A healthy devotional experience is essential to living a balanced, fulfilled Christian life. Prayer, Bible reading, and community service are key ingredients in remaining spiritually grounded.
Yet we’re not all the same. Our different backgrounds, educations, and interests mean that we will approach our devotional activities differently.
Here we offer a glimpse of how some of our friends find spiritual refreshment.
Enjoy your walk with the Lord as you use devotional methods suited to you and your temperament. —Editors
When I was a child, it was a normal occurrence in our home to find my parents on their knees in the wee hours of the morning. It was habitual for them to read the Bible and to lift up every member in the immediate family specifically by name in prayer, then list various members of the extended family facing a challenge. In the quiet, dark hours of the morning, before the break of dawn, when the world was fast asleep, they found sweet communion with the Father in prayer and Bible study.
As a young man I came to appreciate the quiet hours of the morning. Initially the need for scheduled devotional time stemmed from having the schedule of a young person filled with the demands of an academic life, living in a dormitory. Early morning afforded me the silence and solitude that precedes daybreak, before the hustle and bustle that make it nearly impossible to spend some quality time devoted to nurturing my relationship with the Lord. Over the years this has become the most integral part of my day. Nothing has kept me more engaged with God on a daily basis than seeking Him every morning in devotion and prayer. Instead of being a challenge on the long days, it fuels me physically, emotionally, and spiritually to power through them.
Prayer and devotion are inextricably intertwined. I read those precious words breathed by the very Creator in my Bible, all the while beseeching God to send His Spirit to help me glean from it the lessons He has in store for me. I ask God to empty my mind of all preconceived notions that I may have, and give me the ability to apply immediately what I have learned in my life.
God loves to send us the Holy Spirit, but we have to ask! If our devotional life is in a rut, He welcomes our humble confession of our lukewarm condition as we ask Him to breathe His sweet Spirit back into us.
Paul expressed the passion of his life in Philippians 3:10: “That I may know Him” (NKJV).* Knowing Christ is what spiritual growth is constantly accomplishing. It is what my soul ever craves.
* Bible texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Stanley Ponniah works as a senior accountant at Adventist Church headquarters, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
I’m an early riser, and when I say early, I mean early. If I sleep to 4:30 a.m. my day, I think, is almost shot. I get to the General Conference early, too. That way I have much of the building to myself, and it’s during this time that I often have my personal devotional.
I generally walk the halls, reading my Bible. If I’m reading the Old Testament, I read it in Hebrew. Though I am amazed at the miracle of language, and how one language can translate into another and keep most of the original meanings, there’s no question that working in the original is a blessing.
In my morning walks I truly try to connect to the Lord through His Word. I take the Word as The Word. Even what I don’t understand I seek to submit to, accepting it as from the Lord and, to whatever degree, applicable to myself here and now. I especially love reading about the power of God, the presence of God, and the love of God. The God revealed in the Bible is the God to whom I pray as I walk and read, the God whose promises I claim for myself, despite my unworthiness.
Every morning I think about my blessings. Like everyone, I have painful struggles, things I don’t like and cannot understand. But, as I think about all that I have to be grateful for, and all that I have to thank the God I’m reading about, I get comforted and hopeful. I also love to recount the Lord’s leading in my life. The God who spoke the world into existence (Gen. 1), the God who freed my people from Egypt (Ex. 12), the God on Calvary (Luke 24:20) is the God who in a stunning way intervened in my life in 1979, and hasn’t stopped since. Some of my favorite texts, which read wonderfully in Hebrew, are Deuteronomy 4:1-9, with verse 4 being my favorite: “But ye that did cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day” (KJV).
Worship, for me, is learning how to, indeed, “cleave unto the Lord.”
No question, some mornings I feel close to the Lord; others, I don’t. But it doesn’t matter; what matters is that I believe, trust, and cleave to the Lord, who, through His Word, speaks to me early in the morning in the quiet halls of the General Conference building.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.
I know what it means to “live in survival mode” spiritually. That’s how I spent much of my young adulthood. I was busy doing many good things, traveling the world working for God. I sincerely loved the Lord, but something was missing. Finally, I told God, “I don’t want to settle for ‘half-baked wilderness Christianity’ anymore. I want the full deal. I’m daring to ask for more.” And more is what He gave me (Eph. 3:20).
Several spiritual keys help me keep my walk with God fresh and vibrant, even while juggling life and full-time ministry.
Jesus captured my heart. I value my daily time with Him. I ask God to wake me up early enough each morning to enjoy a “spiritual feast” in His Word and in prayer. I find a solitary place, turn my phone off, and enjoy worshipping Him with songs of praise. If I’m feeling a little dry, I even fast from any spiritual distractions (see the third point) for a few days until I more earnestly hunger for the things of heaven.
I’m always on guard against self-sufficiency, recognizing I desperately need my Savior. When I’m about to do a task, when dealing with trials or temptations, when being applauded for achievements, and even when I fall, I always seek the Lord in prayer, for apart from Christ my own efforts are futile. I claim the promise from The Desire of Ages: “From the soul that feels his need, nothing is withheld. He has unrestricted access to Him in whom all fullness dwells.”*
I’m always on guard against spiritual desensitizers and breaches. These “spiritual desensitizers” take myriad forms: while shopping at the mall, on the magazine rack at the grocery store, in conversation with others, on my dinner plate, and probably most often during my down time, while browsing the Internet, or reading posts on social media. I have learned that I must be especially vigilant in guarding my five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, even touch—for these senses can quickly become captives to the enemy. I must keep open the channels between myself and the Lord; otherwise I go spiritually dry. That’s why I don’t just read the Word, I pray the Word. This has given strength and victory to my daily life.
Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). Let’s not settle for wilderness Christianity!
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 300.
