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Dealing With Discouragement In Your Daily Devotions

Sketch of discouraged person
Photo by Jeffrey Hsu

Sometimes the pressure to be perfect at a task works against us. Our daily devotions are no different. We want to please God in the way that we spend time with Him. And since our efforts often fall short of our expectations, we can easily get discouraged. But take heart. It’s okay if your daily devotions are less than perfect. God still loves you. He still extends His grace and mercy to you. And the desire you feel in your heart to spend time with God is a reminder that His Spirit is at work within you.

If you’re feeling distant from God to the extent that you struggle to read the Bible or pray, here are 3 suggestions:

1. Stop condemning yourself

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

When we’re not spending time with God, we can be sure that beating ourselves up is not the answer. In Quiet Time: Legalistic Rule or Helpful Tool, I discuss how legalism in our daily devotions can lead to unnecessary feelings of guilt. Those feelings might motivate us for a few days. But grasping His love toward us will capture us forever.

That’s not to say that all feelings of guilt are bad.

When we have truly sinned we experience proper feelings of guilt. We feel distant from God because, in a sense, we are distant from God. But even then, the remedy is not self-condemnation. It is confession . When we agree with God that we have sinned, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our brokenness over our sin may lead us to confession. But self-condemnation doesn’t make our confession more acceptable to God. It is the blood of Christ, alone, that cleanses us of all unrighteousness.

So if feelings of guilt or condemnation are negatively affecting your time with God, it’s time to get practical.

  • If unconfessed sin is the issue, confess it, turn from it, and move on.
  • If you feel guilty because you haven’t been setting aside time to meet with God, just start doing it today.

In other words, never allow feelings of guilt to keep you from growing in your relationship with God.

2. Be motivated by God’s grace

He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

When God’s grace is properly understood, our love for Him increases. It creates a desire in us to draw near to God, not to run the other way.

If we believe that the Gospel was simply a decision we made at some point in the past so that we might celebrate at some point in the future, we miss the joy of the relationship in the present. Think about our relationship with God in light of Jeremiah’s proclamation. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

There is so much to be gained by growing in our understanding and appreciation of God’s love toward us. And when we fail, it should comfort us to know that His love never ceases; His mercies never end; He always remains faithful. Who wouldn’t want to know that God?

Our tendency to abandon the daily relationship is a failure to immerse ourselves in the grace that He offers us every day. Our relationship with God, just like our salvation, is a product of His never-ending love and mercy. His love doesn’t come and go based on the depth of our devotional life. If our failure to maintain certain disciplines were to keep us from a relationship with God, we would all be without hope. In all instances of broken fellowship with God, His grace is the remedy. How can we say we believe in God’s grace and not run toward it daily?

As you come to God, avoid the natural urge to create a catalog of requirements. The God who saved you by His grace does not sanctify you by a list of man-made rules. Abide in Him and let His words abide in you (John 15:7). Share your heart with Him through simple prayers. Start there. Then see where His Spirit leads you.

3. Experience the joy and pleasure of being in God’s presence today

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Joy and pleasure are powerful incentives. So much of what we do in life is related to the pursuit of these rewards. Yet God has already told us that they are found in His presence. In light of this revelation, we often respond by filling our lives with priorities that, at best, can only lead to temporary satisfaction. Instead, the answer is to simply draw near to God. In How To Have A Quiet Time in 2 Easy Steps, I describe a simple way to get started.

Discouragement is certain when we attempt to micro-manage our world at the expense of our devotional life. When we leave God out of our daily routines and decisions, we always lose. The solution is to rearrange our priorities around our relationship with Him.

Assuming you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, your sins are forgiven. Now let His grace inspire you to know Him in a deeper way every day. As you do, you can expect that He will fill you with the joy and pleasure He gives to those who walk in His presence.

How about you? Are you struggling to maintain a daily time with God? If so, what obstacles get in your way? How might the suggestions in this article help you to move forward in your devotional life? Please leave your comments below.

