TIME WITH GOD


cover



Introduction
Maintaining the Quality
The Principle of Timing
The Principle of Recording
Managing the Problems
Loss of Concentration
Loss of Feeling
Lack of Discipline
Lack of Application
Asking the Right Questions
Note to the reader





Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Illustration: Stan D. Myers
©1992 RBC Ministries--Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA


TIME WITH GOD

Have you ever known a godly man or woman who did not spend regular time with God? Would we dare say that prayer and Scripture are not priorities of life? Have we ever not believed that talking to God about others is more important than talking to others about God? Then why, if we believe as we do about the value and satisfaction of spending time with God, do so many of us let our devotional life get bumped in the rush?

Author Pete Deison understands this struggle. In pages excerpted from The Priority of Knowing God, Pete offers us the kind of practical advice that I believe will help many to rediscover the joy of spending time with the One who has been patiently waiting for us.

Martin R. De Haan II, president of RBC Ministries.


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MAINTAINING THE QUALITY

The report came over the Associated Press wire service--a true confession to the IRS. A taxpayer wrote, "I have not been able to sleep well for 2 years. Here is my check for $1,200 for back taxes." He even signed his name, then added a short P.S. "If I don't sleep better in a week, I will send you another $1,200." He had to do something to relieve his guilt, but he didn't want to do too much.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, used to tell how he sent a telegram to each of 12 friends, all men of great virtue and reputation. The message read simply, "Fly at once; all is discovered." Within 24 hours, the story goes, all 12 had left the country.

Guilt hangs on every one of us. Not the guilt of flagrant sin--we know how to deal with that. Obvious sin is too painful to hide when we know there is forgiveness. However, the guilt that hangs on in the back of our minds is the guilt of wondering if we have done enough for God, if we have given Him the time we should.

How many times have you felt like this? "My life goes so fast I just don't have the time for the Lord that I would like to have. I feel bad about it, but I just don't know what to do. I don't know how many times I've tried to have a daily time with the Lord but it just doesn't work. What can I do about it? I just feel so guilty."

Nothing kills the joy of meeting with God more thoroughly than guilt--yet it is so common. Whether we call it quiet time, devotions, Bible study, or meditation, we feel guilty for not doing it long enough or well enough. For most of us, it is either miserable or missing or mysterious. Few Christians keep a growing edge in their meetings with God.

At a national seminar for Christian teachers and workers, a survey was taken where the question was asked, "What will you be the most ashamed of when you get to heaven, and what will you wish you would have changed?" The overwhelming response was, "My personal devotional life."

Have you ever floundered in your devotional life because you didn't have a regular time? You did a little here and a little there, but it just didn't seem to work out. This frustration is common, and it can be solved by understanding two simple but powerful principles: timing and recording.


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Maintaining the Quality

THE PRINCIPLE OF TIMING

The principle of timing is simple--obvious. Yet so much misery over meeting with God begins and ends right here! Have you ever heard anyone say, "If you don't meet God in the morning, He won't be with you the rest of the day"? Feel guilty? Join the crowd. Or have you ever heard someone say, "I had 2 hours in prayer with the Lord this morning; it was just great!" Again we walk away feeling low and guilty. We know our prayer life does not quite measure up.

Feelings of guilt come for many reasons. Some of them may be valid, but they may also come from misunderstanding this principle of the time we spend meeting with God. Stop and remember that the basis for the devotional life is time for God--for your relationship with Him. It's a time to know and to love Him as a person--as a friend--only better. He thinks, chooses, feels--and He has made us the same way. We can love Him, even though we can't see Him.

Our devotional time is time devoted to a person. We'll never have a friendship with a person just by talking with him in the morning. It simply isn't true that God is not going to be with us just because we didn't meet with Him on a particular morning. This is a very limited view of God. A relationship does not depend solely on the quantity of time spent. The quality of time is equally important. Thus, while the amount of time is important, it is more important to evaluate the use of our available time each day.

Never let someone else's experience be the guide by which you judge your own. You can gain from others' experience, but it is your relationship with Him that matters.

Set a Definite Time.
Once you've decided that developing a friendship with God is a priority, set a definite time to develop that friendship. The time you set becomes your standard. After it is established and practiced, only then be flexible with necessary changes. Make a definite time to meet with the Lord, no matter when--morning, noon, or night.

The pitfalls we avoid. Setting a definite time enables us to avoid several pitfalls.

  • Laziness and legalism. By being definite we avoid the pitfalls of laziness and legalism. People can quickly fall into these two extremes. One extreme says, "I know God loves me so much that He accepts me no matter what I do." In other words, "I can be a little lazy about what I do." On the other hand, some of us are still so unsure about God's love for us that we are working all the time to make sure God will keep loving us. We have become legalistic. We know this has happened when we feel overly guilty if we miss one day with Him.

