I make to claim to being an expert on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. Reading on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines doesn’t automatically make me (or you) an expert. Yet, paradoxically, I understand their importance and appreciate their benefits when I do practice them. I struggle to maintain regular times of prayer and personal devotional Bible reading. I often allow the inane busyness of life and leisure to steal my simplicity of time with God.
Having made that opening disclaimer, here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way that may be useful for you. I’ve found most churches give very little instruction on Spiritual Disciplines while expecting everyone to engage in them. Whether you’ve never made a serious attempt before or are looking to refresh you current routine, I hope you find these simple tips useful:
Josh Graves recently shared an interview with Mother Teresa who commented “I don’t think that I could do this work for even one week if I didn’t have four hours of prayer every day.” Do you feel intimidated? I do. That’s admirable discipline on her part, but probably not a realistic target for most of us. But the only way of having any hope of getting anywhere near that is to take small steps.
The biggest mistake I’ve made with the discipline of prayer has been trying to get through my whole list every time I sit down to pray. I can easily make a long list of friends, family, church members, missionaries I know, world causes… and then it would take me at least an hour and that’s without getting to my personal thoughts and desires.
If I’m new to spiritual disciplines then I need to take baby steps. If I can pray 3 times a week for 15 minutes and maintain it for 2 or 3 months, that’s tremendous progress. Attempting an hour a day (or four hours!) is like running a marathon with no training. It’s almost always doomed to fail.
So my big tip here is to break your list up into smaller lists. Maybe there are some people or situations you pray for every day, but others that you only pray for on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or you can give every day a different theme: Thanksgiving, Church needs, Family members, People outside of Christ, etc.
A last practice I’ve employed from time to time is to carry a list in the car with me. When I get a red light, rather than cursing the delay, I use the time to pray for the next person on my list. Some days I get a long way through the list and the red lights bring me closer to God, rather than tempting my patience. Just remember to keep your eyes open so you don’t get honked at when you miss the light turning green!
Again, my first advice here is not to get too ambitious. I know many people that want to start or renew a habit of regular time in God’s Word, so they commit to read the Bible in a year. That’s a least half an hour a day. And that’s half an hour of constant reading. There’s certainly a place for reading the Bible in a year as it greatly increases our familiarity with Scripture, but it’s not necessarily the best way. (Check out www.YouVersion.com for a huge range of reading plans including shorter readings and shorter periods of time. They’ll even email you the reading every day if you want.)
If you’re setting aside 15 minutes for Bible reading every day, or a couple of times a week, I recommend that you plan for at least 5 of those minutes to involve reflection on what you’ve just read. You might want to give yourself a standard set of questions to consider. For example:
- How would I feel I was reading this as the original reader? (offended, reassured, comforted)
- Does this chapter or passage speak directly to a situation in my life?
- Is there a particular word that caught my attention for any reason? (take some time and think on that word)
- How do I need to respond to this reading? (as a whole, or a particular verse)
Then close your time by praying in a way that includes what you’ve just read.
FINALLY, if you have more like half an hour, in Rick Warren’s book, Bible Study Methods (p39-40), he recommends using the S-P-A-C-E-P-E-T-S acrostic to direct your meditation. After you’ve narrowed your contemplation down to a shorter passage or verse, work through these questions. Is there any…
- Sin to confess? Do I need to make any restitution?
- Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the condition(s)?
- Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building toward a positive one?
- Command to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?
- Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to copy, or a negative one to avoid?
- Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?
- Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to or beware of?
- Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or other biblical teachings?
- Something to praise God for? Is there something here I can be thankful for?
In both prayer and Scripture reading, look for God to speak to your life. God’s goal is for us to be transformed into His image, so be prepared to change. Don’t expect God to just pat you on the back and tell you to keep doing what you’re already doing.
Tomorrow, I hope to post some tips on the disciplines of silence & spiritual conversations.