Planning for Flexibility in Your Daily Devotions

Kyrenia Northern Cyprus
Photo by greenacre8

If you want consistency in your daily devotions, it’s helpful to have a plan. And to keep from becoming discouraged, you should plan on being flexible.

You don’t have to script out every detail. But if you wake up in a different world every day, you’re increasing the likelihood that distractions will throw you off course. And if you’re too rigid, you’ll miss the pleasant surprises that often accompany the unexpected.

I learned the value of both many years ago during an impromptu weekend getaway.

No reservations required… usually

I was living in the Middle East at the time and I needed a break. So I decided to fly to Northern Cyprus. I bought a ticket, and a few hours later I was on my way. I had been there a couple of times before, and I thought I could just work out the details as I traveled. There was one problem. I hadn’t made a hotel reservation.

It was late when I arrived. I took a taxi to the coastal town of Girne (Kyrenia) and, to my surprise, every hotel was packed. Though the tour groups were scheduled to depart the next morning, I was in a bit of a jam for the night.

Pulling my carry-on behind me, I walked to a small restaurant that catered to the locals. The place was empty and the waiter was stacking chairs. But he invited me in anyway and I ordered a bowl of lentil soup. I told him my story, and he was nice enough to allow me to stay for a while as he continued to clean up.

The disruption in my “schedule” took my mind off of autopilot for a while. Though I was “homeless” for the evening, I remember being filled with a sense of thanksgiving, knowing that God was watching over me.

It was about midnight when I left the restaurant and made my way to the harbor. I found a secluded spot near the ruins of an ancient Roman castle and, with no other options, settled in for the evening. I fell asleep in the cool night breeze, illuminated by the moonlight reflecting across the Mediterranean Sea.

It wasn’t a very well-thought-out travel itinerary. But as a memory, it remains one of my favorites. I couldn’t have planned it that way. And looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Making the proper application

Over twenty years have passed since that night and I’m married now. I’m thankful that I have an adventurous wife. Knowing her, she would have enjoyed that experience too.

But what if the memory of that special moment persuaded me to never make another travel reservation? What if I always showed up at my destination, wife in tow, and started looking for a place to stay? I have a feeling that the frustrations might soon exceed the rewards. The memories might cease to be so pleasant.

I think it’s common to approach our devotional life in this way. We just show up, if we show up at all. We certainly don’t need reservations. And that may tempt us to assume that no preparations are needed either.

We might tell ourselves that God deserves more than a routine. And He does.

And we might long for spontaneity in our daily walk. And we should.

And after all, God is everywhere. He already knows our thoughts. And He, more than anyone, understands the reasons why we couldn’t quite get alone with Him today. And once again, these are all true.

But what is the real reason we avoid a plan when it comes to our daily devotions? Is it because we want to keep it pure and unstained by the sweat of legalism? Or are we afraid that we’ll disappoint ourselves and God?

5 “Prep Steps” for a consistent quiet time

As long as we don’t go overboard, a simple plan can help us to be more consistent in our daily devotions. The following 5 steps can eliminate most of the distractions that throw us off course:

  1. Decide that you will spend at least a few minutes alone with God today.
  2. Decide where you will have your quiet time. (Choose a quiet place, free from distractions.)
  3. Decide when you will do it. (Choose the time of day when you will have the fewest distractions.)
  4. Decide in advance what section of the Bible you will read. (This is better than just opening the Bible to the first verse you see.)
  5. Gather what you will need beforehand (e.g. Bible, prayer list, journal, pen, etc…).

This is simple stuff. But thinking through these issues in advance will give you an edge in the battle for consistency.

Time alone with God deserves a plan

I’d like to think that it was my adventurous spirit that saved the day in Cyprus. But it wasn’t. The truth is I was disorganized and a bit lazy when it came to the details. It was God, and not my failure to plan, that made the difference.

Spending time alone with God is worth a little advance work on our part. So I encourage you to have a plan. And then be flexible on the days when it all seems to fall apart. Meet with Him anyway. He’s still there. And He’s still God. At the very least, you will have taken one more step toward consistency in your devotional life. And even better still, you may end up with a breakthrough, or an insight, or a memory that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Have You Made This Critical Quiet Time Decision?

