These lesson notes were prepared and presented to our church’s Sunday School class, so they may contain personal references to our group – but I pray and hope they are general enough to prove helpful and beneficial to others also … maybe even you!
Spiritual Exercises / Lesson #2
HOW TO ESTABLISH AND PRACTICE A DAILY TIME WITH GOD
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
From the beginning, when God first began to speak His words to Moses to be written down, God was insistent that His people passionately love Him and His words. He commanded them to not just expose themselves to His words, but they were to be intentional to make every effort to keep His words in their hearts to love them, and in every aspect of their lives to do them.
They were to highly value and treasure His words in their hearts: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart…”
They were to make every effort and take every measure to keep His words in their hearts and in their physical surroundings: “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” In other words, they were to surround and saturate themselves with written reminders of His words.
They were to conduct every single activity of their lives and relationships according to and in agreement with His words: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
This is what I’m encouraging every one of us to do … daily, regularly, consistently … with the Word of God.
Whatever you choose to call it: ‘Daily Devotions,’ ‘Quiet Time,’ ‘Bible-Reading,’ – you need to be intentional about establishing it and practicing it. For myself, I prefer to call it “My Daily Time With God,” and I have called it that for years now.
Because, that is what it is: it is your time in the very Presence of God. This is not some mindless rote repetition; it is not an empty religious routine you need to fulfill; it is not just an obligation to be checked off. It is a personal spiritual encounter with the Living God. So, we should give it the attention and priority that God deserves to receive from us.
Hebrews 10.19-22 ~ 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Let me share with you some guidelines to help us establish and maintain this Daily Time With God.
1 – Want to do it
Don’t let this be just something you feel like you have to do, or that you are expected to do this to be a good Christian. Don’t have even an inkling of a thought that you are under any kind of coercion to have this Daily Time With God … other than the compulsion of your love for God and your desire to be with Him in His Presence through His Word.
“…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night” ~Psalm 1.2
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your Name, O LORD, God of hosts” ~Jeremiah 15.16
“I have not departed from the commandments of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my portion of food” ~Job 23.12
I am assuming that everyone of us eats every day – several times a day, in fact. I also doubt that any one of us approaches the table or responds when we are called to a meal or moans before going out to your favorite restaurant with, “Oh, man – not again! Do I have to? I just ate a few hours ago.” NO! We’re glad to eat again! Why? Because we have an appetite for it. It pleases our tastes and satisfies our desires.
Look forward to your Daily Time With God with that same appetite, desire, and expectation.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good!” ~1 Peter 2-3.
“But [Jesus] answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’” ~Matthew 4.4
Listen to how Jesus draws the inseparable connection between loving Him and loving the words He brought us from the Father.
John 14.21-24 ~ Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
The next time you sit down to open your Bible to read it, think about the sweet and personal promises Jesus is making here to those who love Him and love His words.
OK – so now you have sharpened and whetted your appetite for God’s Word… next…
2 – Commit to do it
I mean, make an intentional decision on purpose that you are going to seek the Lord and spend time with Him every day in His Word and prayer.
One of the most prominent lessons we learn from studying the Book of Proverbs is that we must give every ounce of our resolve to seeking God in His Word. Listen again to Proverbs 2.1-7 [emphases added]:
“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding; He stores up wisdom for the upright…”
Listen to all those strong verbs that describe the laser-like focus of our intentions and the passion of our will that won’t be deterred. This is what true commitment acts like!
We need to make that kind of commitment … and tell the LORD whom you are seeking that you are making this commitment. Yes! Go ahead and talk to Him … out loud! He is speaking personally to you with these words. Answer Him! According to what we just read, He will respect, honor, and reward your commitment by showing Himself to you and speaking with you in His Word!
OK – so you have whetted your desire and made your intentional commitment … next, you need to…
3 – Choose a Bible-reading plan
You need to know ahead of time what you plan to be reading. You can’t just pick up your Bible and then start looking for something that you can read. That kind of experience may happen a few times in a lifetime with helpful results, but it’s no way to conduct a beneficial Bible-reading practice.