    God said, "I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jer. 31:3). He will never love us more than He loves us right this moment. His love for us and its certainty is the only motivation that can change laziness and legalism. Setting a regular, definite time will fan the fire of that motivation.

  • Inconsistency. Establishing a definite time can also help us avoid the pitfall of inconsistency. Being inconsistent is probably the most common problem of all. Having a set time in our schedule and working to meet that schedule helps us to be consistent. When we don't, the attitude soon becomes, "Well, I met with Him a couple of times this week, and I will meet with Him a couple of times next week." Before we know it, we begin to miss entire weeks, and the warmth of our relationship cools.

  • Interruptions. A set time can also help us avoid the pitfall of interruptions. If we have set an appropriate time, we won't run into those interruptions that spoil our enjoyment of being with Him. How often have we started reading our Bible or praying, and somebody knocks on the door? Little Johnny comes in and says, "Daddy, look at this bug I found!" or "Daddy, can you please come here and turn the light on for me?" Murphy's Law applies in the spiritual dimension too. If anything can interrupt your quiet time with God, it will. But we can avoid many of those interruptions if we set the right time and the right place.

    Not only are there external interruptions but internal ones as well. For example, one of the biggest internal interruptions is the nagging urge to clean up our cluttered desk--to clear up unfinished work. How many times have we sat down to read the Scripture or pray and noticed an unfinished letter, a newspaper, a magazine, or a project? The next thing we know we've used up all the time we planned to spend with the Lord because we thought we should finish up one more little thing. My wife is very practical when it comes to a cluttered desk. She brings a big towel into our study room and covers the desk. Then she is not distracted by "to do" lists or unfinished projects staring her in the face.

    We need to set a time and choose a place where we are least likely to be distracted by things we need to do. Always anticipate interruptions. They will come and destroy or dilute our time with God.

    Jesus met alone with God. Mark 1:35 tells us, "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed." Jesus often went out to be alone, but it was hard for Him to find solitude. He sometimes had to get up long before everyone else, because He was surrounded all the time by people and their needs.

    David had set times for God (Ps. 5:3; 59:16). He also ordered set times for praise and thanksgiving at the temple (1 Chr. 23:28-32).

    Being realistic. When we set a definite time to be with God, we must be realistic about our schedule and sleep needs. Then we must decide for ourselves the best time to meet with God and set our schedule accordingly. I say this for two reasons. Not only is it the best time for us, but it becomes the best time we have for God. It is time we are giving to Him, and we want to give Him our best.

    God knows when we have interruptions, important meetings, deadlines, sick children, doctor appointments. If we have only 10 minutes to give to the Lord, most of us will say, "I can't get anything out of 10 minutes," so we don't spend any time at all. This is the root of the problem. Rather than seeing time with God as moments with a friend, we see it as time during which we accomplish something only for ourselves. We need to give those minutes, rather than say, "I can't get anything."

    If we gain this attitude, the quantity will begin to rise to its own level of importance. The more I love my wife, the more time I want to spend with her. The more you grow in your love for God, by using the many short moments you have to express that love, the more your time with Him will grow. You will want to spend more time with Him and not do it simply because you feel an obligation.

    We will not deepen our relationship with the Lord, of course, if we take only 10 minutes each day. We need longer times as well. Yet, the more often we give to Him the short, tight times, the easier it is to give Him longer times. It is when we keep that definite time with the Lord that the longer, less frequent times become more meaningful. Please don't misunderstand. Be careful to take as much time as you can, but do it with a heart that wants to be there.

    Keep the Same Time Each Day.
    The second principle of timing is that once you've set a definite time, keep that time the same. It is much better if we will set a time and keep that time the same every day than to set one time on Monday, another time on Wednesday, and another time on Friday. Unless your schedule demands that, and sometimes it may, set a standard time at the same hour daily. There is a very good reason for this.

    Our minds work in patterns and structure. When we start doing something at a set time every day--sitting down at our desks, or going to work, or getting on a plane--our minds go into a gear or a channel. We begin to function and produce according to the mind-set we develop for that time. We are creatures of habit. Thus, having the same time for meeting with God will move us into spiritual gear. Our minds will be receptive for spiritual things at that time.

    Now for those whose schedule changes frequently, or whose work-shift changes from time to time, consistency of time becomes harder. But God in His grace knows what responsibilities He has given us. He knows the circumstances He has allowed in our lives. And He will help us adjust to meet that situation. It should always be the goal, though, to have a pattern whenever possible, because that is the way the mind works best.

    Spend Enough Time.
    The third principle of timing relates to the question of how much time we spend. Because meeting with God is a love friendship, the length of the time is inconsequential. If you're in love with someone, you don't count the minutes, except for the minutes you can't be with him or her. Yet, what is crucial is spending enough time to accomplish your purpose.

