Every January, I set out to read through the Bible in a year or keep up a prayer journal but by mid-February I feel I’ve fallen too far behind to ever catch up. I truly want to grow in the spiritual disciplines in my life but always seem to fizzle out and get discouraged. How do I overcome these habits and cultivate new patterns in my life?
Wanting to Change
Dear Wanting to Change,
Satan has many tactics to sabotage your personal relationship with the Lord. You can be in such bondage to a particular Bible reading program that you lose sight of why you are reading the Bible. Of course, ideally you will read through the Bible within a year’s time, but what you must determine is this: What is the main thing that will cause me to grow spiritually?
You can become so self-absorbed that you are whining about your own problems rather than reaching out for fellowship with the Lord or interceding for someone else, praying sporadically when you are in trouble or have some urgent petition for the Lord, rather than maintaining a consistent time for Him. If you pray only when you feel the need, your feelings become emotional bondage that will often cause you to neglect the one avenue you could take to restore your warm and intimate fellowship with the heavenly Father.
In my own life, I can identify many times over the years when my scheduled quiet time began to falter and seemingly most of my prayers were failing. I really didn’t feel like praying. For example, when I was attending a Christian university, each class began with prayer, and I spent entire class periods studying the Bible. I also invested many hours preparing Sunday school lessons and Bible studies for the women of our church. Meantime, in my way of thinking, performing my duties at home, completing my assignments in the classroom, fulfilling my commitments in the church, and in the midst getting some sleep were more important to God than investing time in daily Bible reading. Although I knew that I ought to pray and read the Bible and I actually yearned for quality time with the Lord, but I just didn’t feel like fighting the battle required to carve out that time. Yet after more than half a century, I have come to realize that I ought to be haunted by what God has done and hungry for what God can do rather than weary because I lack sustaining spiritual fuel and whining because God has not met my expectations!
God’s communication with you is dependent upon your giving Him time every day. Often described as the “quiet time,” these moments allow God to speak to you through His written Word and expedite a two-way communication between you and God through prayer (Ps. 119:97-104). To the Hebrews, a day began in the evening—with rest, family fellowship, and study and meditation in God’s Word. Devote some of your evening hours to quiet rest, reflection, and “inner separation”—in other words, plan in the evening for the coming day, including your day’s schedule from your rising in the morning until the completion of the day’s tasks in the evening (Ps. 55:17).
Managing your time is not just busyness in doing good things but the determination to find God’s primary focus for your life and moving ahead with steps required to accomplish His ultimate goal for your life (Prov. 3:5-6). My husband has reminded me and our children often over the years, “All you have to do is please God.” This driving force trumps what other people expect of you and even what you expect of yourself!
Here is my prescription for a woman who really wants to develop a plan for consistent fellowship with the heavenly Father:
- Choose a time according to your own circumstances, body clock, and season of life. Identify a place with the greatest seclusion and least interruption (my mother, who is now in her 90th year, still has a consistent “quiet time” in the privacy of her bathroom early in the morning—she lets nothing interfere with this time because, for her, it is sacred). Make wise choices since Satan will do everything in his power to sabotage.
- Determine a plan that will encourage personal fellowship with the Lord and spiritual growth. At the heart should be reading God’s Word—not to prepare for teaching or simply to check off a daily reading plan but with a hunger to listen to the words of the Lord. Mark your Bible as you read, devising your own system (colors, symbols,
underlining or shading, initials of you or others). Read at your heart’s pace, whether that is one verse, a passage, a chapter, or number of chapters. There are many good plans, but any one of them will lose its effectiveness if it enslaves you to the plan rather than drawing you to the Word itself.
- Meditate as you read. Consider what God is saying through a natural reading of the passage. Extend your focus on Scripture throughout the day. Beginning the day with God is wonderful; going to sleep meditating on His word is edifying; seeking a word from Him during the trials and challenges of your day lifts a burden and brings
peace to your heart. Make this meditation a lifestyle habit when you sit down for meals or relaxation, when you walk to and from appointments or work or school; when you lie down to rest or sleep; when you rise up to prepare for the day (Deut 6:7).
- Memorize Scripture. Select a verse daily or weekly or even monthly to commit to memory (Ps. 119:11).
- Pray fervently and specifically for the burdens in your life, but take time to sit in quietness and let God speak to your heart. Develop the art of conversing with Him as friend with friend or as a child with her father, pouring out your heart’s hurts as well as your life’s joys and challenges.
- Write on your heart, and even record in a journal, prayer requests and answers to those petitions as well as the spiritual lessons God gives to you from Scripture. Did God give you a promise to claim? Is there an example for you to follow? Is there a divine mandate for your life? Did you find a reminder for something for which you should be grateful?
Remember that in your human relationships, an interruption in fellowship does not mean the end of fellowship but rather a twist or turn in the course. The relationship must be renewed despite these challenges! If you fall behind or even if you fizzle out, the situation is just as described—it is not the end but simply an interruption. So in the words of Winston Churchill, “Keep calm and carry on!”
I remain yours in the journey,