(This is part two of three of the talk I recently gave about practicing the spiritual disciplines. You can read part one here.)
I share my practice of the spiritual disciplines not as a list of rules or how-to’s, but to give you one idea of what a consistent time to meet with God might look like. The principle of meeting with the Lord is the vital thing. Here is how I seek to put that principle into practice. It’s not the only way or the best way, but it has served me and I hope that hearing these particulars might serve you, too.
I usually have some sort of meta-plan – a long term plan for what I will read in God’s Word, how I will devote myself to prayer, and when and where that will happen. I used to think that it was somehow more holy to NOT have a plan, to let the “Spirit” lead me to what passage of Scripture to read. In reality, that just gave my flesh the chance to say, as I stared at the cover of my closed Bible, “I don’t really know what to read today,” and therefore to leave God’s Word unopened. The lack of a plan really resulted in the opposite of a Spirit-led practice of the spiritual disciplines! Having a plan helps to overcome the obstacle of my sinful laziness.
Last year, my “meta-plan” was to study God’s character so that I would trust him better. I used Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine and J.I Packer’s Knowing God to guide my Scripture reading to that end. This year, my “meta-plan” involves using D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God; for each day, this book suggests four passages of Scripture (usually 2 Old Testament and 2 New Testament chapters) and then Carson comments on one of those passages. This plan is set up to cover one calendar year, but it will probably take me longer than that.
I like to be flexible with my plan, so I often take small breaks to pursue separate mini-plans. Sometimes I will use a morning to listen to a sermon. Sometimes I will use my time to complete a reading assignment for care group or to review notes from a recent message. Sometimes I will take a week or more to focus on putting to death a particular sin or preparing my heart for a foreseeable temptation. Approaching my long-term plan with this kind of flexibility keeps my practice of the spiritual disciplines from becoming legalistic and helps me to treat it as a means of grace that serves my soul.
On a day-to-day basis, I also have a plan for the when, where, and how of my practice of the spiritual disciplines. Though I am still not a morning person (and honestly, I’m not a night person either; I’m really just a sleep person!), I have come to see how much I need to renew my mind at the beginning of each day. In order to make sure that my time with the Lord is not rushed, I wake up with plenty of time before my first obligation of the day, and I do my devotions first. (If I wake up late, or if I run out of time, it is better for me to sacrifice a workout or a shower or nicely-styled hair than my time meditating on God’s Word!) For me, “plenty of time” means waking up between 6 and 6:30 – that gives me three hours before I start work.
Within 10-15 minutes of getting out of bed, I sit down at the table with breakfast, a hot drink, my Bible, my journal, and a pen. I learn best by writing things down, so a journal is an invaluable tool to me as I meditate on Scripture. Typically, I read through whatever passages are in my plan for the day; then, I look back through the passage for verses that stood out to me. I write out those verses in my journal, and then I pray through those verses by writing out thoughts addressed to God, asking him to help me apply his words to my life and considering how the passage connects the gospel to my heart. Some mornings I end up meditating on several passages of Scripture and filling up many pages of my journal; some mornings I may only meditate on one passage and write on half a page.
When I am finished reading and meditating, I try to spend about 10 minutes praying for others. This is a new practice for me, since the church’s recent prayer series, and it definitely does not come easily to me! (So please ask me, if you think of it, how I am doing in this area.) But again, having a plan is helping me to practice this discipline. I have an index card of verses to pray for Aaron each day. I have the church prayer list, and I pray through one section of that each day (for Sunday celebrations on Monday, for outreach on Tuesday, and so on). And I have begun keeping a small notebook in which I write down particular prayer requests as I hear them (otherwise, I tell someone I will pray for them and then completely forget!). These small tools are helping me to grow in a more outward-focused prayer life, coming before God on behalf of my husband, my church, my friends, and my world.