As Christians, we know that it is important to spend time alone with God. Many of us would like to be better Bible students and have stronger prayer lives, but it sometimes seems impossible. At the beginning of each year, Bible reading plans are selected and resolutions are made, only to be pushed aside by daily immediate needs. How can we improve our private devotional lives? What we are when no one else is around is what we truly are. In the busy world that pulls for our every second, we need to be still and spend time with God (see Ps. 46:10). I am no expert, but let me offer five ways to improve and maintain your devotional life.
Do it First
Every day has its first hour, and we can give that first hour to God. One way to be sure to maintain your devotional life is to begin your day with God. The person who starts their day with prayer conquers the day’s problems before they ever begin (Ps. 5:3). Jesus was busy, but He did not allow the daily demands of life to extinguish His private time with the Heavenly Father. Jesus often got up early in the morning to pray (Mk. 1:35). There are fewer distractions early in the morning. You may not be a morning person but remember half of life is lived in the morning.
Before you turn on the news or read the newspaper, open your Bible and read the good news about Jesus Christ. Jesus said we should seek the kingdom first (Mt. 6:33). Just because someone does not do their devotional activity first thing in the morning does not mean they are not putting the kingdom first, but doing spiritual things first will help us to do this. Before logging on to social media or texting someone, spend time with God. Some fail to read the Bible and pray because of a lack of time, but we often waste the first hours of the day. Redeem the time (Eph. 5:16).
If you want your devotional time to strengthen you spiritually and be consistent, you need to be flexible. Some days there will be time for long prayers and other days you will have to pray in the car on your way to work, after all, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Turn off your radio and sing hymns to God on your commute to work. Keep a Bible with you always, whether on your phone, tablet, or a paper copy. Maybe you can steal away a few minutes to read while you wait for your name to be called at the doctor’s office.
If you have a Bible app on your cell phone or keep a small Bible handy, this will help you to always be able to have your Bible study time regardless of where you are. Listen to the Bible as you clean the house or fold the clothes. Some may say, “well I don’t want to rush through this, if I get in the habit of doing it on the go I will get no benefit from it.” These situations of having prayer and Bible study on the go are not ideal, but they can be used when unexpected things come up.
The Israelites sang on their way to Canaan (Ex. 15:1). Peter went on a roof to pray while he waited for a meal to be prepared (Acts 10:9-10). The Ethiopian eunuch read in his chariot on his way home from worship (Acts 8:27-28). The person who must always be in an office or room closed off from everyone else before Bible study or private worship can take place will have many obstacles and many excuses that keep him or her from having a consistent devotional life.
Quality Over Quantity
There are some people who read through the Bible every year, and this is great. Others read through the New Testament every month. I have heard of people that spend hours in prayer to God, and that is a noble thing to do. Remember in your devotional life that there is no trophy for how much you get done each day. If you can only study five verses seriously before losing concentration, or pray for a maximum of ten minutes, then do that. Do not fail to do anything at all because you cannot do what others do. Long prayers should not be equated with spiritual depth (Mt. 6:7-8). Reading through entire books of the Bible in one sitting is great for grasping the context and understanding what the author is saying, but don’t quit if you cannot do this yet.
Maybe you can only digest two chapters a day. Like a baby who begins his diet with milk before progressing to meat, the Bible student who takes in a little at a time will eventually grow to be able to comprehend more (1 Pet. 2:2). This is not an excuse to fail to grow or to stick with the elementary concepts of Christianity or to study only things we are familiar with.
However, the mom who stays up all night with a sick child may not have the energy the next day to spend two hours in Ezekiel. Or the truck driver who has just worked a twelve-hour shift may struggle as he tries to make his way through a five-chapter reading plan. We need to grow in knowledge, but this takes time (2 Pet. 3:18). Focus on doing what you can and doing it to the best of your ability. As you are able to do more, press on.
Jesus demands that we be daily disciples (Lk. 9:23). The person who is always on and off with his devotion to the Lord will not reap the benefits, but will always be starting over after long periods of inactivity. Do something every day. That’s why quality is more important than quality. Find a plan that you can stick with, do something that you can keep up on. We should not view our devotional time as an energy drink which gives a quick boost only to be followed by a crash hours later. Instead, our devotional time should be more like a daily workout regimen that produces strength and stamina for the long haul (2 Tim. 2:1).
Remember the Goal
We are to be doers of the word and not simply people that memorize or highlight the word (Jas. 1:22-23). Keep in mind that our prayers need our cooperation to allow God to use us to accomplish His task (1 Cor. 3:9). When you study the Bible, find ways to put into practice the things you are reading. It is not enough to collect information and be a spiritual encyclopedia, we need to view Bible study and prayer as spiritual disciplines which help us draw closer to God.
Ask these questions daily, “have I learned anything new about God today?” “Are there promises about God that I need to believe?” “Is there any behavior that I should start practicing or stop practicing based on what I’ve read?” “Do I need to apologize to someone or forgive someone based on the principles taught in the scripture?” The Bible is practical and should be applied to our daily lives. The person who has an active and living faith will want to persist in singing praise to God, praying to him, and studying his word.
Hopefully, you are spending time with God daily. If not, start today. It is not too late to draw near to God, but it takes effort. Every Christian will not do this the same, but every Christian needs to be doing this. The word in our heart will keep us from sin (Ps. 119:11). You may be busy, but not too busy to spend time with the God who made you. Make an effort, not excuses. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (Jas. 4:8).