    Accomplishing your purpose. If I were engaged to be married and could be with my fiancee only 5 minutes a day, I wouldn't be accomplishing much toward building a deep friendship. So we need to be sure that the time we spend is enough to accomplish our goals for that time. Ten minutes a day is probably not sufficient to achieve any meaningful goal. Twenty or thirty minutes is a minimum for getting our minds in a receptive gear, thinking through what we have gained, and then making it work in our lives.

    There is one exception to this principle. If you are starting devotions for the first time, start with a minimum of 10 minutes and build a habit. Then stretch it to 20 or 30 as soon as possible. Simply give God all you've got. But strive for enough time to accomplish your goals for meeting with Him.

    Multiplying your time. One other question often arises regarding the time we meet with God. We are often tempted to think that we don't have the time to spare. The opposite is true, however, because it will save us time. Proverbs 10:27 says, "The fear of the Lord adds length to life." The Living Bible translates this same verse, "Reverence for God adds hours to each day." Experience bears this out. Martin Luther used to say that he had so much to do in a day that he couldn't afford not to spend at least 4 hours in prayer. He discovered the truth that time spent with God is never misused, only multiplied. This is true because God sharpens our minds, calms our fears, strengthens our memories, and enables us to do our work more efficiently. A person in tune with God will always be effective in his work. The inner peace, which time with God gives, enables us to do more quality work with more energy left over at the end of each day. Time spent with God always yields time for yourself. The more you give, the more you receive.

    Avoiding the problem of habit. An important benefit of having a set time for God is that it helps to avoid the problem of habit. This may sound contradictory, but read on. Time with God does not always have to be 50 percent reading the Bible and 50 percent praying, or 75 percent this and 25 percent that. We're creatures of habit and we generally like things to be set and predictable. Now habits can be helpful, but they can also be hazardous. They can be harmful because we can begin to dig ruts so deep that they keep us from becoming flexible with what the Spirit of God may be impressing us to do.

    There may come a time when the Spirit of God says, "Study that passage a little longer, because there are some truths I really want you to learn." Or He may say, "Spend your whole time today studying the Scriptures. It's more important to Me that you understand this truth. I plan for you to use it soon." Or He may say, "There is someone I want to put on your heart. Don't stop praying because it's 6:50. I want you to pray the whole time because this person needs your prayers."

    We need flexibility and willingness to bend our habits within the time we have set. If we find ourselves doing the same thing every day, we should try a change and be ready for an urging from the Spirit of God. Having a set time will help produce a sensitivity to the Spirit because of the consistency. A sporadic time will more easily lead to ruts, because we try to pick up where we left off and often find ourselves covering the same ground.


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    Maintaining the Quality

    THE PRINCIPLE OF RECORDING

    The second principle in maintaining a quality time with God is recording the results of that time, preserving the fruit of our efforts. This is probably the most important thing we can do when we meet with Him. In the action we take, whatever our method or practice may be, remember this: The measure of a method is the product it produces. Recording the thoughts, the questions, or the principles we gain from our study is the fruit of our labor--fruit for our own enjoyment and for others.

    Reasons To Record.
    What are we expecting when we meet with God? What is our goal--our aim? The best evaluation comes when we write down what we learn and feel. Let me suggest three reasons we should record what goes on when we meet with God.

    1. It helps retention by providing organization. Our memory cannot retain everything we read. It cannot by itself organize a total picture of what we've just studied. It needs help. Retentive memory cannot become permanent without review and action. A record of the product of our study is the only basis for future use. A record preserves the findings and enables the mind to be free to move on to the next step or part of our study. If we try to hang on to a thought without writing it down, we will forget it every time. And don't be afraid to waste paper or fill up your Bible. I've got a lot of useless notes, but among those useless notes I have captured many significant truths from the Spirit of God.

    Recording also gives you a picture of organized results. Give the mind loose data and it continually seeks to put it in some form or order. Take the order that your mind gains from your study or reading, and write it down. If you don't, it won't handle those isolated bits of information you gain. It will simply kick them out. Every thought has to have a framework and a place to fit or it will be lost forever.

    2. It enables evaluation and progress. The second reason for recording is that it permits us to see the course over which we've just traveled. This has the added value of enabling us to improve the plan we use. Many of us stagnate in our study because we don't improve what we're doing. Doing the same things over every day can cause us to lose interest. Recording enables us to review, examine, and evaluate our spiritual growth. This also helps us maintain consistency.

    3. It enhances learning. A third reason we should record is that we learn most thoroughly when we write. We learn best by doing. When we write our impressions, the action causes a deeper imprinting of the data on our brain, especially when we write in a significant way.

