I know that nourishing our relationship with God is an important part of cultivating sensible faith. But one way of pursuing that–having a daily "quiet time"–has always been difficult for me. Maybe it's been hard for you, too.
First, I've never done well with the ritual because I could never be consistent. The fact that I'm not really an early morning person combined with a chaotic schedule both seem to sabotage my best intentions.
Second, I don't think you have to have "daily devotions" to be a good Christian. It's become somewhat of an Evangelical sacrament, a source of blessing for many, but also a source of guilt for others who don't (or can't) keep the regimen.
Yes, the Bible says we should pray, study, and meditate–no question there–but it doesn't demand a particular time or pattern. There are a number of ways to satisfy that requirement. Jesus, David, and others often started their days with prayer, but that doesn't mean it's the best pattern for you and I.
Third, I've long suspected the effort is somewhat misdirected. Quiet times are encouraged as a way to "get closer to God," meant to accomplish a subjective goal (generate emotional closeness), not an objective one (gain spiritual understanding).
It's not that such a goal is wrong as much as it's wrong-headed. Feeling close to God, it seems to me, is much like the pursuit of happiness. It's gained not as a goal in itself, but as the outcome of pursuing some other goal. To get something for yourself, you have to focus on someone else: God, in this case.
So I have a recommendation. Instead of trying (unsuccessfully) to have devotions every morning, I have devotion. That is, I take five to ten minutes early in the day to focus on God–not to get something from Him, but to actively devote myself to Him for the day. After I sing a hymn or two, I use a biblical prayer (I'll share it with you in a moment) as a guide to express my dedication to the Lord.
Devotion (in the sense I'm using the word) is different from "devotions." My goal isn't to squeeze a sense of well-being out of the encounter, but to focus entirely on Him, worshipping Him, thanking Him and devoting myself to His purposes for the day. The focus is entirely on God, not on my feelings, surrendering myself to the Father, no matter how I feel nor what befalls me. It's fairly brief by design, but still very meaningful.
My moments of devotion may develop into a longer prayer time, but they don't have to. Instead, no matter what my schedule is, I can start each day devoted to Christ, then anticipate time for regular prayer and supplication later in the day by scheduling it or squeezing it in using the methods I discussed last time I wrote you.
I suggest using a biblical prayer as a model. Recently many have begun to use the prayer of Jabez for this purpose. I don't care for this because it's too general and therefore invites abuse. That's not author Bruce Wilkinson's fault. I think his work is abused by Christians who make the prayer into a kind of talisman or charm. They buy Jabez by the dozens to pass out to non-Christian friends who they hope will recite the prayer like a magic chant to get what they want and then be attracted to Christianity.
(See Related Article The Prayer Of Jabez in this section)
Instead, I use the prayer of Paul found in Colossians 1:9-12. I pray this prayer in personalized form every day for myself and my wife and son. Here's my adaptation:
I pray that we may be filled with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that we may walk in a manner worthy of You, Lord, to please You in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to Your glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
I add other personal sentiments before and after, as seems appropriate, but this prayer is the core. Notice that when you pray this way the focus is entirely on God and His purposes. You ask for knowledge, wisdom, and understanding so you can honor and please God, bearing fruit in your daily walk. You ask for power so you can attain steadfastness and patience. You ask for joy in the context of thanksgiving.
As you can see, it will be very difficult to co-opt this prayer for selfish purposes. But it's perfect to help you and I start our day on the right foot, devoting ourselves to God regardless of how we feel.
If you've been having trouble with "quiet times," try daily devotion for two weeks. Write Colossians 1:9-12 on a card and use it as a guide. Gather a small collection of favorite songs–not ones that report your feelings, but ones that focus on the Lord–and use them to begin your devotion.
All good ambassadors need to stay in close contact with their sovereign. This is one small way to help you accomplish that. It may even become a habit. Of course, it's not meant to be a substitute for the kind of extended prayer we talked about last time. But it may help you to consistently start your day devoted to the Lord even when you can't schedule "devotions" first thing.
Devoted to Christ,
President, Stand to Reason
This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It is made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason. Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. ©2002 Gregory Koukl