Imagine a dentist who doesn’t floss. Or a nutritionist who doesn’t eat vegetables. Or a personal trainer who doesn’t exercise. It’s difficult to imagine, isn’t it? These activities are so central to what these professionals know to be “life to the full” that it would be quite a shock if they didn’t actually do them. If you are a dentist, nutritionist or personal trainer, I hope you’re not wriggling in your seat! But this isn’t about you - unless you are also a Christian. Because I’d like to take this hypothetical further. Imagine a Christian who doesn’t spend regular time with the Lord. It’s a scenario that should be just as shocking, but may in fact be very easy to imagine because it is the common experience of many Christians in Australia (and elsewhere) today.
Never before have we had such universal access to the Bible - paper, audio, phone, tablet, computer, television, even on your watch! And yet according to the Bible Society, only 2 out of 10 Australians are engaging with God’s Word on a daily basis. This isn't 2 out of 10 Australians. This is 20% of Australian Christians! It’s a staggering statistic that highlights an awkward contradiction that many Christians know far too well:
I confess that this too often describes me. And the more I speak with my brothers and sisters, the more I realise that I am far from alone. I’ve been growing increasingly restless as I reflect on the chasm between what I know in my heart is important, and what I actually do. I don’t want to settle. I don’t want to give up. I want to know God better. And while my goal isn’t to wake at 5am every morning for a 2 hour devotional, I know that there’s a lot of room to grow to prioritise this relationship in deed and not just word and intention. And as A.W. Tozer, a preacher famous for his hunger for the Lord once put it:
“The man who would truly know God must give time to Him.”
In God’s kindness, I’ve been spending much more time with God in recent months, and I have pursued a new devotional habit that has continued uninterrupted for 104 days (and counting)! To some, this won’t sound like a long time at all. And you’re right! But for as long as I can remember I have been so inconsistent with my time with the Lord that even this short pattern of daily devotions has been cause for celebration. If you can relate to this frustration and desire to grow, I’d like to share with you - not as an expert but as a brother - some of the things that have helped me. I'd love you to share what helps you - using the comments section at the end of this post.
I kicked off this new habit after sharing with my friend Gavin how frustrated I was with the frequency and quality of my devotional times. That lunchtime we committed to read the Bible and pray every day for a week and to encourage each other to keep going. That accountability got the ball rolling - and the ball has kept rolling, thanks to God!
I discovered that if I need to “decide” each day when I will spend time with the Lord, I probably won’t spend time with the Lord. Too easily I drift towards the path of least resistance, and therefore if it’s not scheduled, it doesn’t happen. So my earliest decision was to pick a time and stick to it - no excuses. For various reasons I decided on an evening timeslot, and now my routine is to open the Bible each night as soon as I get into bed. If I have the time and energy to read or watch Netflix afterwards I will, but I want to give God the best of my energy (or what I have left once the kids have gone to bed!), not the scraps of my attention when my eyelids are struggling to remain open. If I know I will get home late, I’ll try to make time earlier in the day. But I won’t (God willing) end the day without time with God.
Over the years I’ve powered through many a Bible reading plan, but this approach has one big trap - the temptation to judge the quality of my time with God simply by the number of chapters read (or just reading at all). Reading God’s Word is great, but just reading it isn’t the end game. George Mueller, a man whose prayers achieved the care of more than 3000 orphans, put me in the right direction:
“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was...how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished...”
As I’ve read the Bible each evening, I’ve considered “how does this make my soul happy in the Lord?”.
Since November, my goal has been to read one Psalm each evening. This has been the perfect place to rebuild this time because of the devotional nature of the Psalms. In the past when I’ve attempted to revive my time with God, I’ve often started in Genesis, continued into Exodus, and got bogged down in Leviticus, then I’ve run out of steam. A Psalm a day has been life-giving (and New York pastor and best-selling author Tim Keller seems to have the same idea too!).
I say “trying” because I haven’t always followed the same pattern, but each night I read a Psalm and write down in my journal one verse that that stands out and “makes my soul glad”. I'll often underline what stands out in the Psalm (thanks John Piper for teaching me how to do this) and I might also write down a prayer, or something I’m thankful for, or one of Jonathan Edwards’ 70 resolutions.
When I meet with other Christians I’ve started to ask them “how do you spend your time with the Lord?”. This question has been an unexpected blessing - often sparking rich, mutually beneficial conversations where we have confessed our weaknesses, shared what the Lord has been teaching us, and asked for His help to put Him first.
Along the way, I’ve been delighted by two unexpected outcomes.
I’m not thrilled to admit it, but I often don’t want to read the Bible. I look forward to watching the Big Bash more than I do spending time with the Lord. It’s embarrassing but true. And desire is a powerful force. Earlier this year John Piper made a blunt assessment of why we don’t read the Bible. He said:
“The reason we don’t read the Bible is because we don’t want to read the Bible.”
If we wanted to read the Bible, we would. If I wanted to read the Bible and spend time with the Lord, I would. But too often I don’t want to and I don’t. And yet, I can say that as I have persevered, the desire has been slowly growing. And as I pray that it continues, I’m also glad I didn’t wait for desire to get started.
Perhaps the greatest joy of this new habit is seeing my wife join me. She has her own pattern (she’s benefiting from Paul Tripp’s great devotional ‘New Morning Mercies’) and to share this time together has been a wonderful outcome for which I’m particularly thankful to God. While there are many challenges and priorities (both good and bad) competing for our time - make time for God. You won’t regret it.