    Ways To Record.
    There are a variety of ways we can record God's truths to make them more personally significant. Here are some examples:

    Lists. Second Peter 1:5-7 records a list of progressive actions. Peter says, "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love." By writing these down as a list, we quickly understand that they are not isolated items. Each of these ideas makes up a stair step. There is a definite progression that Peter has given in the Christian growth pattern, and they are interrelated. It was only by writing it down that I saw its significance. When the Scriptures give a list, record it. Writing it out will give you new insights.

    Creativity. Another thing that can help significantly is using creativity. Charting the placement of the minor prophets, for example, can help you graphically identify when they prophesied, providing much greater significance to what they say. It wasn't until I figured out where they were in time sequence that I understood why they said what they did. Creativity helps clear up difficulties.

    Comparisons and contrasts. Comparisons help highlight the similarity between things. Contrasts help us focus on the differences. Take a passage like Galatians 5. In it, Paul contrasts the things that characterize walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh. By listing those contrasts, we can see just how important the differences are.

    Repetitions. Another helpful tool as you read God's Word is to record what is repeated. When we read something more than once, it is always significant. Why? The Bible we hold in our hand is God's total Word to us. It can contain only so many words, and the Spirit of God was very economy-minded. He didn't waste words. Every word has a purpose. And anything that is given more than once has special significance. Therefore, whatever you see repeated, write it down and ask yourself, "Why is God emphasizing that truth?"

    Prayers. It is also helpful to record our prayers. I've written down some of my most important prayers over the last 10 years. As I look back through them, some of them have been answered with a "yes," and some with a "no," and some with a "wait." There are hundreds of prayer requests there. This practice helps me in several ways. As I go back over them, I am reminded of the great things God has done for me. Even more important is what I have learned about my praying.

    I found that my earlier prayers were much too general. I would not have realized God's answers if my life depended on it. They were not stated well. Another thing I learned was that much of my praying was self-centered. The prayers reflected only my interests. Even though it was my prayer book, proportionately I was not including others as much as I try to now. Another error I saw was that often my prayers were stated in such a way that I wasn't praying according to Scripture. I wasn't really thinking clearly about the issue that was on my heart. I had written something down hastily without thinking it through. Recording my prayers helped me see all these things.

    The greatest memory is only as strong as the weakest ink. Remember timing and recording as you meet with God.


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    MANAGING THE PROBLEMS

    Clarence Jones had plowed around a large rock in one of his fields for years. He had broken several plowshares and a cultivator on it and had grown rather morbid about the rock. After breaking another plowshare one fall, and remembering all the trouble the rock had caused him through the years, he finally determined to do something about it. When he put his crowbar under the rock, he was surprised to discover that it was only 6 inches thick and that he could break it up easily. As he was carting it away he had to smile, remembering all the trouble that the rock had caused him and how easy it would have been if he had fixed it sooner.

    There is a tendency in all of us to bypass an obstacle when we are in a hurry. We simply don't want to take the time to deal with it at the moment. Like the old farmer, we plow around it. Yet like that old rock, if it continues to create problems, we're much better off to take the time to fix it. We all have problems in our quiet times. Let's admit it and look for answers.

    I was in a class of 63 men and women of various ages and from many different religious backgrounds. But there was almost uniform agreement that of all the problems of meeting with God, there were four big ones. They seemed to loom like giants among all the others. These four seem to be universal.

    There is loss of concentration, which traps us in confusion and chains us to small accomplishments. There is loss of feeling, which keeps us guessing and takes away our motivation. There is lack of discipline, which keeps us inconsistent and seldom on target. Finally, there is a lack of application, which keeps our minds full, our hearts stirred, and our hands tied.


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    Managing the Problems

    LOSS OF CONCENTRATION

    How do we increase concentration and keep our minds from wandering? The best way to answer this question is to ask it in another way. What are the causes of a lack of concentration?

    Before we go any further, answer this question on a separate sheet of paper. What are four causes of concentration loss for you? Wandering thoughts, for example.

    Each of our lists will be expressed differently, but you probably listed some of the following. To get a handle on them, let's group them this way. There are physical causes for concentration loss. We get sleepy, hungry, cold or hot, sick, interrupted, or tired from a long day or short night. There are mental causes. We get bored, reminded of other tasks, off on tangents, or daydream. There are emotional causes. We have guilt feelings, fears or anxieties, and anger. Finally, there are spiritual causes. We fail to pray and fail to take seriously the fact that we are fighting a spiritual battle.

    Any one of these can be sufficient to destroy concentration. So how do we handle them?

    Physical Preparation.
    The physical causes for concentration loss can be met by physical preparation. We have to pick a time when we are least likely to be hungry or sleepy and pick a place where we will not be too hot or cold, or interrupted.

