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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Constructing Devotion


Life creates a lot of tumultuous times.  Divorce is certainly one of those, but it is clearly not the only one.  When something comes in life and turns your world upside down, you often find the reordering of life difficult and managing your schedule almost impossible.  Things that are important get shoved to the side as time and energy are in short supply.  One of the important things that can easily suffer neglect is our relationship with God, either by faltering church attendance, personal compromise in ethics, or when daily time with God in the scriptures and prayer is neglected.  

It is to the overcoming of the last one that I want to offer some suggestions.  These ideas have come out of communications with individuals actually struggling with these concerns, as well as my own experiences.  Perhaps some of the ideas may be helpful in developing your own relationship with God.

1)  Don't try to do your prayer/devotional life based on how somebody tells you to do it.  Instead, experiment to find the method that works best for you.  I also suggest think in terms of establishing a "baseline" and then the other things you would like to do.  In my case, I have a simple little quarterly published devotional book that I have used years which is my minimum baseline.  Over the years, I have supplemented that baseline with other things, such as programs to read through the Bible, focusing on memorizing verses, using a written prayer list, journaling thoughts and prayers, other devotional materials…it has varied.  But throughout the years, I have made a point to maintain the baseline:  I have always kept the one booklet going; other things have varied...without guilt.
A side piece to this is that using variation, trying some different things can help you discover what best fits who YOU are in YOUR relationship with God.  While the Bible is clear, prayer and Bible study are uniquely central to our faith, working out how to apply those to your daily walk with the Lord may well be different from what works for others (or even what worked for you at other, less disruptive times of your life). 
2)  Begin bite sized.  Don't jump into the idea of an hour prayer time every morning and evening.  Instead, think in terms of five minutes as a baseline.  The first five minutes before you get up, or five minutes at the end of lunch.  Don't try to read chapters, read a paragraph, or focus on one meaningful verse, and talk about THAT with God.  Don't try to go over all your prayer concerns each time, select one to talk with God about.  On days you have more time, fine, but focus on making the HABIT, not the amount of TIME or ACTIVITY. 
3)  It seems best to prioritize a specific time each day that you set aside and protect.  Some people do so early in the morning (me!), while others prefer the end of the evening; some find lunchtime their consistently best opportunity, while some use their break at work.  I knew of a man once who actually marked it into his appointment book at work, and would not accept phone calls or visitors or other appointments during that time....(obviously he had the kind of job where he had that option).
4)  Consider redefining prayer.  What if you simply had conversations with God through the course of the day, could that count?  You hear an ambulance siren, and say, "God, help those workers and the victim in that emergency."  You get more bad news from you ex, "God I can't handle this alone, help me."  At the lovely spring flowers or striking sunset, "Thanks God, you did really good with that one!"
5)  Find a way to include listening in your time with God as much as speaking. 
6)  Give yourself reminders.  My wife sometimes tapes little cards with verses on them onto the inside of her bathroom mirror where she kept her makeup, or on the face of the mirror where she does her hair.  Another man I knew taped a verse onto the dash of his car.  Something along those lines can be helpful so that, if you get busy and forget or don't have time, you can still have a moment...

7)  Maybe a way to help you keep on task as you start could be to include your child.  Perhaps as a bedtime prayer, or prayer over breakfast.  Share with your child that it is a habit you are trying to start, and for him or her to remind you if you forget.  That could be a good example and learning experience as well...
8)  Ask God to help you.  He wants to spend time with you even more than you do with him...he can help. 
9)  Give yourself grace.  Don't make this another LAW in your life, or a RELIGIOUS WORK....make it something that is relationship based and positive and upbuilding.  When something happens and you miss one day, "call in sick"....reschedule for another time, just like you would with a client. 
10)  Some people find it helpful to get a partner in these kind of things, someone who calls or whom you call for a prayer time together once a week say, or with whom you just touch base with to see how each other is doing.  This can become something that can feel like pressuring or guilting, but done well, it can be helpful.

11)  Finally, if you don’t know where to begin in the scriptures, a few ideas I have run across might be helpful. 

One is to read one chapter a day in the book of Proverbs, which happens to have 31 chapters in it, which works well for many months of the year! 

Another idea is to read 5 Psalms a day, using the formula of the day’s date and multiples of 30.  It’s easier to illustrate than explain--  On the 1st of the month, read Psalms 1 (add 30), 31 (add 30), 61 (add 30), 91 (add 30), 121.  On the second of the month, it would be Psalms 2, 32, 62, 93, 122….etc.  This formula will work for 30 days, since there are 150 Psalms.

A third option would be to focus on certain books and do a careful reading of them.  The Gospel of John is a great place to start, but any of the four Gospels is a good starting point.  It could also be helpful to choose to start with some of the shorter books of the Bible…1 John, 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, Hosea, Ruth….those kinds of books.

There are lots of devotional materials out there you could also access to help guide you.  When you are starting to build that ballast, that baseline to keep you going, it is more important to get the HABIT going, than it is which program you use.  As time goes by, you can adapt and adjust, experimenting with various ideas until you find what works best for you.

Well, maybe those will help.  Getting some kind of baseline going can serve as good ballast to steady your ship through the times of rough waters.  Even the fact that you WANT to spend this kind of time with God touches his heart...

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