Quiet Time. Daily Watch. Morning Devotional. Time Alone with God. Daily Office.
All these terms are used to mean the same thing—a personal time with God and His Word in worship, prayer, and meditation, that lead you into a deeper commitment toward Jesus as your Lord. I first learned how to have a “quiet time” with the Lord when I was 16 years old. That’s—gulp—41 years ago. And while there isn’t “one way” along to have a quiet time with God, here are some simple guidelines:

Find a place where you can be alone.
This can be hard if you have small children. Ideally you won’t be interrupted. But if your children do find their way into your time alone with God, what a beautiful sight for them to see! You, setting your priorities for life with the Lord. Susanna Welsey had 19 children and still found time to pray. Among the noise and activity of her many children, Susanna’s trick was to pull her apron over her head – signaling to them and anyone else around that she was in prayer and not to be disturbed.

Have a set time.
Like most of us, if you wait until you have time, you’ll never make it happen. Set that alarm 15 minutes earlier. Martin Luther is reported to have said “In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” One of my favorite verses is Mark 1:35, which says “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.” And if Jesus needed to pray, how much more do WE need to pray?

Sing a hymn or song of praise.
There’s a reason so many mature believers say that if they could have only TWO books on a deserted island, they would choose the Bible and—a hymnal. So much rich theology. Even if you don’t sing, say the verses out loud. They will lift you to a place where you see Christ more clearly as you adore Him.

Have a plan for reading scripture.
While “Read through the Bible in a Year” plans are good, they can get legalistic, and many people drown in discouragement about midway through Leviticus, long before they ever get to read one of the gospels. You can’t go wrong by hanging around the gospels—A LOT! Ditto Psalms and Proverbs. At the same time, don’t just open your Bible and point to a verse and think that’s how the Holy Spirit wants to direct you each day. There are many good plans online. Check them out with a quick Google search.

Also, I’ve used the S-P-A-C-E Acrostic for years while reading scripture. These five questions deserve answers from my heart each day:

Sin to confess?
Promise to claim?
Attitude to change?
Command to obey?
Example to follow?

Keep a journal.
For most of the last 35-40 years I’ve also kept a journal, just writing down insights I glean from the scripture, and how they intersect with my life. At times the Holy Spirit will remind me of someone to pray for, or someone I should minister to. And the more honest I am before God, and honest with myself, the more helpful it is.

A journal also encourages you. When you look back over what you’ve written, and you’ve been doing it for awhile, you begin to see just how far God has brought you in your walk with Him. You also see trends. Temptations that continue to arise. Successes. Failed ways of dealing with others. Victories. It’s ALL a part of walking with Christ.

Use a Devotional Book.
And I may not have posted your favorite here. I’d love to hear from you as to what are some of your favorites. But let me throw out a couple of disclaimers.

First, as I mentioned above, a devotional book is NO SUBSTITUTE for reading the Word of God for yourself. The best devo books are heavily based on scripture. They smell like and taste like and ooze scripture every time you open them.

Second, I strongly urge you to avoid writings where the author casually (even flippantly) paraphrases the Word of God, and even purports to be speaking for Jesus as they write. These kind of books make the gospel all about YOU instead of all about Jesus; all about your “destiny,” your “dream,” your “full potential.” But Jesus didn’t come to be your Life Coach, He came to be your Lord! Christianity isn’t a motivational tool to help you “do all the things you want to do through Christ,” but is THE way of life, taking up your cross daily and letting Jesus live HIS life through you.

And, while I do use an electronic Bible now for much of my own study (mainly because I can write a gazillion notes on each passage, whereas with my physical Bible I’m limited to a few words in the margins), I highly recommend you use a devo book in a physical format. Most can even be had used for a couple bucks. Build a library up. And you’ll turn to it time and time again. You’ll also be a resource for others, to loan or give them a book and jump start their journey with Jesus.

One more thought—you may wonder why I’ve listed so many “ODGs” (Old Dead Guys) to read. I think it’s the arrogance of every generation to assume “We know what we’re doing today. Those people from yesteryear, they just didn’t know as much. But we’ve arrived!” But C.S. Lewis believed that it was so important to read from ancient Christian writers that he recommended everyone read two classics for every one new book they read. In his classic book God in the Dock:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period… The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.

Here are some of my favs, in no particular order:

The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, ed. by Arthur Bennett. Tired of stale, lifeless prayer where you find yourself in an intercessory rut, saying the same thing over and over? While traditionally, Baptists have been very wary of written prayers, this collection from the journals of “ODGs” will jump-start you in the morning. Don’t let the slightly archaic language turn you off. Walk in the footsteps of these who have wrestled with God.

His Victorious Indwelling ed. by Nick Harrison. This is a great jumping off spot to sample some of the great classic devo writers (actually 140 of them!) Oswald Chambers, Martin Luther, Augustine, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, and many more. There is power, liberty, and joy when we fully realize “Christ in us,” and this book helps the reader experience just that!

The Songs of Jesus, by Tim and Kathy Keller. In this little volume, Keller says, “Psalms is about how to throw ourselves fully upon God in faith. Proverbs is about how, having trusted God, we should then live that faith out.” He recommends three ways to read Psalms devotionally: Prayerful reading of the text, studying similar or complimentary verses in scripture, and then meditating on God, self, and life.

God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, by Tim and Kathy Keller. You can read one verse from Proverbs and chew on it for the rest of your life! Here the Kellers share insight from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Each chapter is short and only takes 1-2 minutes to read yet often takes all day to reflect upon. Instead of going straight through Proverbs, Keller organizes the book into seven different sections: Knowing Wisdom, God, the Heart, Others, the Times and Seasons, the “Spheres,” and “Knowing Jesus, the True Wisdom of God.”

The Attributes of God: A Journey into the Father’s Heart, by A.W. Tozer. Tozer (1897-1963) was an American pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor. Another classic. You’ll be following Tozer as he follows Jesus, and you’ll love him for it!

Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire. This is a contemporary devo, and Gire deftly weaves events, emotions, thoughts, and faces in a moving depiction of the life of Christ. This book gives the reader a “You are There” experience as you rediscover the beauty of Jesus through the gospels.

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. No list of highly-regarded devo books would be complete without this classic. Chambers was a Scottish Baptist who served as a chaplain to soldiers during World War 1. He died after his appendix ruptured, and he refused to be taken to the hospital, believing that the beds would be needed by the wounded soldiers.

Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy, by Paul David Tripp. Tripp has been called “a pastor to the pastors,” and is a highly-sought after conference speaker, Seminary Professor, and author. This is a set of devos based on Psalm 51. He also has a really, really cool moustache!

And here’s a bonus book for Christmas:

Preparing for Jesus by Walter Wangerin Jr.
There are many books with Advent devos and Christmas meditations, but this is by far my favorite. Wangerin writes 37 devos in the classic form of scripture/teaching/prayer, and does it in a very eloquent way, focusing on the lives of Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, John, Joseph, and Jesus. Pithy quotes abound.

The bottom line is to not merely read devotionals, but to be devoted! If I can ever help you in your own devotional time, I’d be more than happy to meet with you and help “jump start” your time alone with God. In fact, I may enjoy doing that more than anything else in this world!

Hugh Poland
Discipleship Pastor