Jeremy Sarber / The Bible Readers Podcast

The Christian’s desperate need for daily devotional time with God

In the evening before bed, I set the alarm for 6:30 and the coffeemaker for 6:25. The aroma of French roast brewing in the kitchen reaches the bedroom just in time to make my alarm’s rude awakening a little more pleasant. I am not a morning person. Aspirations aside, I have not discovered the secret to waking with energetic optimism. I can use all the help I can get.

My natural disposition is not ideal for daily devotional time with God, at least when I need it the most, that is, at the start of my day. My flesh would rather roll out of bed and do something requiring less discipline than prayer or Bible reading. Consuming the morning news has always been a favorite alternative, though I’ll never understand why I enjoy hearing everything that’s wrong with the world. Why should I find any pleasure in learning about the triumphs of the god of this age when I could study God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ? (2Co 4:4; 6).

Outside of the occasional plug for prayer and maybe Bible study, pastors rarely preach on spiritual disciplines with the urgency they deserve. I’m referring to intentional, consistent, and private devotion to God. These disciplines include fervent, uninterrupted prayer, fully-immersive reading of Scripture, fasting—yes, my potluck-loving Baptist brothers and sisters, I said fasting—journaling, meditating, sitting alone in silence, or all of the above. The modern church prefers her Christianity to-go. I’ll have an egg McMuffin, side of hash browns, a 30-second prayer, and a Bible verse or two if there’s time. I doubt there will be since I’m late for work.

Believers of the past, however, recognized our desperate need for daily devotional time with God. In his book, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, J.C. Ryle wrote:

One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace. By these I understand such means as a man must use by himself alone, and no one can use for him. I include under this head private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self-examination. The man who does not take pains about these three things must never expect to grow. Here are the roots of true Christianity. Wrong here, and a man is wrong all the way through.

Ryle was not alone. William Wilberforce, champion of the abolition of the slave trade, once lamented:

This perpetual hurry of business and company ruins me in soul if not in body. More solitude and earlier hours! I suspect I have been allotting habitually too little time to religious exercises, as private devotion and religious meditation, Scripture-reading, etc. Hence I am lean and cold and hard. I had better allot two hours or an hour and a half daily. I have been keeping too late hours, and hence have had but a hurried half-hour in the morning to myself. Surely the experience of all good men confirms the proposition that without a due measure of private devotions the soul will grow lean. But all may be done through prayer—almighty prayer, I am ready to say—and why not? For that it is almighty is only through the gracious ordination of the God of loving truth. On then, pray, pray, pray!

Only a man as disciplined as Wilberforce could bemoan his lack of discipline when he was devoting thirty minutes every morning to private meditation and prayer. Many of us swell with the pride of personal achievement anytime we manage to read two or three chapters of the Bible in one sitting. As for prayer, we ask God to bless our food before meals. Isn’t that enough? I’ll use the KJV’s emphatic response and say, “God forbid!”

We may not know just how spiritually deprived we are until we sit at the table for daily devotional time with God. Have you ever noticed how hunger may only strike once you’ve smelled dinner cooking in the kitchen? I suggest we put our nose in the Bible and our knees on the floor every morning. I recommend mornings because God does. He says, “My words are to be in your heart. … Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Dt 6:6-7). We are to begin and end our days drinking the pure milk of the word (1Pe 2:2).

If we relegate all our spiritual discipline to corporate worship on Sunday, we give the devil more than 98 percent of our waking hours. And if so, we’re not asking for trouble; we’re begging for it. We may as well reclaim those hours we already sacrifice to be with the church on Sunday. They’re not enough to be transformed by the renewing of your mind or grow up into your salvation, anyhow (Ro 12:2; 1Pe 2:2). Come the Lord’s day, I say facetiously, take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself (Lk 12:19).

Or, assuming we have tasted that the Lord is good, we sit down to frequent meals of him (1Pe 2:3). (Should the cannibalistic analogy disturb you, please remember that Jesus used it long before I did [c.f., Jn 6:53-58].) Gorge yourself first thing in the morning. Go back for seconds. Eat until you’re full. Give your soul as much nourishment as you do your body, and probably more. After all, man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Dt 8:3). Put on the full armor of God before you leave the house, so you can stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph 6:11).

Please, brothers and sisters, make the most of the time, because the days are evil (Eph 5:16). Take it back, particularly the morning hours which set the pace and tone for the rest of your day, from sleep, making yourself pretty, email, Facebook, news bites, household chores, and all other secular distractions. Set your mind on things above before all else (Col 3:2). By all means, have a cup of coffee while you’re at it. I’m not suggesting you torture yourself. I only want to see your faith get stronger as you grow closer to Christ.

For God’s glory and the church’s welfare, we need a renewed emphasis on spiritual disciplines. We need daily devotional time with God.