Quiet Time Study Bible
Photo by DrGBB George Bannister

Consistency in the devotional life is all about the present. It’s the humble acknowledgment that our Creator must be central in our lives today.

It’s not that we need God’s help; it’s that we are completely helpless without God.

If we truly believe this, then we must make a decision: Will we seek Him today, or will we let other people and circumstances set our priorities?

We answer this question in our actions… today.

Simple advice is often the most helpful. Case in point: The key to having a quiet time every day is to have a quiet time this day. It really is that simple.

Has it been a while since you’ve met with God? If so, that’s no reason to stay away any longer. Are you reluctant to make long-term commitments? Don’t worry. This one ends at midnight.

Here it is: Decide to meet with God today. And then do it.

If you’re not sure where to begin, How to Have a Quiet Time in 2 Easy Steps will show you one simple way to get started.

Establishing a consistent daily quiet time comes down to this decision every single day. But no day is ever more critical than today.

Practical Application

From a practical standpoint, today began when you woke up. It ends when you go to bed. Sometime between those two points spend at least a few minutes with God. Decide now that nothing will keep that from happening. Better yet, why not do it now?

7 Prayer Requests That Will Instantly Improve Your Daily Quiet Time

Photo of Sticky Note "Help"
Photo by Dimitri Neyt

The most important discovery I ever made about the daily quiet time is that God provides a wealth of instant help. By “instant,” I mean – always available, whenever we want it, whenever we ask. As we read the Bible, we have the awesome privilege of asking God to make it come alive in our hearts.

Disclaimer: A quiet time is not a Bible study

There is a difference between casually reading the Bible during our quiet time and a more intensive Bible study. The focus of this article, and this website, is the daily quiet time. The suggestions below are not intended to take the place of digging deeper and applying good principles of interpretation. And I strongly believe in surrounding ourselves with good Bible teachers and scholarly resources. But no matter when we approach the Scriptures, we should develop the habit of asking for God’s help, as is modeled in Psalm 119.

If you want to get the most from your daily Bible reading, consider adding some, or all, of the following 7 prayer requests to your quiet time.

1. “Teach me.”

Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! (Psalm 119:29)

At least 8 times in Psalm 119, the writer asks God to be his teacher. Have you ever wondered what kind of teacher God would be? Would He emphasize the best points? Would He make it relevant? What about His command of the material? After all, it is His law.

If you wanted to learn to play the guitar or fly an airplane or be a surgeon, can you imagine the advantage of having the most accomplished person in that field as your personal tutor?

God’s resources are infinitely better. He doesn’t just know truth. He is truth. As we read God’s Word, there is wisdom in asking Him to be our teacher. (see also Psalm 119:12,26,29,33,64,66,108,171)

2. “Give me understanding.”

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. (Psalm 119:73)

Our Creator knows us inside and out. He understands how our hearts and minds are wired. And He’s aware of our passions and hopes. More than anyone, He sees our greatest need at this very moment. When it comes to our individual styles of learning, He always knows how best to impress His truths upon our hearts. The author of the Bible is the Creator of our souls. Who better to help us understand what He wants us to learn today? (see also Psalm 119: 27,34,125,144,169)

3. “Strengthen me.”

My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! (Psalm 119:28)

Our lives are filled with many trials. Difficult circumstances can tempt us to disregard God’s Word. In those moments, we need His life-giving love and mercy to continue walking in obedience. Some days we need it just to open the Bible. On our worst days, our most eloquent prayer might simply be “Help!” Remember that in good times or bad, we are equally in need of the counsel of God’s Word. (see also Psalm 119:25,40,88,156)

4. “Open my eyes.”

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

Looking back, I see that I spent many years trying to read the Bible with my eyes closed. I read it as a goal to be checked off of a list. I read it out of compulsion. I read it selfishly, trying to see what was in it for me. But I rarely read it just to behold the wonder and glory of God. This verse provides a backdrop for what I discuss in  My Journey: Getting Personal With God. It tells me that there are wonderful things to discover in the Bible. But it also tells me that I am dependent upon God to see them. For those reasons, I have been praying it daily for several years. And God has been faithful to answer. This has truly become a life verse for me.

