I recently read of early African converts to Christianity who were earnest and regular in their private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where he would pour out his heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, “Brother, the grass grows on your path.” Far too many us who claim relationship with God have “grass growing up wild and unkept” where there should be a well-worn, thriving relationship with a God who wants to meet with us daily. The question is, “why is this such a struggle?” How do we stop making excuses and figure out how to construct our own personal pathway to God at least 5-7 times per week?
Here are a few “hacks” (a simple tip or technique for accomplishing a familiar task more efficiently/effectively) curated out of my own personal experience and the tried-and-true observations of others:
“We all want to know that someone cares. We have a book-the Bible-that has hundreds of pages that tell us that not just somebody care, but the one and only God cares about us.” (Charles Lowrey)
- Mark up your Bible with a pen that is highlighting and connecting thoughts in a given passage.
- Refuse to look at your phone or even be near it in the morning (unless you use it in your devotions) until you have gotten into the Word.
- Utilize a journal to record what passage you read and practical takeaways with the corresponding verse or phrase. (We have been using in our church small groups the “HEAR Journal Entry” method and are loving it!)
- Find a group to read through the same sections of Scripture and share via group chat, texting, and/or in person what God is revealing to you. (This provides accountability and encouragement to be consistent. Our family is currently doing the same Bible reading plan with our church which allows for continuity in our spiritual discussions/direction.)
- Get a fresh Bible with no markings/a different layout to help your eyes see new phrases that they would otherwise overlook. (A “parallel” Bible with multiple translations aligned next to each other is eye-opening. Another great option is a “Reader’s Bible” like this onethat removes all of the verse markings, chapter divisions, and footnotes to read more like a book, the Bible’s original format.)
- Write down a verse that stands out to you on a three by five card so you can meditate on it throughout the day.
- Find different, creative ways to read scripture such as chronologically or thematically that eliminates the ho hum approach/predictability. (Here was an interesting concept messaged to me online: “For a season read the following daily: Psalms- 5 chapters (love of God) Proverbs- 1 chapter (wisdom of God) Acts- 1 chapter (power of God) You’ll get through all three every month!” What a great idea that I am going to try soon!
- Start by “warming up” through reading something other than the Bible first. This could be a Christian biography, work of theology, or devotional. (One of my go-to’s is the all-time classic “My Utmost for His Highest”by Oswald Chambers.)
- Listen to Scripture being read aloud as you clean, work, drive, etc. (There loads of options on this front, but Word Projectis one that stands out with several friends I know using it on a regular basis.)
“What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne)
- I have heard some form of this idea more than any other from those thriving in prayer: “Hit your knees first thing in the morning for a short prayer to begin the day.”
- Pray with meditative, instrumental music in the background. (A new idea that is really helping my prayer time.)
- Embrace seasons of quiet solitude in which you do less talking and, instead, listen for the still, small voice of God.
- Divide your prayer list up into categories that help organize your thoughts to the Lord.
- I have not tried it yet, but several have wholeheartedly recommended to me in recent years the PrayerMate App.
- Develop a “pray without ceasing mindset”-that is an ongoing conversation with the Lord that is always in the background and undergirding how you navigate your day.
- Be careful to make your regular prayer list less about you and more about loving your God and your neighbor.
- Refine your prayers from saying the same old things about the same old things with elevating prayers recorded in the Word. As one pastor testifies, “This powerfully combines Bible reading, prayer, and meditation on the Word.” (Here is a great book from Donald Whitney on this subject.)
- Fight the urge to fill every “white space” in your day with a mind-numbing song or podcast; instead, see it as an opportunity to converse with God (Example: “Drive time is prayer time”).
“Worship of the one true and living God is the only place where life can be found, and worship of anything else is the pathway to doom.” (Paul David Tripp)
(This is often the orphaned discipline that we should be including in our private time with God.)
- Include sacred poetry, new and old. (Here’s one resource recommended that I have yet to dig into: Leland Ryken’s “The Soul in Paraphrase,” a treasury of sacred poetry, is a promising resource recommended by others.
