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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Daily Devotions - the value and method

A very old tradition
The idea of taking time out of the day to spend time with God goes back a long way. Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10) As a very busy government official if he didn't carve time out of his schedule, well perhaps he would not pray at all: so he established in three daily slots for prayer. 

"Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." (Daniel 6:10)

The reasons?
Daniel gave thanks, we read. No doubt there was more in his prayers than thanksgiving. We are not told if he read his Bible - but remember Scripture would have been in the form of scrolls in Jerusalem and perhaps only the first five books of the Bible anyway. No doubt he had the Word in his heart.

(i) The example of others
The first reason to carve out a daily time spent with God, let's call it Daily Devotions or DD, is because of the example of men like Daniel. Joshua was instructed to keep God's Word in his heart and mind daily as well:

"do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night..." (Joshua 1:8)

King David said of the blessed man that he mediates on God's law day and night (Psalm 1:2). Not a daily-devotional but a day-long-devotional!

And then we would add the supreme example of Jesus who often set out early in the morning to be alone and to pray: 

"Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16)

 (ii) The need to be alone with God
A second reason for DD is the need to be alone with God. Spending time with fellow believers is vital, but so is spending time with God alone. Where we can examine our own hearts and develop our own relationship with God is worship, repentance and petition. If  Jesus, the perfect man, spent time alone, so too surely, must we.

(iii) The desire to be with God
Every believer should want to spend time with God, just as a married person wants to spend time with their beloved. There are some quite remarkable examples of this yearning in the Psalms:

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God." (Psalm 42:1)

"My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psalm 84:2)

We may feel further from this standard than we may want to be, but this surely is the desire of every Spirit-born soul.

(iv) The hunger for spiritual food
A fourth reason for DDs is to feed our souls.  

"Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)

We are not only physical entities - bodies, which need feeding - we are souls, invisible entities, which also need feeding. And the word is soul-food.

There are many ways to undertake daily devotions - all of which begin with a conviction that this is what we want and need.

(i) Find a time of day suitable to you
First, work out what time is best for you. Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Is there 15 mins you can carve out at lunch time?

(ii) Find a place you can go
"When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen." (Matt 6:6). Jesus is responding to the Pharisees show-off prayer style, but still, the location matters. Find a quiet place if you can, all on your own. That's why a DD is also called a QT, a quiet time.

(iii) Make a plan of Bible Study
What part of Scripture will you study? Will you use one of those plans to read the whole Bible in a year or two years or three years? If you do, alternate NT and OT. Will you use one of those 365 day devotionals which encourage you to read a little Bible, follow it up with a small explanation and end with a prayer? Or will you use one of those "Bibles" already divided into 365 parts? 

(iv) The Quiet Time
Whichever method you use - and you can change it year by year, start with a short prayer asking for wisdom and guidance and light. Then read the Scriptures and ask what God is saying to you for that day. Is there something to learn, some duty to add, something to stop, something to love, something to hate? Take the lesson into your prayers. And in your prayers remember to worship, confess, thank and ask petitions.

No law
Do not be legalistic about DDs or QTs! If you miss a day, don't panic and feel you have to catch up the next day. This is a joy not a duty, a privilege not a law. 

No Christian who takes up this habit will fail to grow in grace and faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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