    If you have your quiet time in your bed, you are in a danger zone. Chances are ten to one you will go to sleep. I've done it a hundred times. If you are at home, take the phone off the hook or turn down the bell. Choose a room with a lock on it, so children cannot barge in. Remember, Jesus Himself said to go into your inner room and shut the door so you can pray in secret (Matt. 6:6).

    The point is that if our quiet time is a true priority, we must prepare for it as much as anything else. If you are sick or extremely tired, I believe God's Word to you is, "Go to bed and rest." Don't worry about lengthy prayers or Bible reading. We may feel that we have a spiritual problem, when actually we need a good night's sleep.

    Mental Preparation.
    Mental contributions to concentration loss likewise need mental preparation. Have you ever been bored with your Bible study? Have you ever jumped into an interesting book and a few minutes later found yourself wondering if you got everything ready for the fishing trip tomorrow, or if the oven was still on? Boredom and current events are regular killers of mental concentration.

    Boredom or loss of interest is more common than we like to admit. A big reason for boredom is studying in the wrong place at the wrong time. Often we jump into a long book like Ezekiel and read about five chapters and find that our minds want to run everywhere but in Ezekiel. Why? Because we don't know anything about Ezekiel. We need some background. Get a study Bible or a one-volume commentary on the Bible and look for an overview. Many books of the Bible lose our interest because we get bogged down in the details of an ancient culture. But a little study and mental preparation can be profitable.

    Probably the most frequent mental interrupter is the "good idea" or subconscious reminder of an important current event. When we think about the fishing trip or turning off the oven and it interrupts our concentration, what do we do? The greatest possible help is to use a pad and pencil.

    Many great ideas and sparks of creativity pop into our minds at odd times. This is common to each of us. There is nothing sacred about our quiet time where these flashes of inspiration are concerned. Always keep a pad and pencil by your side when you have a few moments with God. Write down immediately every reminder or good idea that comes along. They could be from the Lord. They also may be legitimate responsibilities we should not forget. Writing them down takes only a few moments, but it will free your mind for longer moments of study. We don't have to worry that we will forget it. We can forget it for the time being if it is written down.

    Another helpful suggestion for mental interruptions is praying out loud. Because our minds work so quickly, it is easy for our minds to wander while we pray silently. If we pray out loud, though, our minds are engaged in this conscious action and wandering thoughts are held back. So praying audibly is a big help in mental concentration.

    Emotional Preparation.
    A third cause for lost concentration is our emotions. Guilt, anger, and fear are the big three. If we are feeling one of these emotions, it will dominate our concentration until it's dealt with. When we are not able to concentrate and can't trace it to a physical or mental cause, this is the best place to check. The emotions are closely related to the mental and spiritual areas. They frequently overlap. Begin to overcome emotional barriers by first checking for any unconfessed sin.

    Unconfessed sin can cause all three of these emotions. We may feel guilt because we are guilty. We may feel anger because we've had a goal that has been blocked. We may feel fearful because we lack faith in God's goodness and willingness to help.

    Sin often comes from things we fail to do rather than from something we actually did. Sin-caused emotions have the most clear-cut answer in the Bible. God will always cleanse and restore us if we confess--that means agree that it is sin and agree that it is forgiven (1 John 1:9).

    One other factor to remember is that some guilt is false guilt. Many of us have this deep suspicion that we haven't done all we should have done. We are covered over with "quiet-time guilt." We haven't done it often enough, long enough, regular enough, or deep enough. Yet while this guilt is not always true guilt, it may be real if we have been negligent in our time with the Lord. If so, we need to confess that. Remember, however, that the Lord never puts a limit or a time guide on our quiet times.

    The key to overcoming emotional disturbance is the satisfaction of obedience. Successful times with God are not measured by length or depth. They are measured in obedience. We obey by having time with God because He loves us. Love is the controlling emotion that helps concentration.

    Spiritual Preparation.
    A final contribution to loss of concentration is found in the spiritual area. This is the most crucial because it's so subtle. Paul was careful to remind us that our battles are not physical but spiritual (Eph. 6:12).

    We have a spiritual enemy. Jesus spoke of him and to him as a real person, a real foe. Paul warned us not to be ignorant of the devil's schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). He never attacks in the trivial, only in the crucial. He knows that a growing friendship with the Lord through regular meetings with Him is the most important target to hit. One of his greatest deceptions is to make us believe that God cannot be our closest friend, and that He shouldn't be. He seeks to make us feel that God doesn't care about the things real friends do. This can make God appear to be a distant relative with whom closeness is reserved only for special occasions. Satan does this by accusing and condemning us in our thought life.