- Get outside and bask in the sensations evoked by sunshine, clouds, breeze, animal noises all carefully choreographed by our glorious Sovereign.
- Get a hymnal, do some research on the origins of one, and then read it/sing it to the Lord.
- Take advantage of any drive time in your vehicle or down time in your day to include an intentional playlist that is grounded in God’s Word and uplifting to your spirit.
- Make it a point to share with someone else in your day what God means to you, what God has done for you, or what God has taught you (this turns your personal study into public praise-a way to faithfully steward the Spirit’s illumination).
- At least now and then, clear your throat and just sing at the top of your lungs in making a “joyful noise!”
- Work to renew or develop skill with a musical instrument that is not only for public consumption but private solitude and celebration with the Lord.
- Dig deeper into the Psalms and Psalters. (“In the Lord I Take Refuge: 150 Daily Devotions through the Psalms” by Dane Ortlund is great resource in this vein of devotional worship.)
- For moms with young children, the evening solitude after the kids’ bedtime likely offers a more consistent appointment with God than the mornings with all of the variables in play.
- Fasting, an under-appreciated spiritual discipline in our day, “Really helps bring every moment of the day underneath the submission of a plan” as one friend of mine put it.
- Opting for a physical Bible and journal may be the answer if your phone app’s benefits are regularly offset by the distractions of other digital rabbit trails.
- If your phone is an asset more than a distraction, put automated reminders in it to prompt you to build your schedule around these spiritual disciplines.
- Here’s a really good thought: much of your day’s success in “God time” is determined by what you do at the end of the previous day-study items prominently set out in a can’t miss manner, timely bed time, not consuming social media too late, etc. (Good thought from another pastor friend: “Spend the last 20 minutes of the workday planning the next day. This includes devotion content. Leave it out on the desk ready to go. Arrive at church office 1 hour before other staff. No phone or computer until devotions and prayers are complete.”)
- Have a “prayer closet/altar” that is portable instead of anchored to a fixed place if your lifestyle requires it. A dear lady shared her strategy on this front: “I have a tote with my prayer journal, devotional, Bible, pen, notepad. I can grab it and go wherever-a quieter room, an appointment, outdoors.”
- This final one has been revolutionary for me across all of these private disciplines before the Lord: “Approach it (Bible reading, prayer, worship) like a stranger or a child and it pops to life” (Cary Nieuwhof). This perpetually renews the “first love” that tends to fade as we become more familiar with God.
Several years ago, I remember visiting a man I had never met before who was undergoing home hospice care and in the twilight moments of his earthly life. A visit, by the way, that I will never forget because of one soul-jarring, sincere statement he made that I can almost still hear and feel. Through labored, shallow breathing and behind eyes that would never see again, he mumbled, “I would give anything in the world to be able to do just two things one more time-get a tall cup of coffee and sit down with my precious Bible and Lord…just one more time.”
May you and I never forget what a privilege it is to get alone with God, His Word, His Spirit just one more time each day!
Pastor Snode grew up in Butler, Ohio and attended Mansfield Baptist Temple where he was saved and trained to serve the Lord. He married his wife Heidi in the summer of 2001, and they have two sons. For six years, Pastor Snode served as an assistant pastor in Clarkston, Michigan where he was ordained in 2004. The Lord impressed upon his heart the need for a vibrant, independent Baptist church in Wayne County, Ohio. With the help of the Lord and like-minded ministries, North Life Baptist Church was launched in January of 2009. He currently holds a B.A. in Pastoral Ministries from Pensacola Christian College and an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Maranatha Baptist Seminary. In the fall of 2021, the Snodes launched Inspire Counseling Ministries, a biblically-based initiative to help churches and those ministers/wives who lead them practically breathe in what God has graciously breathed out through His all-sufficient Word. Pastor Snode is passionate about learning and communicating Biblical truth for strong families, local church ministry, and transformative counseling.