Originally written for my kids when they were teens, and published elsewhere on the web and in print, I wanted to share this with a few new readers of a Sidekick’s Blog, and any who might be having secret struggles with their “daily devotions” or “quiet time.” It’s not some sort of religious duty for goodnessakes! It should be a wonderful, intimate time with one’s heavenly Father, however short or long, that guides the whole rest of the day!
The Morning Watch
There are two sorts of bible reading. There’s bible study, and then there’s the daily devotional reading that every follower of Christ needs and should strive for. In today’s post I just want to write about the daily devotional time in God’s word that we all need, along with the other daily discipline of prayer,
I call it “the morning watch” because that’s what the Bible calls it:
“O Jehovah, in the morning shalt thou hear my voice; In the morning will I order my prayer unto thee, and will keep watch (Psalm 5:3).”
“But unto thee, O Jehovah, have I cried; And in the morning shall my prayer come before thee (Psalm 88:13).”
“Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; For in thee do I trust: Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; For I lift up my soul unto thee” (Psalm 143:8).”
It is at the beginning of the day, first thing, before the business of work and school that we need to listen to the Lord and set our hearts upon Him and His purpose for the day. Not at the end of the day when we’re tired or when we have already made plans for the evening or at night when we’re too sleepy to do anything but collapse into slumber.
This is a little “how-to” for daily quiet time (or devotions, as a lot of people call it). Before we jump right in, let me emphasize two things:
First, daily devotional time is not the same thing as Bible study, nor is it a substitute for Bible study. But it is absolutely vital to spiritual health and practical godly living. It should be a daily thing, eagerly anticipated.
Second, daily quiet time is not a religious duty. If merely reading the Bible every day is a duty to be kept, then one has “done his duty” merely by reading it. But the Apostle James describes it as a lifestyle rather than a religious rite:
But prove yourselves to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and having looked and gone on his way, immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, will be blessed in whatever he does (James 1:22-25).
It’s not as though God will be mad at me because I skipped my quiet time today. It’s about seeing myself as God sees me, in the mirror of His word, and using that knowledge to improve what I saw in the mirror this morning. We wouldn’t think of going off to work or school without stopping in front of the mirror first – if only for a few seconds – to make sure we look okay. We still have all our teeth and no big ol’ zits have erupted on our face overnight. We’re also concerned about what others will see when they look at us. It is exactly the same way in which we are to use God’s word as our spiritual mirror. But how do we make the most of our morning quiet time? Let’s have a look at the practical side of daily devotions:
Things you need to make the most of your morning quiet time:
Your Bible – God’s own infallible Word, interpreted foremost by a desire to do whatever it says, and illuminated in your heart and mind by the Holy Spirit.
A notebook – Use this for writing down the things that God seems to tell you through His Word, and for keeping a journal of prayer requests and answers to prayer; questions to ask God, and as a way to organize your reading.
Time – Allow at least enough time to pray through your list and read a paragraph or two. As time goes on, you’ll want to devote a lot more time to the morning watch.
But how do I decide what to read? How far to read? How to determine what it means?
Deciding what to read
I recommend taking the Bible the way it was written – a book at a time. That doesn’t mean you read an entire book of the Bible in a single sitting! It means only that you would read through one book instead of choosing randomly selected passages from any of the 66 books. If you’re new at this, start with the most straightforward of books, the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the Epistles (letters to the churches and individuals written by the Apostles).
In most Bibles, paragraphs are indicated by a symbol that looks like a backwards P “¶”, or by having the number of the first verse in a new paragraph in bold numbers. Understand that the original writers did not write in chapters, nor indicate paragraphs where our English translators and editors have placed them in your Bible. That is just where someone thinks they belong. You can make use of them or skip them if an idea doesn’t seem complete in the parameters they set. Read until you have a sense that one or two ideas have been expressed fully, then stop.
Putting Wheels on the Cart
Now if you had to come up with a title for the passage you just read, what would it be? Think of a title for the passage. In Bible study, you’ll consider not just the passage but the entire book, its author, all that author’s other books, and the context in which the passage you’re studying fits into the whole rest of the Bible. In daily devotions, though, you’re generally just considering the passage you’ve read by itself. Though very often it will remind you of another passage that expresses or contrasts the same idea. If it does, read the other passage and consider it along with the first one. Think of a title. That sort of forces your mind to focus on the “gist” of a passage.
Now choose one verse or one sentence from the passage that best supports the title you have chosen for that passage. This might be the verse you’ll carry around in your heart for that whole day. You might even memorize it.
Now think of how this title, the supporting verse, and the full idea might apply to your day and throughout your day. How will you put the idea to work? How can you bring it from the page and “put flesh on it” so to speak, to demonstrate it and prove the truth and value of it? Write down the passage, the title, the verse, and the application in your journal next to the date.
Journaling is Super Helpful!
My journal encourages me when I have completely failed, or fallen to temptation, or am otherwise feeling low and wondering if I should even bother following Christ any further, And yes, this sort of discouragement happens to lots of perfectly normal Christians, including some of the bible’s greatest heroes and history’s greatest preachers and evangelists. The great Charles Spurgeon battled depression all his life. The mighty prophet Elijiah prayed for death after his victory over the prophets of Baal. Looking through the pages of my journal – with it’s record of answered prayers, joyfully received insights, and my loving Father’s discipline – proves that God hasn’t given up on me over the years, and encourages me to trust Him instead of “trying to be a great Christian” all on my own.
So why put the date on your journal entries? Because as you look back through that journal later on in the future (and you will, next time you’re reading the same book in your devotions), you’ll remember what was going on in your life at the time God was saying that particular thing through that passage. And you’ll be absolutely amazed at how that was just exactly what you needed, right then – and how different it might be from the way the passage seems to apply in your life now. Your previous journals are a compelling record of God’s faithfulness, comfort, wisdom, and providence. By chronicling your journey and keeping track of answers to prayer and lessons gleaned from God’s word, you will accumulate a vast treasure of precious pearls to share with others. Especially your own children someday!
Below is an example of how you might want to organize your own notebook. The format works for me, but you may choose to adapt your own to serve you better. Enjoy these wonderful intimate times at the beginning of the day that help equip you for what your Father has planned.
Today’s Date: ___/___/___.
I’m reading the Book of: ______________.
Today’s Passage Chapter(s), verses: ______________
My “Title” for the Passage: __________________________________
My Reason for that Title is: __________________________________
The best verse in the passage that supports my title is ________________