5. “Incline my heart.”

Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (Psalm 119:36)

I used to think that our spiritual growth depended entirely upon practicing certain disciplines. But the problem is that our flesh is wired for the world. As new creatures in Christ, we still struggle with the sin nature. And if we try to walk in our own strength, we will naturally lean toward our selfish desires. So we must ask God to give us the desire to live out what we read in the Bible. For me, this has been a liberating discovery. It’s a prayer request that always honors God. Do you want your heart to beat in rhythm with God’s Word? Ask Him to make it so.

6. “Turn my eyes.”

 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:37)

Following Christ in the 21st century is a lot like surfing the internet. We have an idea of where we want to go. But we often end up somewhere else. The problem is not with Christ. It’s with our lack of focus. We don’t realize how prone we are to distractions.

The enemy is not passive. The interruptions are not an accident. Satan studies you and develops an advertising campaign to lure you in. And I’m not just referring to sin. He loves to waste your time with information and activities that serve no eternal purpose.

As you walk the obstacle course of life, ask God to turn your eyes from the worthless things that amount to nothing in the end. Ask that your focus be on His life-giving ways instead.

7. “Keep steady my steps.”

 Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (Psalm 119:133)

In Genesis 4, God warns of the controlling nature of sin. It crouches at the door, waiting to catch us off-guard. Sin doesn’t just fill us with regret and guilt. It seeks to own us.

I’m amazed at how thin the line can be between a healthy pleasure and an enslaving addiction. The things that bring us the greatest joy in life can also destroy us. How do we have balance? How do we know when moderation moves to excess? How do we walk with wisdom?

Since both paths can often look deceptively similar, we need God’s guidance with each step. Knowing God’s Word is essential to choosing the right path. And having God’s hand as we walk keeps us from falling off course.

Practical application

God is our greatest ally in understanding and applying His Word. And His help is always available. Ask God to transform your quiet times and your life as you pray these requests from Psalm 119. Here are some suggestions:

  • For each of the next 7 days, pray one of these verses before reading the Bible.
  • Think about which verse is most needed in your life right now, and commit it to memory.
  • Pray these same requests for others, such as your spouse, your children, or a pastor.

How do you see these verses making a difference in your devotional life? Let me know in the comments section below.

How to Have a Quiet Time in 2 Easy Steps

External Staircase with Many Steps
Photo by Darwin Bell

If you’ve been inconsistent in meeting with God, could it be that you’ve added some unnecessary “requirements” to your daily quiet time? While a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, it’s even easier to not begin at all.

I find it helpful to break a quiet time into two steps. First, listen to God. Second, respond to God.

God speaks to us in a general sense through the wonders of His creation. And He speaks to us explicitly through what He has revealed in the Bible.

We respond to God in prayer and by living out what we have learned.

We can add any number of steps or expectations to our daily devotions. But at the core, it comes down to listening to God and responding to God. We should only add practices to our quiet time that help us to accomplish these two goals.

Don’t over-analyze your quiet time

Sometimes we approach our devotional life in the way that I learned to bowl as a kid. In my very first game, I threw the ball straight up into the air and it bounced into another lane before going into the gutter. I was mortified.

But in a bowling alley, everyone quickly becomes your coach. In no time I had more advice than I could handle. Among other things, I learned that the ball was too light. The holes were too small. My posture was wrong. I was aiming at the wrong spot. I was releasing the ball improperly. I lacked follow-through. And with each frame, I was given another list of well-intended advice.

But it was too much. I couldn’t apply it all. Each time I threw the ball, I was trying to remember ten things at once. I became so frustrated that I didn’t want to bowl anymore.

Have you ever felt that way when it comes to your daily quiet time? Do you approach each day with a long list of deficiencies? Maybe you have an idea of what your spiritual life is supposed to look like. And maybe you’ve concluded that it’s out of reach.

