This excellent, practical article by L. Nelson Bell is reprinted by permission. Copyright 1972 by Christianity Today. We believe the article to be worthy of careful perusal and of prayerful application.
A Christians devotional life has to do with his relation to God in general, but more specifically with a definite time set aside each day for prayer, meditation, and study of God’s Word.
Basically the devotional life consists of communication, man with God and God with man. From this communication the Christian derives the strength, wisdom, and guidance he needs each day. Without a consistent devotional life he becomes spiritually anemic, starved, illiterate, and easy prey to Satan’s devices.
As we form the habit of communing with God, we breathe the pure air of his holy presence. Our thoughts tend to dwell on those thing that are true, pure, lovely, and honorable. By contrast, we are able to recognize and abhor the pollution of mind and spirit spread by the moral and spiritual filth that surrounds us in this world.
The devotional period is much like a spiritual bath in its effects. It cleanses, refreshes, and restores. To change the figure: it is like going to a bank to draw upon an inexhaustible supply of funds placed there by a friend. It is not telling God what we plan to do and then asking for his help (unless we already have his clear leading), but rather it is asking God to make clear his will for us and to give his help and guidance in carrying it out.
The knowledge that we belong to God and that he is interested in every detail of our lives makes the devotional life an intensely personal thing. Let no one ever persuade you that God expects us to ask for help and guidance only in the big matters of life while in the smaller ones we are on our own. Nothing is too big or too small for his loving interest and help.
A person starved for food and perishing for lack of water is a pitiable sight. Similarly pitiable is the Christian who ignores the Bread and Water of life offered freely through daily communion with the One who can give life abundant.
In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Let us not allow slackness to spoil our work and let us keep the fires of the spirit burning as we do our work for the Lord. Base your happiness on your hope in Christ. When trials come endure them patiently; steadfastly maintain the habit of prayer” (Rom. 12:11, 12, Phillips).
When we are slack in private prayer and Bible study, the fires of the spirit burn low and the sense of our Lord’s nearness recedes. Trials and problems loom larger and larger until we find ourselves unable to cope with them.
In a close walk with God, the fact of his presence becomes a reality that carries with it comfort, hope, and peace. It means that we talk to God about everything near and dear to us, and it leads to a real repose in him. As we recognize God’s sovereign right to demand obedience from us, it should cause us to yield our lives to his control.
Which of us does not need a higher wisdom by which to meet the problems of life? Who is sufficient in himself, with no need of divine strength? Who can go his way alone, sure of the course he should pursue? Who has the necessary grace to overcome his own weakness? Not one of us! But God offers all these things in full supply.
It is often in the quietness of our devotional lives that these needs are supplied. It is then that we become aware of God’s presence and submit our wills to him. In this time of quietness before him, the Holy Spirit speaks directly to our hearts. It may be through a passage of Scripture that comes alive to our minds. At such times the words of Isaiah become a reality: “And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right, or when you turn to the left” (30:21).
All who give rightful time to waiting before God can testify to the fact of this guidance. Centuries ago a Roman centurion in Caesarea was earnestly seeking God in prayer. He clearly saw a vision of an angel telling him to send to the town of Joppa, some thirty-five miles to the south, to ask for a stranger named Peter who would tell him what to do. Just before the messengers arrived, Peter (who was himself observing a devotional hour) saw a vision of God’s salvation offered to Jews and Gentiles alike. His heart was thus prepared by the Spirit so that when the messengers came, he went with them to Caesarea without question. In their devotional lives a Jew and a Gentile prayed, and God heard their prayers and brought them together to further his own purposes.
The devotional life consists of many things. It is listening while God speaks. It is communing with Him, and being refilled and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the day’s tasks. It is being cleansed from sin through confession and repentance so that we find ourselves truly standing on “praying ground.” It means that our spiritual eyes are opened so that we see time and eternity in their proper perspective. It brings joy to the heart and peace to the mind, because we have given up the struggle to make our way alone and are simply resting in the Lord.
Certainly one of the great blessings that a consistent devotional life brings is a recognition of sin for what it is: an offense against a holy God. We are living in a time when sin is paraded on every hand, and without spiritual insight we too can become a prey to its evil influence.
I recently read a student magazine published in a state college for women. The editorial was so utterly filthy and given over to the subject of sex that it made my blood run cold. God alone can keep us in times such as these, and it is our daily devotional times that we receive his enabling power.
But there is a practical question. “How can I find the time to get apart with God? I’m too busy!” If this is true, you are too busy. God never expects anything from us for which he will not supply the means.
The time you set aside for devotions is between you and God, but there must be a time. Take your Bible and prayerfully read it. God will surely speak to you through its pages. Turn your heart and mind to him in prayer and he will surely hear and answer. Instead of being a chore, this quiet time with God will become a joy and a blessing beyond compare.
Mark your Bible as he speaks to you through some particular verse. Ask the Holy Spirit to explain its meaning and then be prepared to obey its teachings.
Pray with that certainty that it is God’s will that you do so. Ask God for all the things you need —material as well as spiritual — and never forget that it is our duty and privilege to pray for others and for their problems. Pray for the world and for all who combine to produce its turmoil; pray that God’s Kingdom will come and His will be done.