Personal Devotions

An Essay

Posted in Personal Devotions, Reflections on May 18th, 2009 by phil – Be the first to comment

In this blog, I have attached a short essay about a man who has got stuck. He is frustrated with life in general and struggling to find his way through in God. I trust this story will be helpful to some who have started well, but have lost their momentum along the way.

From Frustration to Freedom

Frustrated! That’s how he felt as he opened his eyes in the morning. It was a feeling that never left him these days, an inner sense of restlessness and hopelessness. He could feel the blanket of depression settle on his shoulders as he showered and dressed and got ready for the day. ‘Here we go again,’ he thought to himself.

On the one hand he had everything he had ever dreamed of: a wife, a family, a good job, a house. He was a leader in the church – respected and valued by the team of which he was a part. What he had hoped for as a younger man, he had attained and yet he had never felt as unfulfilled as he did now. Instead of the feeling of deep emotional fulfilment he had expected would grow during this phase of his life, he only felt the emptiness of routine and repetition. Every day the same – somehow his life was counting and yet somehow it seemed so insignificant and he wondered what it would take for him to feel alive again.

No-one else could see his pain. Though at times it seemed like he was going to burst with the swells of frustration, somehow they were invisible to those around him. In contrast he was a pillar of strength to others. So many relied on him at some point or another to be a source of strength or even a beacon for them to get their bearings from. It seemed effortless for him to understand the journey of another and to speak into the heart of where they were at. He could do this for others, yet he was at sea in his own journey. He had lost his own moorings. He questioned even the basic truths of who he was and why he was here. Somehow deep inside he knew there had to be more, but what that was he felt helpless to discover and even more helpless to bring it to pass.

He had tried talking to his wife about it, but he could see that it had made her anxious. He could understand why – they were happy. They had worked hard to build their lives and now they had everything they wanted. She was afraid of where his journey would lead. She was afraid his frustration would lead to rash decisions – changing jobs or relocating to a different city. It would all be done in the name of God’s leading but actually just driven out of an inner emotional turmoil and instability. Anyway, she didn’t understand why he felt this way and the truth was he couldn’t even explain it himself. This was a journey he was going to have to walk alone.

As he drove into work that day, he contemplated for the thousandth time, whether this was a crisis to do with his career. Was it Black Economic Empowerment that was driving his inner world? He could argue that he had been overlooked recently for a key promotion opportunity in favour of a young black professional. But he knew that he would be pushing the boundaries of truth if he claimed that he had hit a ceiling in his career for that reason. His employer had frequently recognised his contribution and he was being recompensed at a level beyond many of his peers. It was not that simple. Even when he contemplated leaving his fixed employment to pursue a business venture, he had to admit that these dreams simply did not fill the void he was feeling. For sure, there was an appeal to being his own boss and a desire for financial freedom that a business venture could bring. But these dreams did not being about a sense of anticipation and peace that could overcome his frustration. No matter how big those dreams became they could not quell the inner storm.

He knew it was unthinkable, but lately he had even begun to wonder if his frustration was rooted in his marriage relationship. After 20 years of marriage there were aspects of their relationship which were dry and lacked life. Everything was ok but nothing was exceptional. Instead of an increasing sense of enjoyment and colour in their marriage they had settled for a mundane sense of friendship and peace that resembled the overcast grey clouds on a typical winter’s day. It wasn’t stormy, but it certainly lacked the colour and vibrancy of spring. He knew all the theory. He knew that if his marriage lacked anything at all, the responsibility lay on him to restore it. He was the head of the home. God had placed the responsibility of family leadership on him. Yet as much as he loved God and his wife he lacked the motivation or will to do anything about it. Was this the problem after all, or was this grey, dull reality of marriage just a symptom of the deeper problem in his heart?

He had not initially brought his heart to God in prayer – more out of an expectation that he would just snap out of it than out of a deliberate decision. But by now he was regularly pouring out his heart to God in prayer. Sometimes he would pace up and down the driveway expressing his deep frustration and his inability to diagnose why he felt the way he did. Other times he would break out in tongues, hoping that he was praying inspired by the Spirit of God but even as he was praying there were doubts lingering about the reality of what he was doing. Last night he had had a more lucid prayer time than most. He really felt that he had connected with God and almost had a sense that his prayer had been heard. He was hoping against hope that something would change but had woken up disappointed that he felt exactly the same.

As he walked through the office doors and headed down the passage to his workstation, he heard a familiar voice behind him calling his name. It was his boss, and he had a perplexed expression on his face as he asked. “Where are you going?”

It was as though he had been punched in the solar plexus as the question reverberated around his inner world. The question was only meant to remind him of a meeting that was happening first thing in the board room but instead it had cut to the heart of why he was feeling so much in turmoil. The truth was that he didn’t know where he was going.

In a moment it suddenly all became so clear. Somewhere along the journey he had got stuck He had lost the dream. The reason he was so frustrated was that he had nothing to look forward to. Biblical images began flooding through his mind as the Spirit impressed home to him the things he needed to receive and understand:

The Israelites waiting for revelation from Moses who took so long to come down the mountain. Eventually they took matter into their own hands, made an idol for a god and indulged in the ultimate self gratification. All because they had no revelation – they weren’t prepared to wait for instruction on where to go and what to do!

