal page for each day that asked two simple questions: (1) What is the writer saying? (2) How can I apply this to my life? There was a space to write a few short sentences about the passage. What was nice about this is it forced me to examine and meditate on a Bible passage on my own without someone else’s thoughts. It provided great accountability because that blank page from yesterday reminded me I missed it. Somewhere along my journey I added a 3rd question: “What did I do about what God told me to do yesterday?” Honestly, I hate that question because it forces me to acknowledge whether I’ve been obedient to the Lord. This simple formula could be applied on your own to any passage of Scripture and you could get a journal and study a Bible book on your own systematically. I also have a Bible I don’t mind marking in and I’ve gained much from taking a “Precepts Inductive Bible Study” course through a Bible book on how to look for common and recurring themes and how to study the Scripture in historical and literary context.

I’ve also learned for me it’s best to set an appointment with God that I keep every day. We set appointments with our Doctor, Dentist, in tax season now with our tax preparer, and we keep those appointments because they are important to us. For me, I want to give God the best part of my time and I’m fresh and more alert early in the morning before the kids get up. It’s me, my Bible, journal, the Lord and a pot of coffee. Rarely do I miss that appointment because it has become a Godly discipline in my life. Some people are more creative and alert late at night when the kids have gone to bed. It matters not as there’s support in the Psalms for both morning & night time devotions. The main point is God has your undivided attention and you can focus on His Word without distractions. No TV, no radio or IPod, no email, Facebook, Twitter, or cell phones. God speaks in the still small voice (1st Kings 19:12) and I think many times there’s too much noise in our lives to hear Him. I’ve read that if you will do something for 21 days straight, it will become a habit. Having a personal quiet time with the Lord is a critical habit to feed your spirit and I know for certain the message you get from me on Sunday is not enough to sustain you all week any more than breakfast on Monday would last all week, even if you ate at Cracker Barrel.

Picking what to study can be overwhelming. I do think somewhere along the way you should read through the Bible from beginning to end to get the big picture. The key I’ve found to success in that is being realistic about your time available. When I first started, I found a 7 day a week reading plan for me was not realistic; especially on Sunday with prayer, last minute sermon review and mad dash for church in full swing. I simply figured out how many pages in the Bible, how many week days I was able to read and divided it out. Voila – I found a way to read through the Bible in about 13 months. I have done this now several times and I’ve applied the same method to read only the New Testament as I did in 2010, I’ve done it with the Old Testament also. In 2011, I’m dissecting the Psalms.  I’ve found this particular method in the Psalms to be rich and rewarding for me. I will also read a chapter in Proverbs which is great because there are 31 chapters and do I ever need the wisdom each day of the month! For a steady diet, it’s better to read smaller portions of Scripture and meditate on it to fully digest it so to speak but be disciplined to cover all the Bible books along the journey. Face up to the fact there will be stuff you just don’t understand. That’s okay – focus on what you do understand and some time the Holy Spirit will open your heart and help you understand those hard passages.

A major part of my devotions is praying and this actually is something that takes place all through the day. I just have a running conversation with the Lord as though I’m talking to my best friend – (and I am) all day long till I pass out at night. We talk about everything, and often pick up a discussion we did not finish. Sometimes He’ll nudge me in the middle of the night and we’ll pick up again. I hope you’ll find some of these ideas helpful to you and you’ll find your personal devotions to be exactly that, personal. You and God, on an exciting journey of love & faith together. I can assure you God will reward your effort as you learn to dig out gold from God’s Word for yourself. Just a little insight on a Pastor’s personal devotions, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Ralph Green

Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church

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