So, you’re going to try to find a random ‘verse of the day’? Do you know how many verses there are in the Bible? 23,214 verses! Do you want to read your random ‘chapter of the day’? There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. Do you hope to find your ‘word for the day’? There are approximately 622,700 words.
So, if you don’t have a plan, you’re just going to be immediately swamped, intimidated, and defeated from engaging in any meaningful interaction with the Word of God if you don’t have a plan you are following. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll give up in frustration.
Some of you are old enough to remember driving somewhere or taking a trip before GPS. How did we get to where we were going? We had an old-fashioned map. We would draw a circle around where we were starting from and draw another circle around where we were going. In between here and there, there is a maze of tangled roads and highways you can choose from. So, you survey your options, and then highlight the specific one route that you want to follow from here to there.
And then, that entire route would be broken up by the stops we planned to make along the way.
And even then, sometimes we’d get lost in spite of ourselves. But, we never would have arrived anywhere if we had just pulled out of our driveway and taken the first road or highway we came to and then made random turns as we continued to drive.
Your Bible-reading plan is like your map to guide you through your reading of God’s Word. It’s like the proverbial “how do you eat a whole elephant?” – the answer is: one bite at a time. So, your goal is to read the Bible. “Man shall live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” You choose a plan, you get started with it, and you keep with it until you do the whole thing. And, as they say, “The joy is in the journey, the struggle is part of the joy and the final destination is not an end but another beginning of another journey.” ~ Kathy Boyd Fellure
4 – Schedule the best time of your day to do it – and strive to keep it
Again, what you will want to do is schedule a time and portion of your day and designate it, consecrate it, and keep it as best you can as that portion of your day when you have your Daily Time With God. Try to keep it like an appointment. You don’t have to be legalistic about it – you don’t have to beat yourself up with guilt when it doesn’t work out every now and then … and it will be unavoidably interrupted from time to time. None of our lives have neat, clean, predictable schedules. And, this is especially true for those who are parents with young children or those of us who are caregivers to our seniors. You are ‘on call’ literally every moment of your day.
But, do your best to set apart a portion of your day when you can be at your freshest, at your sharpest in your attention.
Everybody is not the same on the time of day that is best for them. Some of us are morning people. Some of us are more attentive and alert in the evening, or maybe late at night. But, regardless of when you can give God a significant few minutes of your best undivided attention, I don’t think anyone would argue with or disagree that at least you need to have some time in the morning to fix your mind and attention on God – and to give Him back the day He has given you.
There is an old poem that speaks to this:
I met God in the morning, When my day was at its best;
And His Presence came like sunrise, Like a glory in my breast.
All day long the Presence lingered; All day long He stayed with me;
And we sailed in perfect calmness O’er a very troubled sea.
Other ships were blown and battered, Other ships were sore distressed,
But the winds that seemed to drive them Brought to us a peace and rest.
Then I thought of other mornings With a keen remorse of mind,
When I too had loosed the moorings With the Presence left behind.
So, I think I know the secret Learned from many a troubled way;
You must seek Him in the morning If you want Him through the day.
~Ralph Spaulding Cushman
5 – Remember that you are in the Presence of God
Here’s a prayer to pray to God even as you reach for your Bible … before you open it to read it … you’re already praying to God to speak to you through His words. Psalm 119.18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
Be attentive to His Presence. Be sensitive to His voice in His own words. Deliberately, intentionally, even verbally pray to God, and open up your heart and soul to enjoy being with Him and in His Presence. How many times are we commanded in His Word to ‘seek the LORD’ … and if we seek Him, He will be found by us.
And, another thing: I know that we have all said and heard that “reading the Bible is God talking to us; and praying is us talking to God” – and I’m not going to argue with the truth that is in that statement. But, neither exercise is one-sided. Neither reading the Bible nor praying is a monologue. Because when God is talking to us through His Word by the witness of the Holy Spirit, we need to be talking back to Him in response … while we are reading!