The Jerusalem church growing and growing and yet never getting out into the neighbouring regions to spread the word about Jesus until eventually persecution drove them into those regions and they found the dream again.

He was reminded of the proverb that says “Without prophetic vision the people cast off restraint…” That is exactly what had happened to him. He had lost a sense of God’s prophetic call on his life and his inner world had deteriorated into chaos. There was no sense of order and peace. He excused himself from the meeting, closed his office door and wept. He was so grateful to God for rescuing him from the prison – and now let the journey begin.

Personal Devotions - Part 3

Posted in Personal Devotions on March 2nd, 2009 by phil – Be the first to comment

This is the 3rd and final part of some thoughts on personal devotions.

In the last year or so, I have begun using a prayer list as a simple aid to prayer. RT Kendall once spoke of it when he was with us and I thought I would give it a try. On my list, I have a list of people that I am praying for - from family, to leaders, to church planters that have gone out from our local church. I also have a list of people that I am praying for that do not believe in Christ. Most of these are personal friends or family members. Lastly I have a list of personal requests - related to decisions that we have to make or opportunities that are opening up where we need the wisdom and the leading of God.

I pray through this list about once a week and have found it a very helpful tool to keep bringing things before God. It has also been wonderful to be able to add things to my list when I commit to pray for them because if I get it onto the list, it definitely will be regularly in my prayers.

Lastly, I often spend time listening to worship music during my devotions. I have found this also to be very helpful. I will often just sit and listen, sometimes joining in, sometimes praying, sometimes allowing my mind just to unwind and enjoying being in the presence of God without any agenda.

Personal devotions are a vital part of the expression of our relationship with God. Psalm 84 says that one day in the courts of God is better than a thousand elsewhere and we learn from Jesus in Luke 5 that it is good to withdraw and spend time in prayer.

May God bless you and fill your personal devotions with life.

Personal Devotions - Part 2

Posted in Personal Devotions on February 23rd, 2009 by phil – Be the first to comment

In my last Blog posting I outlined the start to my personal devotions, and I want to continue on that theme particularly in the area of prayer.

Once I have completed my bible reading, the rest of my devotional time is devoted to prayer and / or worship. I have a deep desire to pray true and spiritual prayers as opposed to religious and self-important prayers. What I mean by that is that I try to express in plain and clear language to God who I am and what I desire in my relationship with Him. The parable of the “Pharisee and the Tax Collector” in Luke 18: 9-14 is a stark reminder to all believers that it is not the appearances that matter but the reality of our relationship with God. The Pharisee in his prayer justified himself before God, while the Tax Collector humbled himself. I seek to follow the Tax Collector’s example in my own prayer life, asking God to reveal my motives and attitudes rather than assume that I am in perfect spiritual health.

I ask God to search me and all my motives and attitudes and where I need to confess and repent of things - I do. I ask God to wash me and to cleanse my mind and my emotions. Sometimes it is just the things that happen in every day life that can weigh down on us and cause us to stumble in personal pride or jealousy or a hardness of heart towards someone.

In my devotional time, I also spend time asking God to fill me and anoint me with his Holy Spirit. There might be a particular area where I ask him for help. It could be in parenting, or husbanding or even in ministry. I am of the firm conviction that I can only be fruitful through what I receive from God. In my devotions I seek to be filled and to draw on my relationship with God for my life.

My devotional life of prayer is first an expression of my relationship with God, before it is a list of requests and desires. If I am struggling to express myself in prayer, I use the Psalms to remind me of the kind of real and intimate language that is typical of spiritual prayer and so far removed from religious appearances.

May God bless you in your own devotional journey with Him. Next time I will continue with the theme of prayer and worship.

Personal Devotions - Part 1

Posted in Personal Devotions on February 16th, 2009 by phil – Be the first to comment

One of the areas that Christians often seem to struggle in is that of personal devotions. Many Christians seem to feel that they are either not doing enough or that their devotional times are ineffective or filled with distracted thoughts. This blog posting and maybe 1 or 2 more will be devoted to sharing something of my story of personal devotions in the hope that it will be helpful to others.

I normally start my day with devotions. When my alarm clock goes off in the morning, I often lie in bed for a few minutes looking out the window and wondering whether it is possible for my clock to have gained a couple of hours overnight. Although I love my devotional times with God, I seldom bound out of bed with enthusiasm, it normally takes me a few moments to get going.

First things first. I wander down to the kitchen and make myself some coffee. In our household I also make sure the dogs are fed, because if I don’t they become restless and noisy (barking), which has a direct impact on the quality of my devotions. It is hard to be spiritual while at the same time calling the dogs to order through the window. By the time I get to my study and have my bible open in front of me about 15 minutes have passed since my alarm went off.

I generally start my devotions by reading a passage of scripture. I have been reading according to a bible reading plan for about 5 years now, which for me has been a hugely valuable tool. Every day I read a portion of the Old Testament and the New Testament. My reading takes me between 15 and 20 minutes and I underline and highlight verses along the way that I feel are specifically significant for me or where God is speaking to me. This helps me to concentrate and remain focused while I read. Whether I feel like it or not, I always read the bible. I may change other aspects of my devotions if I find that I am becoming stale, but I never change the pattern of reading the Word. Next week I will spend time on the subjects of prayer and worship.

to be continued….