Thursday, November 19, 2015

Deepening Your Devos: Tools to Make Your Time with God Stronger

One of the most common questions I face is how to improve one's regular (hopefully daily) time in prayer and God's Word. Yes, I know that there is no specific command to read the Bible daily (something that people before the printing press would not have been able to do at any rate), but we are told to desire it like a baby desires milk in order for us to grow (1 Peter 2:2), and it is to be light for our path (Ps. 119:105), and light and food are needed daily, so I have no hesitation commending daily intake of God's Word, and warning against not doing so.

Similarly, we all need to pray, if for no other reason than to remind our own hearts that God is there and is ready to listen. 

So, you've set out to have that daily time, but you don't know where to read. Or perhaps you read a passage and then say to yourself, "I have no idea what it is that I just read," or "I don't really understand a lot of what I'm reading." Rather than becoming discouraged, may I encourage you to consider one or more of a number of tools I have used myself over the years and found helpful. Not all would be good for everyone, but my guess is any number of them would be helpful for most people.

Here are some of the tools I have been encouraged by.

Devotional Magazines/Booklets
There are many others than those I will list below, but I have actually used all of these, so I can testify to their value.

Daily Walk and Closer Walk. These two devotional magazines are published by Walk Thru the Bible and take you through the whole Bible or the New Testament in one year, respectively. Each day there is reading to be done, and a devotional to follow. I've used both, and when I want to read through the Bible they offer structure as well as instruction in the page long devotionals. You can subscribe to either, and see other specialized devotional magazines, at walkthru.org

Tabletalk Magazine. Published by Ligonier Ministries (the ministry of R. C. Sproul), each month's magazine goes through a section of scripture with lessons developed out of the specific passages read. It is theologically deep (and be aware that it reflects Sproul's strongly Reformed theology). You can order it through ligonier.org.

Our Daily Bread. This was one of the first devotionals I ever knew of, and it still offers a short passage to read and a brief story to go with it. It isn't going to take you very deeply into Scripture, but it might be a great first step for those who are trying to get started. It is available on our information table.

Devotional Books:
Most of these tools use Scripture as a basis for reflection, to encourage, or to guide prayer, and may be in addition to regular reading through a book of the Bible.

Handbook to Prayer. This is one of a number of similar books by Ken Boa, one of my favorite teachers on the subject of spiritual formation and growth. This book uses selections of Scripture for prayer, organized around a number of themes so that, if you follow the book through a week, you will have prayed through most of the major facets of prayer that should be a part of your prayer life. Praying Scripture is one of the best disciplines I have been taught, and whenever you are uncertain what to pray, using the Scriptures is always profitable and safe. Boa also provides a daily email with a similar structure that has elements from a number of his books. You can learn more at kenboa.org.

The Valley of Vision. This collection of Puritan prayers has been great balm for my soul in its amazing depth and scripture saturated prayers. 

Daily Light on the Daily Path. This is a classic of scriptures brought together around specific themes, one set for morning and one for evening. You are not reading lengthy passages here, and the downside is you are not moving through a book or section of the Bible. However, the upside is that ever since this collection was pulled together, its words have powerfully blessed people. I still remember times when I used it and was amazed to have a collection of verses to read that day that applied so perfectly to my own condition or setting. I wouldn't use it forever, but a season in this book would be beneficial for most everyone.

My Utmost for His Highest. No consideration of devotionals can bypass this classic by Oswald Chambers. His reflections on verses of Scripture contain so many encouragements, I can overlook a few theological quibbles I have with some of the entries. You will be blessed going through this gem.

On This Day in Church History. Robert Morgan has provided a daily tour through church history, and each day's reading introduces a theme or person of importance in the life and history of the church. This should not replace scripture and prayer, but offers a great addition to your devotional time.

I know this is a VERY partial list, and you will probably think of things I've left off immediately, but these resources have all been a help to me in different ways and different times, and I commend them for your consideration to help you grow.