Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: Daily Devotions

I've been thinking about some ways to share what I have been learning lately about personal reflection, Bible study and prayer.  If I had to distill my learnings down to one basic idea it would simply be this:  Without personal reflection, Bible study and prayer my life would be in a shambles.

So with this in mind, I thought I would entitle this little series: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself.   Intrigued?  You bet you are.

Today's installment has to do with Daily Devotions.  When I was a kid growing up in fundamentalist Christian world, the very best Christians were the ones who would pepper their conversations with phrases like: "Today when I was reading my Bible..." or "Can I just share something I learned today from my devotions...?"  or "I was just praying during my quiet time today and God was just in the room man..."

These people always ticked me off.  I wanted to thump them with a Bible.  A really... big... Bible.

It's difficult to "devote" yourself to daily Bible reading and prayer---I freely admit this.  Everyone is busy.  We go to bed late and wake up early.  We have kids to get out the door to school and meetings, appointments... television to watch, emails to read, Facebook to troll...  Yeah.

Daily devotions are the sort of thing that most Christians don't spend a lot of time doing.  Most of us prefer to have our Bible reading and prayer done for us at Church by the paid professionals.  After all, they tend to do it more eloquently and with feeling.

[Although people who "breath pray" drive me nuts.  "Oh Jesus (inhale/exhale) we just praise you (inhale/exhale) we just love you (inhale/exhale) thank you Jesus (inhale/exhale)."]

But what I have learned in my life is that if I don't spend the time reading my Bible daily (and not just reading it to prepare for sermons), spend time in prayer and personal reflection---my life unravels and I find my priorities all messed up.

The great Reformer of the Church, Martin Luther, once said that he prayed one hour a day unless he was too busy and then he prayed three hours.

So here's some tips from what I have been learning lately.

1.  Get up early.  Typically my wife and I get up at 5 AM---or close to it.  It's a full two hours before we have to leave to get the kids to school during the school year and it gives us time to do all of our morning chores and to have at least 45 minutes of uninterrupted time with God.

2.  Start modest.  If 45 minutes seems like a long time for you---start off with 20 minutes and then see where it leads you.  What I have found is that the more regularly I studied and prayed every day the more time I wanted to spend doing it.

3.  Get a good guide.  I started off with three "Bible heavy" devotional books that I had, and have since added several others, in addition to a theological primer and a leadership devotional.  I'll give you a list of the ones that I am currently using:

The Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word (a lectionary based devotion guide)

Seeking God's Face: Praying Through the Bible through the Year (a lectionary based devotion that mixes Psalms and other readings along with guided prayer)

Coffee With Calvin: Daily Devotions by Donald K. Kim (this takes the major ideas from Calvin's Institutes and offers them up in daily devotional readings)

Habitudes: Images that Form Leadership Habits & Attitudes by Tim Elmore (this series is a great devotional guide for leaders of any kind) 

The Way: 365 Daily Devotions by E. Stanley Jones (Jones was a turn of the century evangelist who wrote 28 devotional books that were read by millions)

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross (this is a liturgical calendar based devotion that can be read on a monthly basis depending on the season of the Church) 

Story of Stories: A Guided Tour from Genesis to Revelation by Karen Lee-Thorp (this is a narrative presentation of the big themes of the Bible perfect to keep you connected to the major stories and movements in Scripture)

Time With God: The New Testament for Busy People (This will take you through the entire New Testament in a year in addition to Old Testament readings and a brief devotion each day) 

4.  Journal.  This is a great way to pray if you are like me and have a hard time just sitting still.  Although don't underestimate the power of quiet and solitude.  Journalling opens up your thoughts and gives you a good space to reflect on what you read, write letters to God whatever you want to do.

5.  Stick with it.  Like most things in life daily devotions are a habit.  We have all sorts of habits and not all of them are good ones.  Make this a habit every single day.  Find a time in your day where the world gets pushed back a bit and spend some time checking yourself before you wreck yourself.
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