    Consequently, we get conned into believing that those thoughts are from God. Naturally, this erects a barrier if it is not recognized. It can greatly affect our concentration.

    Satan uses our minds to deceive us by planting many such thoughts. He may use anything to prevent us from seeing God as He really is. Our job is to stop this wrong thinking by the transforming of our minds. Paul said we can change our minds and thinking by bringing these wrong thoughts into captivity, by seeing them for what they really are--a deception. "But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3).

    Have you ever been in a great mood on Sunday morning, enjoying the service, and in the middle of the pastor's prayer you had a terrible thought flash through your mind? You want to blame yourself; yet that thought, when not consciously brought on by your own efforts, can come from only one source--the devil. At that moment you must pray and claim the Lord's power to remove it and return your attention to Him. Capture the thought and bring it into obedience, as Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 10:5. The best thing to do is pray along with the pastor, repeating his words in your mind. That locks your mind in the action of the moment.

    Prayer is our most effective resource in overcoming all kinds of concentration breakers; then comes preparation, planning, and the pad and pencil. These tools can build an effective weapon to spring us from the trap of confusion and small accomplishments that are brought on by the confinements of concentration loss.


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    Managing the Problems

    LOSS OF FEELING

    Do these statements sound as familiar to you as they do to me? "Sometimes I just don't sense God's presence and I don't know why." "When I have lost my love for the Lord, how do I make myself love Him again?" "How do I worship when I really don't want to?" "Is there something I can do about the down times in my spiritual life?"

    We all tend to live by our feelings. "If it feels good, do it," we're told. Yet as Christians, our responsibility is to be in control of our feelings. We may not understand why we feel a certain way, but our emotions need to be under control. Emotions change rapidly due to the experiences we have, the circumstances we face, and the problems we encounter. Feelings often come and go without our ever knowing why.

    Controlling Your Emotions.
    The psalmist in Psalm 42:5 said it well. He realized that his emotions were down, so he said, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?" He talked to himself. He said, "Look, soul, why such hopelessness? Why have you become so disturbed?" Here is a picture of a man whose will is in control of his emotions. He realizes his emotions are not measuring up to what he wants to experience, so he examines himself and asks, "Why am I this way?" The first thing to do is examine ourselves and ask the question, "Why am I feeling this way?" It may be an unconfessed sin, but then maybe it's something that we can't explain, something we have to trust God with.

    The psalmist examined his emotions and then he exhorted himself by saying, "Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence" (v.5 NASB). You can count on Him to reveal Himself to you.

    The last thing he did was to remind himself, "Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God" (v.11 NASB). He said that God is the one who helps our countenance--the outward expression of our inward condition. So examine yourself, exhort yourself, and remind yourself that God is the One who can help you deal with your feelings.

    When you lose your feelings for a devotional time, the most important thing to do is to go on doing what you should be doing. Don't let your feelings be your guide. You might say, "I don't feel very good so I think I'll wait until my feelings change." You need to go on whether or not your feelings are positive.

    Just Do It.
    Actions change feelings. Someone has said, "Act enthusiastic and you will be." That is not just positive thinking. God doesn't want us to dismiss our feelings. We must learn, however, to acknowledge them and then express them in a way that honors God.

    It is a lot easier to act ourselves into new thinking than it is to think ourselves into a new action. This means that if we don't have the right feelings, we shouldn't wait until they come. Just the opposite. We must work on our actions and the right feelings will follow.

    Sometimes I don't feel married, but I know I am. I have witnesses to the fact that I said, "I do," and she said, "I do." So the fact is we are married whether I feel it or not. If the fact was only based on my feelings, I would have to get married again and again, because normal married life is as full of low days as high days. We cannot put our faith in our feelings. We can only put our faith in the facts. As I move on and act as though I am married, and do what I am supposed to do, that "married feeling" returns. It always does.

    Every healthy relationship experiences ebb and flow. So do our own emotions. The Lord understands when our friendship with Him is sometimes low on feeling. He allows our feelings to run low so we will remember that our love friendship with Him is not based on them, but on our commitment to Him.

    When you have the spiritual blahs, just go to the Lord and tell Him. He knows. Then go to the Psalms and read to see how many spiritual downers the psalmists had and what the writers did to rekindle their feelings.

    Life brings all the feelings--some good, some bad. Larry Crabb, a clinical psychologist, says that emotional maturity is not the absence of negative feelings. We all feel anger, guilt, and fear. That is normal. An emotionally mature individual, however, is one who recognizes what the feelings are, admits them, and seeks to express them in the way that would best honor God.


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    Managing the Problems

    LACK OF DISCIPLINE

    How do we discipline ourselves to be more consistent in our times with God?

    Correct a Wrong View of Faith.
    Some of us have a wrong view of faith that implies that if we trust God, everything will take care of itself--as if by magic. Just let go and let God. It is a subtle view that actually says, "We're not responsible for what happens; it's all under God's control."

