One of the sad things about being in many Bible teaching churches is that people are often afraid to ask questions. Especially questions that they feel will make them look silly. While that is a whole ethos issue on its own that needs to be dealt with, I would like to use the opportunity today to answer the question, “How do I have a private devotion/quiet time?” Now if you already have a strategy for devotional times, I still encourage you to read this as you might find some of the ideas enriching to what you are already doing.
First a few helpful disclaimers: Firstly, none of the ideas in this post are original to me, they came through listening to others and seeing what works and doesn’t work for me. Secondly, this is not the only way to have a devotion, this is just one possible way that I have found most helpful. Thirdly, I am not dealing with principle issues around ‘quiet times’/devotionals. Issues of frequency, guilt associated with not doing devotions and the motivation for doing one’s devotions will not be covered. To deal with those and other issues I will merely point you back to the gospel. You can never do enough devotions to make God pleased with you, conversely a lack of devotions is not going to bring God’s wrath down on you. If you know Jesus Christ in a way that has assured you of your acceptance with God and showed you the wickedness of your heart than you are at a place to think about doing devotions. If you use devotion times to try and replace the acceptance with God you should have in Christ, they will kill you.
Pick a section of Scripture. Why not begin with the book of John? Or any book for that matter. But because I think John is a good place to start I’ll suggest you try that if you don’t have your heart set elsewhere in Scripture. In most Bibles there are normally breaks in a chapter that subdivide the book into shorter sections. In the Bible I am currently reading John’s first chapter has an opening section of 18 verses entitled, “The Word Became Flesh”. Now my suggestion is that every day you take a section like that and read it slowly two or three times.
After you have done that, ask the following questions of the text:
1) What does this passage tell me about God?
2) What does this passage tell me about Jesus Christ?
3) What does this passage tell me about myself?
4) Are there any examples to emulate or avoid?
5) Are there any promises to claim?
After having answered these questions, choose two or three insights that you found particularly helpful. Then take each insight and ask the following questions:
- Adoration – How can I love and praise God on the basis of this? What do I see here that I can praise him for?
- Repentance – How do I fail to realize this in my life? What wrong behaviour, harmful emotions or attitudes result when I forget this?
- Gospel Thanks – How can I thank Jesus as the ultimate revelation of this attribute of God (#1) and the ultimate answer to this sin or need of mine (#2)?
- Aspiration- How does this show me what I should or can be and do? How would I be different if this truth were powerfully real to me?
Basically this is what we are doing – taking a Scriptural truth and asking three questions of it ( I know it looks like 5 when I wrote it out, but in reality they are just three). How does this show me something about God to praise? How does this show me something about myself to confess? How does this show me something I need to ask God for? Adoration, confession, Thanksgiving and supplication(ACTS). Luther proposes that we keep meditating like this until our hearts begin to warm and melt under a sense of the reality of God. Often that doesn’t happen. Fine. We aren’t ultimately praying in order to get good feelings or answers, but in order to honour God for who he is in himself.
I hope this helps some of you out there.