(If you’d like to read the previous articles in this series, please do so.)
I was sitting in the car doing some work while Teri was inside the dentist’s office having her teeth cleaned. There was a large, nicely mown tree-shaded lot in front of me. I glanced up, and my eyes caught sight of a black bird walking through the grass. His head disappeared for an instant, and then with his beak, he began flinging leaves into the air. He would take another step, and more leaves would explode into the air. After every leaf or two, he would find a bug or worm; I couldn’t tell which. I would see him eat it and begin looking under more leaves.
A short distance away, a robin was looking for breakfast. I was much more familiar with the way a robin finds his food. He would take a few steps, tipping his head to listen. Then he would either jab his beak into the ground, trying to spear a worm, or he would take a few more steps.
Both birds were gathering food the way God had directed them, even though their technique was quite different. I wonder if that might be a fitting analogy to a man’s personal time in Bible reading and prayer—a quiet time or, as some might call it, devotions. We all should have spiritual nourishment from the Bible, yet we have different needs based on what is going on in our lives and where we are in our spiritual walk. Therefore, God will direct us to various places in Scripture. Then our study may involve individual methods of hunting for the tasty morsels that we need to grow and lead our family.
From the informal questions that I regularly ask men, I’m confident that less than 10 percent of conservative Christian men read their Bibles each day and pray. I believe one reason is that many need a brother who loves them enough to get in their faces to confront them. This brother would tell them that they can’t live without a daily quiet time and give them some idea how to have one. The purpose of this Corner is for me to be the brother in your face. I want to give dads an idea of what they can do for their personal devotions and stress again how critical it is. 1 Corinthians 3:11 tells us, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
First, I pray that no dad ever senses a spirit of judgment or condemnation from me if he isn’t spending time in the Word and prayer. I want him to sense a great amount of my passion as I plead with him to meet with his Lord daily. This Corner should be immensely practical, as I will try to be very specific in giving some ideas about how to have a quiet time. Just like the different techniques of those birds, there are many ways to spend daily time with the Lord. However, to make it simple, I’m suggesting you try it this way until you are comfortable, and then ask the Lord Jesus to direct you.
How often should you have your personal devotions? “Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God” (Isaiah 58:2). If we would delight to know God’s ways, then we must seek Him daily.
When in the day should we read our Bibles and pray? I believe you can never go wrong by doing it first thing in the morning when you get up. If we have our personal devotions first, they will always get done. We know how the urgent often crowds out the important. That doesn’t happen with your Bible reading if you choose to do it first. Set the alarm so you will have time to get up and have your devotion before other daily scheduled commitments. DON’T CHANGE YOUR ALARM. That way if you want your sleep, you will go to bed on time.
If spending time with the Lord Jesus is important to you, you will make yourself go to bed at night in order to get enough sleep to get up with the alarm. If babies will wake you in the night, then go to bed earlier so you can still get up and meet with the Lord. I would encourage each of us to treat ourselves like men and not children. If we want sleep, we go to bed earlier, but we don’t move the time we get up. Soon you will see how easy it is to consistently wake up and have your devotions. What would we think of a co-worker’s frequent excuse of being late to work, or missing work, because he was tired and slept in? We would say, “If work is important to you—get up!”
How long is good for your time with Jesus? That is like asking someone, “How much gold would you like?” However, we must deal with reality in that there are limits. I would encourage no less than twenty minutes per day no matter what—ten minutes reading the Bible and ten minutes praying. There was a time when I took an hour and a half, but currently I’m spending forty minutes. The time investment will pay such dividends in your walk with the Lord. Give as much time as you can.
Where should you have your Bible reading and prayer time? “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6). Jesus suggested you go into your closet when you pray. The word “closet” means an inner chamber or someplace hidden away. The idea is that we are to get alone with the Lord. We can’t effectively concentrate on Him when there are distractions around us. That is another advantage of getting up early when everyone else is asleep. It is easier to find a quiet place.
Currently, I go to the living room since I can be alone there. Find a quiet place, and if need be, ask others not to come in during that time. If there are sounds from elsewhere in the house, then I would recommend foam earplugs to reduce the ambient noise. I’m easily distractible, and I use earplugs fairly often when I need to concentrate. Whatever it takes, for the good of your soul—do it!
Where in the Bible should you read? If a person isn’t very familiar with the Bible, I would encourage him to first read the book of John. I ask the Lord where He wants me to read. Lately I’ve started back through the four gospels. When I am close to finishing them, I will ask the Lord where He wants me to go next. There was a time when I read Jeremiah three or four times in a row. Ask Him during your prayer time, and He will show you.
A number of times I have been led to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. There are many read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year programs out there, but I have come to where I don’t encourage my family to do them. Don’t misunderstand me, reading through the Bible in one year is great, but often it requires a person to hurry through their reading to complete the assignment. I want my family to read slowly during this time because the goal is to grow in intimacy with the Lord. If a person has an extra hour a day when he could read the Bible, going through it in a year would be great. However, don’t let the goal crowd out a time of savoring the Word. The purpose of our quiet time is to experience the Lord Jesus, grow in greater intimacy with Him, and apply His Word to our lives.
A side note I feel important to share is that I would not suggest that anyone read the short daily devotionals for their primary Bible time. I wonder if reading them isn’t like eating something that someone else has chewed first. I desire that God would speak to me directly through His Word and that I would learn it more and more. I don’t believe either of those goals is accomplished by reading some warming anecdote and two verses of Scripture each day. That is fine for reading while you brush your teeth, but I would implore everyone not to consider that a substitute for spending quality time with the Lord Jesus.
After “where” to read is “how much” to read. I would not necessarily read a given amount each day. Read with an open heart. There are days when I read a chapter and other days when I read a handful of verses. I read slowly so I can understand what I’m reading. At the same time, I don’t get bogged down if I can’t understand a verse. I may continue on and return when I can study it further.
Lastly, what am I trying to get from my time in the Word? I want to know the Lord and how I can apply His Word to my life. I ask myself questions about what I’m reading. “Why might Jesus have said that?” “Why did they do that?” “Lord, how do You want me to apply this to my life?” Questions, questions, questions! Why, why, why, why, and why? Through the years I have seen the Lord answer so many questions. I love it when He gives new and fresh insight to a passage I have wondered about for years.
“Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (Psalms 119:2). “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes” (Psalms 119:10-12). The blessings, the wisdom, the protection, and the promises that are buried in the Bible are critical to our spiritual health and our ability to lead our family. Dads—we can’t afford not to have a daily time in the Word and pray. Won’t you begin today?