Advice abounds in the Christian life. And it’s easy to become overwhelmed. In learning to bowl, I finally realized that I had to focus on one step at a time. And as each step became natural, I would add another one. With your quiet time, avoid the urge to fix everything today.

Optional quiet time practices

In the future, I will address many of the optional practices that can enhance our daily devotions. I rely on several of these myself. But as helpful as they are, they can also keep us from God if we become legalistic about them. Here are 7 examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Following a Bible reading plan
  • Establishing a certain amount of time to spend with God every day
  • Believing a quiet time should be in the morning or evening or at some other set time
  • Going through a prayer list every day
  • Needing a certain place to meet with God
  • Needing to be completely alone or free from distractions
  • Expecting to discover a life-changing insight or application every day

All of these can be good for us. But none are requirements for getting started today.

How to get started

If you would like to begin, I’ll offer two suggestions:

  1. Read from the Bible.
  2. Respond to God in prayer and obedience.

We’ll talk more about these in the future. But for now, keep it simple.

Quiet time exercise

As a practical exercise for today, read Psalm 19.

The first 6 verses reveal how God speaks to us through His creation.

In verses 7 to 11 we are told of the blessings of God’s Word.

Verses 12 to 14 conclude with a prayerful response to God in light of His revelation.

What comes to mind as you read this psalm? Do you want to worship God? Are you thankful? Do you have questions about some of the verses? All of these, and more, are fair game as you respond to God in prayer.

What do you think about this simple approach to a quiet time? Which is easier for you: listening to God or responding to God? Please share your comments below.

My Journey: Getting Personal with God

Jesus Love You Soup
Photo by Kyz

I have chosen to seek God every day. But that’s not how my story began.

For much of my Christian life I was inconsistent in my daily quiet times. I had seasons of success. But there were many gaps. And some of the gaps were long.

Was I a stealth Christian during those years? No. I shared my faith. I served in a campus ministry. I even spent a few years on the mission field. I needed a close walk with God. I just didn’t have one.

Was I unaware of my need? No. As a new believer, I learned that it was important to read the Bible and pray every day. But as time went on, church activities became a substitute for intimacy with Christ. I met a few people who walked closely with God. But that was not my experience, or even the experience of most of my friends. It seemed that the daily quiet time, or the lack of one, was just as likely to produce feelings of guilt in Christians as spiritual growth. Something was wrong.

Then about 5 years ago I saw my problem. Though I had met Christ nearly three decades earlier, I never really got to know Him. Up to that point, Jesus was just a list of benefits. And it’s hard to have intimacy with a list. For the first time Jesus the person… Jesus the man, became real to me. And I had to know Him.

As I read the Bible I asked God to open my eyes. And He did. I began to fall in love with Jesus. This time, the focus of my love was on Christ instead of on my salvation. I caught a glimpse of how precious it is to know Him. I began to see that the wonders of Christ are infinite. There is something new to discover in Him every day. And I had a deep desire to know Him more.

This profoundly changed my devotional life. And it’s the reason I created this website. I often meet Christians who tell me they don’t regularly spend time with God. I would like to help. Experience has shown me that we can’t be devoted to someone we don’t know. And we can’t know Christ very well if we disregard God’s Word and prayer.

Our greatest journey in life is to draw closer to God through Jesus Christ. Would you like some help or encouragement? If so, please join me on this journey. You will discover that the keys to establishing a daily quiet time are not mystical or spooky. They’re practical and simple. And in a very short time, they will become a part of your life.

My goal is to provide you with practical help to establish and maintain your daily quiet time. Together we will address questions such as:

  • What is the difference between meeting Jesus and knowing Him?
  • How can I avoid distractions in my quiet time?
  • How can I grow in my love for the Bible?
  • Which is more important in my daily devotions: personal discipline or dependence on God?
  • What resources are available to help me in my daily quiet times?

I pray that God will use me and the resources of this website to help you draw closer to Him.

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If you have a particular question or quiet time topic that you would like addressed, please let me know in the comments section below.