The real value of personal devotions
The value of personal devotions isn't the search for the Holy grail. It isn't one of the secrets God has hidden from his people (see Deuteronomy 29:29). Scripture reveals in numerous ways and through many of the great spiritual leaders in history the blessings of being alone with God. Stroll through the Psalms for glimpses of King Davids times of meditation and reflection. He isn't known as a "man after God's own heart" (see Acts 13:22) because he was a devotional slacker. Being after God's own heart gave him the spiritual depth to lead the nation, deal with those who wanted to overthrow his throne, and address the many family complications that troubled him. Among hundreds of Bible verses about his private meditations Psalm 5:3 stands out for me---
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before
you and wait expectantly.
Psalm 5:3, NIV
Surely, in our heart of hearts, we all know that a personal devotional experience is essential for living the life God has planned for us. It's a treasure, for sure, but not a hidden one.
One of the troubling issues of ministry and life for me has often been to somehow grasp the difference between life's urgencies and those important matters that constitute wise, Godly living. This distinction may be more of a word quibble to many. Over the years, however, it has been perhaps the most significant decision making principle in guiding churches, our family, and relationships with others. Life's urgencies are usually loud and alarming, distractions that demand our attention and often deplete our resources. In many life circumstances the really important matters are seconded to the burning issues that are so distracting and menacing. in my own life, with hours of Bible study and preparation to preach and teach each week, the quiet hours alone with God have been the source of understanding that have assisted me often in separating the noisy pressing things from the critically important ones.
Meditation, reflection, and understanding are the real products of personal devotions. The noise and clamor of compelling urgencies are usually left outside the door of the personal prayer closet so that personal devotion time can be about my moments with him and not about the fires burning in the church or family life. Jesus certainly stepped away from the multitudes to be alone with his Father (see Mark 1:35). Those more sedate and purposeful times in Scripture, prayer, and personal reflection provide occasions when understanding can penetrate the heart apart from the screaming trivialities that often occupy life.
Psalm 119 is a treasure of devotional enlightenment and understanding. Among many verses, make note of King David's confessional recollections and the understanding that attended his time with the Lord so evident in this brief selection---
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Psalm 119:34, ESV
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
Psalm 119: 37, ESV
When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies;
Psalm 119: 59, ESV
Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.
Psalm 119: 66, ESV
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your
Psalm 119: 73, ESV
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
Psalm 119: 98-99, ESV
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Psalm 119: 104, ESV
The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
Psalm 119:130, ESV
Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word!
Psalm 119: 169, ESV
Like any other litany of Scriptures, these are simply a small sample of the real value of personal devotions. Moments of personal time with God, in the seclusion of the prayer closet give us time in the Word, reflection on the personal application of biblical truth, and understanding of what is really important and not merely urgent. In my own personal experience as a pastor, spiritual leader of others, witness to the people around me, father, and Christian, these quiet times have provided understanding about the essentials of ministry and mission apart from the loud matters screaming for my attention. This guidance of understanding may be the real value of personal time with the Lord.
Perhaps it is one of the many reasons Jesus confronted the legalists about their self-righteous public displays. He instructed them to go into their prayer closet---
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is
in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:6, ESV
In that personal quiet place, through Bible study, prayer, and reflection, God will give us understanding about life, ministry, and spiritual leadership. That may, in reality, be the real value of a quiet time. Away from the noise, rush, expectation of others, and so many other distractions, He gives us understanding, like King David.
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