    This wrong view of faith is a big contributor to lack of discipline. In Philippians 2:13, Paul said, "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose." So God is at work in us, that's His part. Now hear what he has to say in the verse before: "Work out your salvation." That's our part. He is not saying that we work to get salvation, but the salvation we have we are to work out in our lives. The Christian life is God doing 100 percent and our doing 100 percent. We do it by faith in Him. We do all we can and He does what we cannot do. Some of us lack discipline because we are resting only on God's part. But He gives us responsibility as well.

    Recognize Laziness.
    A bigger cause of an undisciplined life is simply laziness. Laziness really needs to be called what it is--sin. God hasn't designed us to be lazy people, but our sin nature pulls us in that direction.

    When Adam fell, his nature was infected with sin. That diseased nature was passed on to us. Because of that, each of us has a problem with laziness in some area. We have an inherent tendency to be lazy--to not do the things of God.

    It is a sin and it needs to be dealt with. I need to say, "Lord, I'm lazy, and I admit it. I have done this 89 times this week, but I come before You to confess it and work at it again." Recognize laziness for what it is, and continue working to reestablish the right habits.

    Keep Priorities.
    The thorniest problem of discipline is that of keeping priorities. When we are not lazy and are properly viewing faith as our responsibility, but still struggle with discipline, the problem of priorities must be present. More people struggle with this in all areas of life than just about anything. Remember again, the devil is no fool. He wants to keep us bottled up. Encouraging fuzzy or faulty priorities is his favorite trick. When you think of priorities, ask these three questions.

    1. "What do I want in life?"This is the most important question we will ever ask. What do I want my spiritual life to be like? What do I want my time with God to be? What do I want to get out of it? What do I see in the Scriptures that I really want for my life? The kind of person we want to be must be clear in our minds. What we want our time with God to produce must be clear. We have to ask and answer that question. Do I really want to know God? Do I want to be a growing Christian? Do I want to express my love and worship to Him? Do I want to be the kind of person who is obedient to Him? We must decide what kind of person we want to be.

    2. "What is it going to take to get there?"What steps do I have to take? Will 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour a day get me there? Our strategy--meeting with God daily, or every other day, or three times a week--will determine whether or not we reach our goals.

    3. "How much am I willing to pay?" What is the price tag? It's going to cost something. What we invest to accomplish our goals will determine the quality of the product.

    Itis not desire that changes a person's destiny; it is decision. We've all got the desires. We all want to be like great Christian people we know and admire, but desire is not enough. We have to make a decision. I have to choose what I want in my Christian life--what kind of person I want to be. I've got to decide what I am willing to pay to get there. There is no short-cut to excellence. If we want excellent times with God, there will be a cost. Anything in life that is truly valuable has a high price tag.

    The Bible is full of admonitions and examples of discipline. One of my favorite examples is Ezra. Ezra 7:10 says, "Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel." Ezra made a decision, a commitment. He would do whatever it took to study the law and to practice it. He decided what he wanted and how much he was willing to pay.

    Paul gave the same idea in 1 Timothy 4:7. He used the example of the athlete: "Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."

    Focusing on the Goal.
    It's important to end our discussion of discipline and daily time with God on this note: The more consistent it is, the better. The more often it is, the better. The longer it is, the better. Just like any important relationship, the better the consistency, frequency, and length we commit to it, the stronger it will be.

    Again we must ask, "What do we want in our Christian life?" Our goal is to strive to have longer, more frequent times with the Lord. He wants us to give Him the most and the best we can in the friendship because He loves us. He wants to be with us. Our highest motivation can only be His love for us. This is what motivated David to say in the first psalm that happy is the one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. The more time we spend with the Lord, the more we want to because of His love for us. David had it daily to some extent, if only a prayer before bedtime, but evidently it was on his mind throughout each day (Ps. 25:4-5; 63:6; 119:55,97).


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    Managing the Problems

    LACK OF APPLICATION

    This does not stop the quiet time; this stifles it. Lack of application does not crash the quiet time; it simply contains it. Once we understand time with God as an expression of a love friendship, we understand how crucial application is. Real love means action. Love is not only the expression of endearing words to one another; it is the expression of endearing work to one another.

    This is why Jesus expressed His love to Peter by seeking him out when Peter felt all was lost. After denying his Lord, he went back to the only thing he knew--fishing. Jesus came after him and forgave him in a most wonderful way. Peter had denied the Lord three times, so Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. The Lord enabled Peter, for Peter's sake, to reaffirm his love.