Melody Mason is the author of Daring to Ask for More: Divine Keys for Answered Prayer.
It starts when I get in the shower—the exact point of my morning that sets the course of my day. You see, a certain number of things have to happen after that point, with little wiggle room, in order for me to get out of the house and to work on time. There is no wiggle room there, either. I usually have patients already waiting to see me when I arrive.
While hopping into the shower sets my temporal course of the day, it is what happens before that sets my mental, emotional, and spiritual tone for whatever is ahead. It’s during the early-morning hours of the day, before the hustle and bustle of the daily grind, that I spend a few precious minutes with my Friend, Jesus.
There are days I long to be free from the demands of my daily routine, where I am free to do what I want, when I want. Interestingly, I have noticed that during my “free time” I am less likely to pursue moments with Jesus. I seem to find other things of importance; a project, time with a friend, or some leisure activity. It is really during my regular daily routine that I find the consistency of time spent in Bible study and prayer.
From a behavioral perspective, routines serve useful purposes in our lives. They build efficiency into regular activities and conserve energy that can be better spent for other mental activities. I do not need to plan my routine every morning; it is almost automatic. Building a routine around valued activities can increase the likelihood that those behaviors will occur. These behaviors might include such things as family dinners, date nights, or designated time for physical activity. Less time is spent thinking about what to do and when to do it. Valued activities become woven into the pattern of our lives.
Recently my morning routine changed, forcing me to leave the house 35 minutes earlier than usual. I struggled to think about how I was going to adjust my schedule to accommodate this new need and not give up my precious devotional time. As the new schedule drew near my son asked, “Mom, when are you going to do your Bible study?” I treasured this simple question, for in it lay some important implications. First, there was an implicit challenge, the challenge not to let go of an important activity. Second, there was an acknowledgment that others are paying attention to my choices. My choices affect not only me, but those around me.
I thank God each day for our precious time together, and I pray that He will strengthen me even when I feel tired and distracted. Each day as I head out to face the challenges of the day, I say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me” (see Isa. 6:8).
Sharlene LeClerc, a clinical psychologist, lives in Charleston, South Carolina.
As a clinical psychologist I help those who are suffering from distressing thoughts and feelings. Feelings can be quite tricky. After all, feelings are involuntary. They originate in the limbic system of the brain and often involve a whole system response, including an action-urge, such as fight, flight, or freeze.
Feelings are closely associated with our memories; in fact, the part of our brain that is associated with memories, the hippocampus, is also part of the limbic system. This close relationship between memories and feelings makes sense. It’s important for us to remember whom we love and what we fear. Feelings place a tag on incoming stimuli that let us know, “Hey, pay attention! This is important.”
Feelings are associated with an action-urge that propels us into motion. For example, feelings of love are associated with giving a hug or being physically close. Fear is associated with running away or defending oneself from harm.
All emotions have a useful purpose. Anger can alert us to an injustice that has been done. Fear can prepare or activate us for an impending threat. Love connects us to others and strengthens our social interactions. Guilt can alert us that we have committed a wrong and propel us into acknowledging our wrong and making amends. But while emotions in and of themselves are not either good or bad, our response to emotions is not always useful.
I often hear stories from patients that highlight their painful feelings of worthlessness. Trials and tribulations of life reinforce their belief that they’re getting what they deserve. They harbor deep-seated feelings of guilt and shame that taunt them. They see themselves as irreversibly damaged, broken.
People respond to these feelings in various ways. Some lash out at the world in anger and aggression, perhaps to protect as well as fight further damage. Others put up a front, showing the world that they have their act together, but deep down inside they feel like impostors. Any tear of the mask might reveal their true damaged self. They conclude, “I am undeserving.”
When actions are based on merit, you get what you deserve. If I study hard for an exam, I expect to make a good grade. If I do a job for a wage, I expect to get paid. I am the initiator of the action and reap my earned reward.
Gifts, on the other hand, are not earned. Gifts stem from an action-urge experienced by the giver. Gift giving, however, can be fulfilled only if the gift is received.
But what if the receiver of the gift does not deserve it? Those burdened by feelings of guilt and worthlessness may reject the gift based on these feelings, concluding that they do not deserve it. To be the receiver of a gift we do not deserve is a challenge we all face. The Bible tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).* This is the ultimate gift given out of love by God. God’s action-urge toward us was to give His own Son in payment for our sin.
We are all undeserving. The Old Testament sanctuary service provided the Israelites with a graphic, experiential practice to teach both the cost and the transfer of sin to an unblemished recipient. Sinners, in response to guilt and condemnation that come from wrongdoing, brought a sacrifice to the Temple. When the sinner confessd the sin and laid hands on the unblemished sacrifice, the sin was transferred from the sinner to the sacrifice. The transfer of guilt was ultimately borne by Christ at His death on the cross. This is the ultimate sacrifice that John the Baptist referred to when he called out to the crowd, pointing to Jesus and exclaiming, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Pardon occurred for sinners when they, by faith, accepted the transfer of their sins to Christ. This is the act of receiving God’s mercy and grace. It is not just the knowledge of God’s mercy and grace, but the experience of receiving God’s mercy and grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). When we can truly receive God’s grace, it transforms us.
Amazingly, God sees our condition and loves us anyway. The Bible tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Jesus already paid the wages of sin. We don’t have to get what we deserve. We can let go of guilt and grab hold of grace. “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Stop holding on to guilt. When we truly receive the gift of God’s grace, it frees us from the bondage of sin and transforms us into the likeness of Christ. His Spirit within us allows us to extend the gift of God’s grace to others.
It’s time to start practicing receiving God’s gifts and acting like children of God.
* Bible texts in this article are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Sharlene Wedin-LeClerc is a clinical psychologist living in Charleston, South Carolina.