June 10, 2017
“I cannot imagine a greater motivation to pray than that God enjoys having me in His presence. He enjoys my company.” R.T. Kendall
The first time I ever remember hearing about the value or the practice of a daily quiet time with God was probably in my first or second year of high school. To play with one or more of the four sons of this godly couple down the street from me, I had to often interact with their mother. One day she gave me a booklet published by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship called “The Quiet Time”, and asked me to read it. Miraculously I did read it and then gave it back to her. She asked me what I thought. I replied it was great. She then said, well then now you need to practice it. For the next four years I rarely did. I had one foot still largely in the world at that time in my life, and the discipline of starting my day with God (or even ending it with Him) just never kicked in.
Then at a point of personal crisis, I moved to San Jose late in my 19th year of life, and got involved with the Navigator ministry there and the local church my friend (who invited me out there) was going to. The Navigators beat this drum of having a daily quiet time like nobody’s business! So I began to try to get up early enough to be able to spend some undistracted time with God every morning. Sadly in those first months I failed more than I succeeded. I had never been a disciplined person, and I clearly remember how discouraged I would get over sleeping in, and/or putting something else in front of that time with God.
Thankfully, I eventually learned to draw upon the mercy and forgiveness and cleansing that was mine through the blood of Christ on the cross (I John 1:9). And I eventually learned that God wasn’t quite as punitive and condemning as the father of lies led me to believe (Psalm 103:13,14).
Strange as it sounds, He delights in my fellowship (and yours), and was willing to wait until I developed some delight in His.
It is my conviction that the practice of a daily quiet time or focused time with the Lord is one of the most fruitful and critical spiritual disciplines a disciple of Jesus could ever pursue.
And the biggest reason or motivation for that is His own practice as seen in a number of passages such as Isaiah 50:4. This is one of a handful of prophetic portraits of the coming Messiah we are given in the book of Isaiah. This particular one finds Him/Jesus speaking of His daily practice with the Father (and implied with the Holy Spirit), when He was on the earth.
It reads: “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.” BTW – if you read the rest of this passage you will see more evidence that this is the Messiah Jesus speaking of His time on earth.
Jesus says in this passage that every morning the Father woke Him up and so ministered to Him that He was thereby enabled to hear His voice and do His bidding through the day.
The other passage about Jesus that has reinforced the impact of this one is Mark 1:35, where we find in the context that Jesus had ministered way into the night, but then still got up early (as was His practice) to be alone with the Father. “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”
Knowing that this was Jesus’s practice and habit did not immediately make it easy for me.
For most people I talk to it hasn’t been an easy spiritual discipline for them to practice either.
So I want to share some practical things that have helped me, and perhaps might be of some use or encouragement to you in the all important pursuit of a daily meaningful time with the Lord before your day begins.
1. Try to go to bed every night early enough to enable you to get up the next morning early enough to meet with God before your day takes off. I eventually had to come to grips with the fact that I could not burn the candle at both ends. Being disciplined at night is just as important as being disciplined in the morning.
2. Remind yourself often of God’s desire to be with you. You might try memorizing a few passages you come across in your Bible readings that speak to that such as Isaiah 55:1-3; Matthew 11:28-30; Psalm 16:11; Jeremiah 31:3; John 7:37,38
3. Choose a place and a time that will give you the best shot at being undistracted and stick with that place and time.
4. Stretch, make some coffee, and do whatever else it takes to wake up and shake the cobwebs off.
5. Prepare your heart. Before I begin to meditate in the first passage for the day, I ask the Lord to cleanse me by His blood from head to toe and from all defilement (what I am aware of and what I am not aware of). I ask Him to “wash me thoroughly from my sin” as David prayed so passionately in Psalm 51. I then pray some of the biblical prayers for my time in the scriptures such as: – “Open my eyes that I a may behold wonderful things from Your law” Psalm 119:18 – “Establish Your word to me as that which produces reverence for You.” Psalm 119:38 – “Illumine Your word to me.” – “Revive me according to Your word.” Psalm 119:25 – “Sanctify me through Your truth.” John 17:17 – “Transform me by the renewing of my mind.” Romans 12:2 Etc.
6. Respond to what you are reading and hearing. After I meditate in a given passage, I typically will walk around and pray re: what I have just read (if walking or pacing helps you focus; my wife can lay in bed and focus and pray; I cannot).
7. Develop a plan for your times in the Scriptures. For years I used a “reading the Bible through in a year plan”. In the last year or so I’ve decided I want to always be reading through a Psalm a day and a chapter of a gospel per day as well as a chapter in another Old Testament book and a chapter in another New Testament book (so for instance this morning I read Exodus 5, Psalm 11, John 2, and Hebrews 13. Tomorrow I will read Exodus 6, Psalm 12, John 3 and James 1).
8. Recognize that it is normal for one’s mind to go all over the place – especially in the beginning of your time with the Lord. Sometimes I have to read through a given chapter 3 times to begin to be able to focus and feel like I am connecting with the Lord. I’ve probably had every bizarre thought known to man at some point in my early morning times with the Lord. Sometimes I really struggle with worry. Sometimes ….well suffice it to say I draw on the blood of Jesus a lot and just refuse to condemn myself. Typically on mornings where I encounter difficulties, spiritual warfare, etc., I find if I just persevere eventually I get into a presence of God zone, and things begin to click.
9. Hold off on intercession for a bit. I use a variety of prayer lists that I keep in my planner for intercession. But I usually reserve the first hour of the morning more for meditation in the scriptures and prayerful response to what I’m seeing and hearing including of course praise and thanksgiving. Before I commence to asking, I want to make sure my vision of God is restored and I am clear on who I am praying to. And I don’t want to just treat Him as a spiritual genie that is there to just give me whatever I want or think I need. (Though in saying this He does often invite/command us to ask).
10. Towards the end of my time with the Lord I typically will review some scripture memory verses, and read some devotional material that stirs my heart for Him and for revival and awakening.
11. Finally in response to a direct command from the Lord at the beginning of my sabbatical in early June of 2015, I do not get on any social media, look at a newspaper or T.V., or meet with anyone until I’ve been with the Lord alone for two hours. When the Lord first said this, I quickly concluded that was not doable and tried for a shorter time of abstinence from all the above. Within a week I found I had grace from Him to abstain for two hours. Sometimes longer. Sadly I had to reckon with the fact that I was way too horizontal/human focused; and way too little God focused. This discipline really helped me become more God focused, though I have still have a long ways to go on this.
None of this should be law to you. If this discipline is new to you, you may want to just try for
5 or 10 minutes alone with the Lord at the start of your day. The Holy Spirit is more than faithful and able to help you know what will work for you. If you fail to spend any time with Him at all before your day begins, He still loves you and longs for your fellowship and will draw near to you at any time of the day or night that you draw near to Him (see James 4:8).
God bless you as you grow in your relationship with the living God. And please remember He is the initiator and the sustainer of your relationship with Him. Ultimately our hope is His faithfulness, not our own.