    In the very act of reaffirming their relationship, the Lord taught Peter something about love. In John 21:15-17 Jesus said to Peter, "Do you truly love Me? . . . Feed My lambs. . . . Do you truly love Me? . . . Take care of My sheep. . . . Do you love Me? . . . Feed My sheep." The point He was making was this: "Peter, if you really love Me, show Me. Show yourself by doing My work." We only really love someone when we love him the way he wants to be loved. Jesus wants us to love Him by loving those He loves. That's doing His will.

    If we never aim to apply God's Word as a result of our meeting time, then the valueof the meeting has been nullified. Application becomes the most significant consequence of our time with God. It is no wonder that our spiritual archenemy tries to kill this part of our meeting. It is the proof of the pudding. If it can be contained, stifled, or simply diluted, the enemy has won.

    It is a well-known fact that most Christians are not regular Bible readers. Fewer still actually study their Bibles regularly. And an even smaller percentage seek to apply and practice God's Word consistently. Why? Many never get to first base because of the problems with concentration, feeling, and discipline. Rounding third base is where application begins.

    What are we after? Should we expect to discover and apply new truths every time we meet with God? It depends on the kind of truths we are talking about. Admonitions to engage in good deeds, to be known by kind words, to pray spontaneously for ourselves and others are the kinds of truths we can apply on a daily basis. But it's a different story when it comes to changing destructive habits, breaking wrong thought patterns, conquering a stubborn sin. These deeper applications to change take time.

    If we examine ourselves closely, we don't find that God gives a new word every day to make big changes. As we grow in Christ and become more familiar with His Word, we already know what to do on a daily basis. The Lord expects us to do those things with fewer reminders. What He does have to continually remind us of is to keep our lives clean and to keep changing for Him. This is where application takes a slower turn. God is more interested in a quality of life than a quantity of good deeds. It is too easy to do good deeds in our own energy without a pure life to back it up.

    God dealt with the Old Testament characters over very long periods of time. The records indicate that there were long gaps between God's conversations with Abraham. He would tell Abraham something to do, then not speak again for months, even years. God was giving Abraham time to live out His promises, to live by faith. It was a test for Abraham.

    It was the same for Moses, David, the prophets, and even Paul. After Paul first came to know Christ as Savior, a 3-year gap followed before he came on the scene for the Lord (Gal. 1:15-18). The Lord simply took His time to prepare Paul for all that he was to do.

    The point is that our ways and thoughts are not God's ways and thoughts. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Is. 55:6-11). His Word is like a seed. It does not return empty; it yields fruit. But it takes time for that fruit to come.

    Applying God's Word is a process and not merely a one-time act. We learn to keep doing God's Word and continue its work over the long haul. This is what makes the permanent changes in our lives and others.

    What can help us draw clearer insights to the practice of God's Word? We need to ask ourselves some important questions before we make a plan of action. Because the Christian life is really a series of relationships, we need to ask some questions about those relationships if we are to apply His Word faithfully.


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    ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

    To get the most out of your Bible reading or study, start by asking questions that emphasize the key relationships in your life. Ask yourself: How does this truth relate to me? How does this truth affect my heartache? What area in my life really needs work in light of what I've just read?

    Then consider what it says about God: How does this affect my friendship with Him? What is this idea telling me to do for God? Is there a promise I can apply?

    A third area is this: How does it concern others around me? My family, friends in my church, the non-Christians who live and work around me--in what way do these truths affect them?

    Next ask yourself: Is God reminding me to resist Satan? Has Satan been tempting me with a sin I need to avoid? Satan has several schemes that we need to recognize (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:3,14).

    A short moment of personal reflection on God's Word is worth more than hours of exposure to Bible lectures. Unless the Word is evaluating our lives, it is missing its purpose (Heb. 4:12). A specific action is the final test of meeting with God. Jesus said, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me, and hears My words, and acts upon them, . . . he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation upon the rock" (Luke 6:46-48 NASB).

    Let's give God all we have when we meet with Him. That's action that builds on a rock.


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    NOTE TO THE READER

    This booklet, Time With God, is based on a portion of the book The Priority of Knowing God by Peter Deison. Peter is director of leadership development at the Center for Christian Leadership and serves as associate professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. His book is published by Discovery House Publishers, a nonprofit ministry of RBC Ministries.

    We are pleased to be able to incorporate an excerpt of a full-length Discovery House book into our Discovery Series at least once each year. We feel that this is a good way to expose our Members to different sources of solid, biblical teaching, and to expand our involvement with respected teachers and authors who are sensitive to and who share our purpose.

    Discovery House Publishers was designed to provide resource materials that RBC Ministries cannot offer on the usual no-charge basis. For more information about Discovery House or for a list of their biblical resources, call 1-800-653-8333 or write to:

    Discovery House Publishers
    Box 3566
    Grand Rapids, MI 49501-3566

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