My life is far more a warning than a model.
I would not wish to suggest that I am commending standards of devotional achievement that I perpetually reach. But in what is turning out to be a rather long life I have learned from the champions and the stalwarts. And what I’ve most longed to discover from those heroes is connected to their intimacy with the Almighty.
In his admirable book on prayer Timothy Keller distills and synthesizes the best from Augustine, Luther and Calvin on the great subject. He then offers a critique of contemporary evangelical patterns of devotion. He notes that Protestant Christians above the average routinely carve out time for the Lord daily.
This of course is to be commended.
We may even say that it is essential, for it truly is. Our pastors can offer precious little if the congregations who sit before them encounter the Word of God on Sunday mornings only. But if they are daily seeking God’s face during the week, they are much more likely to receive the morsel on Sunday morning with maximum benefit.
Even if we make time for God daily, we must resist the tendency to compartmentalize our devotional life and hold it separate from everyday concerns. Do we feel relief when we get that one segment of our day out of the way so that we can return to our secular preoccupations with more relish and less guilt?
The great goal is not to separate but to permeate.
That concentrated time of prayer and meditation on Scripture should be a launching pad for a day of consecration and service, not a parenthesis which amounts to an interruption of the things we really care about.
Keller tells of how once he was able to spend not once but a minimum of twice a day in periods of consciously entering into God’s presence, the benefit was remarkable.
But what do we do during those “periods”?
Well, obviously we pray.
But how to pray?
At a minimum there should be praise.
Praise is a good thing for the upright and who would not wish to remain upright (Psalm 33:1)? Praise takes place when we recount God’s attributes and activities back to Him. We are making known our adoration of God’s person and His work.
Then there should be thanksgiving, especially the kind of thanksgiving which takes place when we declare specifically how God’s attributes and works have accrued to our great advantage.
There should always be confession because we have much to confess, much to regret, and much to renounce. The more specific we are the greater benefit we receive.
Then we simply ask God for what we want (Philippians 4:6). We may look to the New Testament and the Psalms with profit when we prioritize the substance of our petitions. Else we will pray like pagans who know nothing of the God of the Bible.
Just as obviously there should be time spent in that Bible. One reason we study the Scripture is so we may learn to pray.
Which part of Scripture?
Well more than one part. There are many excellent guides, especially the daily readings of Robert Murray M’Cheyne easily accessed in books or on the internet.
But how long should we take?
Until we are changed.
If we are merely discharging a duty we may never be changed. But if our minds and hearts are fully engaged, if our wills are genuinely surrendered in such a way as to await orders, soon we actually will be changed. One way we will know we are changed is when we realize that we are knowing greater joy in the times set apart.
The Apostles knew that joy.
Not the joy of comfort but the comfort of joy.
They asked for boldness not protection.
It is impossible to seek safety and conquest at the same time.
And those early Christians were more than conquerors.
Let us follow their example.
For soon we will share their fellowship.