Learn to pray to God, converse with God, talk with God – even as you are reading His Word. Learn to pray back to God in the words you are reading from Him. Donald Whitney, in his book Praying the Bible, says “So basically what you are doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means His words become the wings of your prayers.” Pray for yourself, pray for others, and worship God according to what you are reading about Him. Delight in Him, confess your sins, believe and trust His promises, resolve and decide to obey what He is commanding us in His Word.
In other words, read God’s Word in His own Presence. Justin Peters has famously said, “If you want to hear God speak to you, read the Bible. If you want to hear God speak audibly to you, then read the Bible out loud.” We ought to read the Bible out loud more anyway … even when you’re by yourself. If you’ll read the Bible out loud, you will not only be reading it with your eyes, but you’ll be hearing it with your ears … and, hopefully, with your heart also.
6 – Prepare for war
What I mean by this is that when you sit down to read and meditate in the Word of God, it is not just you and your Bible there. It isn’t even just you, your Bible, and God there. There are other spiritual beings in the spirit world who will be there, too. When you commit yourself to be serious with God and “live by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” then you can be sure that all the available forces of the kingdom of darkness will be marshalled and dispatched to war against you.
We would like to think that if we will commit ourselves to God and His Word, then our Bible-reading experiences will be times of peace, tranquility, and stillness. And, to be sure, oftentimes they are. But, getting serious about knowing God, and spending time with Him, and surrendering to Him to be in sync with His will puts a huge target on you for the Evil One to shoot at.
Just think about Jesus and His temptations from the Devil. What did Jesus use to victoriously defeat and triumph over his own temptations? It was the Word of God. Jesus Himself had grown up reading and meditating in the Scriptures … He had discipled and disciplined His own life by living by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Every time He was tempted by Satan, He responded by quoting words from “It has been written…” Satan knows that the Word of God will equip and arm you the same way. So, he will assault you, harass you, distract you, deter and hinder you, and tempt you with every weapon available to him. And, he will do this, more often than not, while you are in the very exercise of reading the Word of God!
That’s why Paul warned and exhorted us to fully arm and equip ourselves against Satan’s attacks by putting on the whole armor of God [Ephesians 6.10-20]. And, it shouldn’t be lost on us that all the other pieces of armor are defensive weapons against Satan’s frontal attacks: belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet. The only offensive weapon is the sword that the Holy Spirit wields to engage our own personal offensive assault against the Evil One … and that sword of the Holy Spirit is the Word of God. [Along with prayer also … verses 18 and following]
And so, prepare for war against your mind, soul, and spirit even as you are in the act and exercise of reading the Word and spending time with God. And, the Devil will get up with you, and follow you, and attack you as you get on with your day’s activities after you have spent time with God. You will be tempted and spiritually assaulted in the very vein of what you had just been thinking about and meditating on and learning from God in your Daily Time With God. He will test you most fiercely with what you have just learned and received from the Word of God.
So, be prepared to face those attacks and keep the sword of the Word ready to arm and strengthen yourself in the power of the Holy Spirit.
7 – Continue to persevere and follow through consistently even during the dry seasons
Just a needed word about this … because there will be dry seasons. There will be times when God will thrill your soul with unexpected joys. God will flash His Glory to your spiritual vision with epiphanies of His Majesty, Greatness, and Grace. Other times, He may crush you with revelations of His Holiness and your own sinfulness. Sometimes, you will laugh out loud – sometimes, you will break down in tears and weeping – hey, sometimes, you might even lift your hands and shout when you are sure no one is looking!
But there will be also seasons of time and experience when you don’t feel anything. Your emotions are unstirred – your sensitivities are numb – your feelings are flat. There will be times when you feel so aware and full of your own sinfulness that you can doubt whether a person can even be saved and feel as carnal as you think you are.
But that just means that you have to keep reading His Word. Keep seeking the LORD. Even those times of spiritual dryness and famine should minister to us by stoking our desire to personally encounter God in His Word all the more.
