Monday, October 17, 2016

How I Have My Daily Devotions

I’m a faithful listener to Russell Moore’s Signposts podcast, and I enjoyed the one he did last spring about how he has his daily devotions. 

Discussions like these are a lot like parenting discussions: hearing how someone else did it isn’t necessarily going to dictate exactly how YOU should do it, but it’s always helpful to get ideas from someone else in the trenches.

And in that spirit, I offer this post: here’s how I have my daily devotions.

Part One: Prayer

I’ll admit my bias from the beginning: I think I have an advantage here as an Anglican. The Book of Common Prayer is just such a rich resource when it comes to devotional instruction. It’s actually what first drew me to the Anglican church: when I first read the words of the General Confession, I thought, Here are the words I’ve been trying to say to God for my whole life.

I knew I’d found my home then.

And so, in my daily devotions, I use the structure of the BCP. When I have a lot of time, I’ll read the entire Morning Prayer service. But, happily for those of us who aren’t cloistered religious, there are shorter services in the BCP, too. I usually use the one-page “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families.” This leads me through an opening few prayers, gives me the space to sing a hymn, gives me a place to ask my own individual requests, and closes with the Lord’s Prayer and a collect.

Moving parts: 

-I work my way through the hymnal, singing one a day, and only using the ones whose melodies I can work out with my very poor skills on the recorder. :)  I just work my way from front to back of the hymnal during Ordinary Time, and then I switch to seasonal hymns (Advent, Christmas, Lent) when appropriate.

-I say the collect of the week right after the closing collect. This is a nice link to our Sunday services, since I hear the weekly collect first at Sunday worship.

-Personal petitions: I keep track of who I want to pray for using a simple notebook. I pray for my immediate family and my parents and siblings (and their spouses and children) every day. I also pray for my extended family on Mondays, my husband’s extended family on Tuesdays, our church and church stuff on Wednesdays, ministries and missionaries on Thursdays, and specific requests from friends and family on Fridays.

I used to be overwhelmed by the number of things I meant to remember to talk to God about, and the idea of getting to them all at once was so daunting that I didn’t even start. I still have this forlorn idea that it might be perfect if I COULD remember everyone before the Lord every day of the week, but I’ve learned that it’s better to start somewhere than to let myself get so intimidated by the perfect that I lose the good. And so I divide things up.

This isn’t a strict rule, by the way: when I feel moved to pray for someone on Tuesday’s list, I don’t say, “Oh no, it’s Monday, I can’t do that yet!”  The list just gives a normal structure for normal days.

Part Two: Bible-reading

So here’s where I’m sort of untraditional: I listen to the Bible much, MUCH more than I actually read it. And I need to be honest: I’m not sure this is the IDEAL way to get the scripture into my heart and mind.

BUT, it is the way that has SUCCESSFULLY gotten the scripture into my heart and mind and so, again, it’s better than the Not Doing It At All Because I Cannot Do It Perfectly.

So here’s how I do it. I use two tools: the St. James Daily Devotional and Alexander Scourby’s complete reading of the King James Bible. (Note: I’m not a KJV-only reader. I just really like Scourby’s reading voice. He does a great job of reading the words like they actually MEAN something.)

Every weekend, I take the St. James devotional, and I make myself a playlist in iTunes of the week's readings. (I also read Fr. Reardon's commentary on the readings, because it inevitably gives helpful and illuminating context.) The devotional takes you through the OT once every two years, the NT every year, and the Psalms every month. I put the chapters for the week on a playlist, and I add in the Proverbs for the week. (As Proverbs has 31 chapters, it’s pretty easy to read it through every month, just matching the chapter number to the date.)

This playlist is usually about 2 hours long. I spend some time on the weekend listening to the OT chapters and Psalms, and deleting almost all of them as I go. If a chapter or Psalm really stands out, I’ll leave it on, and eventually I have a half hour playlist of mostly gospels and epistles (and a Proverb a day) that I can commit to listening to each weekday morning.

Then, on each weekday morning, after I’ve prayed, I spend a half hour knitting and listening to the Bible. I do this because I find that having something rhythmic for my hands to do leaves my mind free to concentrate on the words I’m hearing. It can't be anything complicated--no counting!--or else it becomes a distraction rather than a help.

I find that listening instead of reading slows me down enough to really pay attention to what’s going on in the lesson (I’m a fast reader, and skimming is a bad habit when it comes to scripture). Sometimes, I’ll stop the playback and look up something on Bible Gateway, so that I can slow down even more, and really see what the author of the book is getting at.

I can’t tell you how much this has changed my life: I’ve become a different person in the last six years or so that I’ve been doing this. Having the scripture running through my head this way…you can’t spend that much time in God’s word and NOT have it change you, I don’t think.

I have pieces of the Psalms floating though my head every day now. It’s so good.

Never, never, never give up

If there were one thing I could encourage every Christian to do, it would be to spend more time in the Word. And I know that’s probably something you hear everywhere, and maybe it’s something that makes you feel guilty, and all I can say is: keep trying. Don’t give up. Beg God for help. Ask Him to help you find whatever method is going to work for you. Try it a million different ways until you find one that sticks, and don’t forget to pray the whole way through, because you have an Enemy who will fight you every step of the way.

It took me to my thirties to make this a regular habit, and I have been a Christian since I was two. (Really. I remember.)

And admitting that it took so long makes me feel so silly. It shouldn't take a grown-up Christian decades to figure out a regular devotional habit, right? But I offer it in case it encourages someone else to keep going. PLEASE, keep going. And when you fall down, get up, and keep going again. We all stumble in many ways…

But He who is with you is greater. Ask Him for help here, and He will give it to you. He gave you this great deposit of faith already; He WANTS you to listen to Him. He wants His law to form your heart and your mind.

I’m hoping to follow this post up next week with a post about how we have devotions with our kids, because it’s really something that’s grown out of our (my husband’s and my) personal devotional practices.

Meanwhile: read the Bible any way you can. Pray for yourself and those you love. Keep going. Don’t give up. I can’t tell you how often it feels like I’m struggling through the La Brea tar pits in order to get to my prayer time, as if there were gooey stiff black ooze sucking at every movement of my legs. It can really suck sometimes, trying to fight towards that oasis of light and refreshment. And there are even times when I finish and think, “That was completely rote. I don’t feel anything but stupid and frustrated and dry. I don’t feel like I was even talking to myself, let alone to GOD.”

That’s okay. It’s like that sometimes. Keep going. Just like it matters that you kiss your children goodnight, even when you’re tired and sore and grumpy, because you LOVE them, and OF COURSE you’re going to show them so, no matter how you’re feeling; it matters that you spend time with your Lord, talking to Him and listening to His word.  You are not bad or unfaithful or rotten for having it be hard. You are a normal Christian, living in a fallen, whiny world.

It’s okay. Keep going.

Remember that, as a mother loves the least little wonderful efforts her children make towards goodness, so your Heavenly Father loves your stumbling steps towards Him.

He is good. Spending time in His presence is worth it. Keep going. Because He is good.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

The links to the Scourby recording and the BCP are Amazon affiliate links, because why not? Read full disclosure about Amazon affiliate links on the sidebar of this blog.  Other links are just normal links.

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