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Planning an Intentional Devotional Life in 2010
Planning an Intentional Devotional Life for 2010. Do you have a plan?
by JR Vassar, Pastor of The Apostle's Church NYC
The most important thing you can do in 2010 is cultivate a devotional life that facilitates the intimate nearness of God. You won't accidentally get close to God. So, for 2010, I wanted to encourage you to embrace a focused intentionality in your devotional life. Here are some things I have been thinking through with regards to my devotional practices in 2010.
Have a no exemption time and place to meet with God. If you do not schedule in focused time with God, everything else in your life will schedule it out. Have a time and place and treat it as an appointment with the most important person in the universe. And, keep it; no excuses. It might be morning, evening, night, whatever. Just pick a time that you devote to seeking God with uninterrupted focus. If you have to put it on your calendar, do it.
Have a plan. What will you do during that time? The obvious answer is that the time will at least include contemplative bible reading and prayer. But, what will be the content of that contemplative reading? There are several options and no one option is best or right. You need to find what keeps you engaged and maybe even mix it up a little. Here are some options that some friends have shared with me on Twitter:
The M'Cheyne Reading System. Robert Murray M'Cheyne was a minister in the Church of Scotland from 1835-1843. He died at the age of 29 but left an amazing legacy. This is a plan he developed. The esv.org site explains this plan as "featuring four different readings for use in both family and personal devotions. Each day has two passages from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one from either the Psalms or the Gospels. In one year, you read the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice." You can subscribe the RSS feed and have it delivered into your google reader every day. Or you can download a printable version here.
ESV Study Bible Reading Plan. In my opinion, the best study bible available today is the ESV Study Bible. The Doctrines section in the back exceptional and the notes are very helpful. There is also a reading plan in the back of the ESV Study Bible. The esv.org site describes it as "readings every day from the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Pentateuch and History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles." You can subscribe to the RSS feed and have it delivered to your google reader everyday.
The Book of Common Prayer. For those of us from the free church tradition, this seems a little foreign, but I have found the BCP daily office to be a great approach. Every day the BCP gives you a morning and evening Psalm, an OT reading, a Gospel reading and an NT reading. The great thing about the BCP is that Christians all over the world are reading the same Scriptures everyday together. You are reading with the Church. The BCP daily office is a two year cycle, each cycle beginning in the season of Advent. We just started Year Two. You won't read through the entire bible in those two years, but you will get a wide and diverse diet of the Scripture. For more information on the BCP visit this site and click on the Daily Office Lectionary. You can also subscribe the RSS feed and have the readings delivered to your google reader everyday.
Customize Your Own Reading Plan. If you want to customize your own reading plan so that your reading is heavier in one area than the other, you can use this website and have your customized plan emailed you to every day.
Choose Individual Books. Some prefer to stick in a book and go deep with it for a season. For instance, you might want to spend a month or two in the Gospel of John focusing on the glory of Christ. It is a good idea to alternate between OT and NT and different genres. Again, which plan you choose is not the most important thing. Don't stress over it. Just have a plan.
Begin your time with prayer and confession. Confess your sins to the Lord and ask him to cleanse your heart (of things you have done and things you have left undone) and open your eyes to behold wonderful things in his word (Psalm 119:18). You want a heart that is open and responsive to God and confession and prayer postures us in that way.
Read out loud. Maybe it is just me, but if I don't, I get really distracted.
Look for Gospel patterns. As you read, realize that Jesus and the Gospel is The One Story of the Bible. Look for Gospel patterns, grace on display, as you read. Especially in the OT. Every story has Christ as the ultimate hero. For example, don't read the story of David and Goliath and leave your devotional time "ready to face your giants." Realize that you are Israel in the story, not David. You are weak, powerless, cowering before your enemies of sin, Satan, and death, and you need an anointed King to defeat your enemies and cause you to rise up in hope and courage. Jesus is the true and better David, and he is the point of the story of David and Goliath. Look for these patterns in everything you read and rejoice in what God has accomplished for you in Jesus. We don't have devotions and pray in order to avoid the guilt of not having devotions and not praying. We have devotions and pray to know Jesus and his Gospel, and revel in all that he is for us and all that he has won for us.
Journal your thoughts and prayers. Journaling helps us process what we are reading and learning from the Lord. It is good to go back and read your journal to remind yourself of how God has been at work in your life in the past. Get a moleskin or a cheap equivalent and just do it for a season and see if it helps you.
Realize that this is a community project. You need to share what God is saying to you and have others share what God is saying to them. Consider doing one of the above plans with a group of people, a spouse, a roommate, or your church staff.
Don't give up. I have missed meals in the past, but never gave up on eating. I just made sure I did not miss the next meal (and usually made up for it). You are going to miss days, often times multiple days. Repent of your neglect of God and press on in knowing him. Your righteousness is not in how consistent your devotional life is; it is in Jesus Christ who is constant and ever faithful. So, relax and pick up where you left off.
The beauty and joy of 2010 will not depend upon your circumstances, but upon your experience of the One you were made for. As much of him that you want to experience, you will experience. He promises to reward those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).