I quit a long time ago trying to figure out what God is up to in the ways He deals with me, either through His providences in my circumstances or in my spiritual emotions and affections. But I am pretty sure that sometimes He may just choose to step around the corner and hide Himself for a brief season just to give me an opportunity to discover just how needy I am of His Presence.
You know that Scripture from Jeremiah 29.11 that we’re always quoting about God’s knowing the plans He has for us – to give us a future and a hope? Well, God gave this word to Judah through Jeremiah even while they were still in Babylon in exile from their homeland. Their temple had been desecrated and desolated. Their worship had been disrupted. Their city had been burned to the ground. And on and on … I would say that the place they were in would qualify to be called a ‘dry season’ – wouldn’t you?
And yet, even in those times, what was God’s word to them? He told them to keep on seeking Him – with all their heart.
Jeremiah 29.10-14 ~ For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfareand not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
So, yes – continue to follow through consistently in your Daily Time With God … even through the dry seasons.
8 – Don’t hold yourself to unreasonable expectations
The main reason I’m saying this is because if you are super-conscientious, and if you are really serious about your Daily Time With God as your time of encounter and communion with God in His Word – then, if you default on it or if you don’t maintain it perfectly, then you’ll be the kind who will beat up on yourself, and be wracked with guilt, and be ready to declare yourself disqualified (adokimos). So, don’t do that! You will default from time to time!
Sometimes, we say about the life we live: “You know, the main problem with life is that it is so daily! ” Meaning, that some days are going to start falling apart early on. Your daily routines will be interrupted. Your agenda for that day will be derailed. You’ll hear the blaring in-your-face bulletin: “We now interrupt your regularly-scheduled day to bring you this meltdown – deal with it!” And, you’ll have to deal with it.
Or, you’ll get physically sick – maybe for days at a time. Or, you’ll have appointments and errands that will tie you up all day long – or whatever. Many of your days will take on a haywire life of their own.
There will be times when you feel like you are ‘behind’ in your commitments. And, let’s be honest, there may be times when you just feel spiritually raunchy and you have lost interest and the passion of your desire.
Just be sure you don’t give it up. Don’t require yourself to be perfect … because, if you haven’t learned this by now – you’re not perfect!
And, if the default is your fault, or if you’ve been negligent, or if you’ve backslidden, or if you’ve taken your own hike into a far country, or if you’ve been wandering or disobedient – you just need to repent, and come back, and pick up again where you left off. God’s Word will heal you. God will restore you. God will receive you back.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all oursins into the depths of the sea. 20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. ~Micah 7.18-20
You have His Word on that!
9 – Write it down
Get yourself some kind of system for writing notes as you read God’s Word. It may be a pretty notebook, but it doesn’t have to be. It may be one of these contemporary journaling notebooks that a lot of people are carrying around these days, but it doesn’t have to be. I like to use a cheap little spiral-bound 8×5 inches notebook with 80 lined pages. I buy them in bulk and keep them on hand to take all kinds of notes on different things. I keep one of them with me as I read through the Bible in my Daily Time With God. Nobody but you will ever see it anyway.
Write the date. Write the Scripture you’re reading. Then, just jot down notes to yourself as the Holy Spirit makes impressions on you.
You may want to make a note of
- some word or some phrase that interests you, and you want to remember where it is…
- a cross-reference, connection, and comparison with another Scripture…
- some attribute, characteristic, or description of God for you to know and delight in…
- an example that you must follow (or not follow)…
- an error that you must avoid…
- a sin that you must confess, repent from, and forsake…
- a command you must obey…
- a promise you must claim or act on…
Whatever it is that impresses you – whatever jumps out at you – just write it down! Remember, it’s not just words on a page. It’s not just our ancient history, or writings, or documents.
It is the Word of God that lives and abides forever!
It is God speaking to you with His own Voice and in His own words!
Make a note of it, and keep your notes to refer back to, refresh your memory later on, or just keep a journaling record of where you and God spent time together in His Word on that day!
“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success!” ~Joshua 1.8