Time For God, Part 1 shared two reasons it’s so difficult to maintain a consistent habit of spending time with God.
Time For God, Part 2 criticized two widespread “time management” assumptions that are in direct conflict with what Christians believe.
Time For God, Part 3 introduced “Talking. Listening. Repeatedly.” as a relationship-building mantra, and it introduced the Connection Planner as a time management tool that helps people talk and listen repeatedly to God.
Time For God, Part 4 suggested that too often Christian activities and programs supplant daily devotions, and this is not what God intends for His people.
This week we will move forward under the assumption that we agree spending time with God every day is critical to a life of true discipleship. We cannot be His disciples if we do not know what disciplines He taught.
We mentioned earlier that “Talking. Listening. Repeatedly.” is the mantra of building an ever-deepening relationship with other people. In building an ever-deepening relationship with God, that mantra could be translated “Praying. Reading the Bible. Repeatedly.”
Of course, “Repeatedly” is what’s difficult. This is what most Christians struggle with. All of us have read something from the Bible at least once. All of us have prayed at least once. The struggle is to do it again! And again, and again, and again…. Many of us have had good intentions of starting a habit of daily devotions—but maintaining that habit for more than a week is difficult, because of the breakdown of systems and the breakout of choices we discussed in Part 1 of this series.
Starting a new habit—and succeeding
In many cases, in order to succeed, we need to honestly recognize the lack of systems in our lives. (Review Part 1 again if you are not sure what this means.) And we need to be intentional about establishing new systems that can help this habit stick.
Here are three suggestions:
1. Attach the new habit to an existing habit.
There are certain things we naturally do every day. How many of you woke up this morning? How many of you brushed your teeth? How many of you ate breakfast? These are habits we take for granted because they are so much a part of our routine. You are not likely to forget to do any of these things, or run out of time for them. Societal expectations and lifelong habit make it fairly unlikely that any of us will arrive at work tomorrow and say, “Oh, I was so busy this morning, I just didn’t have time to brush my teeth!”
So if you can attach prayer and Bible reading to an existing habit, prayer and Bible reading might become a habit too. Maybe you can read a Bible chapter while you’re eating breakfast each day. Maybe you can listen to a Bible MP3 on your iPod during your commute. Maybe you have a habit of sitting down each evening and going over your plans for the next day—this could become a devotional time for you.
2. Invite accountability.
Accountability is not very popular because people assume it means “nagging” or something negative. But accountability is really encouragement. It’s a positive thing! (Know who gets this? Weight Watchers. We can learn from them.)
Your own personal time with God is just one piece of the puzzle. We are actually designed to live life in community, not on our own! Your other connections, your other relationships, can all be a support network for your relationship with God. For example, invite your spouse or a close friend to ask you what you read in the Bible this morning. Invite your parents or your children to remind you to do your devotions. Ask your small group or work team to check with you each time you meet. And keep coming to church, where we are reminded each Sunday how important it is to spend time with God.
3. Remember — it’s relationship, not regulations.
Bible reading is not a requirement God demands of us; it’s just a natural part of being a Christian. You find the same principle at work in any relationship: You are not obligated to talk with your friends every day; but you do talk because you have a relationship and you enjoy connecting with each other.
Perhaps communicating with God requires more discipline than other relationships, because He is less tangible than other people in our lives. But don’t let your intentionality about it turn into a feeling of obligation. Challenge yourself to keep alive a sense of discovery and enjoyment.
These three suggestions are intended to counteract the breakdown of systems. Next week we’ll discuss how to handle the breakout of choices we all face.
Are you willing to accept some homework this week? Make a commitment to spend time with God every day for a week. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Limit your choices.
There are dozens of different Bibles and devotional tools available, and the choices can be overwhelming! I’m going to suggest reading one chapter a day from the Gospel of John. In fact, I’ll give you a free PDF of the Gospel of John with some daily questions to stimulate conversation with God if you want.
2. Choose a time.
This is completely up to you. Choose a time that you think you can stick with for a week.
3. Find an ally.
You may not appreciate being accountable to anyone, but I’m asking you to try it for a week. Tell someone you’re trying something new, and ask him to send you an email or call you every day to see if you’ve done your Bible reading. Choose someone you know will hold your feet to the fire!
4. Come back next week.
Whether you “succeed” or “fail,” come back next week. Our goal is to read one chapter a day for seven days. Not everyone will achieve that goal. Some people will stop at five days or three days or one day. But that’s ok. And we’ll find out why in next week’s blog.
Give it a try!