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Pitman NJ 08071
Sunday Worship 10am
A Morning Meeting with God
April 16, 2014 by Larry Lazarus 0 comments
In fourteen years as a Christian, nothing has been more instrumental in my walk with God than hearing Him speak to me in the pages of Scripture. It breaks my heart that so many people who bear the name “Christian” give so little attention to feeding on the rich nourishment of God’s Word, especially when Jesus said that those who are truly His disciples are those who abide in His Word (see John 8:31-32).
But the last thing I want to do is point accusing fingers, or make people feel guilty. That kind of motivation won’t make anyone a lover of Scripture. I want people to love God’s Word. That’s my aim in preaching, and in my more interpersonal discipleship. So I thought it might be of benefit to give a personal illustration of how I take in God’s Word daily, to see how simple and how rewarding it can be. Maybe it will draw some of you into the soul-satisfying experience of fellowship with God for yourselves.
For the last couple of years, I have been using a Bible reading plan devised by Grant Horner, which takes readers through one chapter of Scripture from ten different locations every day. Yes, ten chapters of Scripture daily. It’s definitely not for everyone, and I don’t think I’ve ever recommended it to those who have no regular habit of Bible reading, because it's too daunting to start there. But it’s what I have been using.
In January, I decided to modify this plan, because I was sensing that I didn’t have enough time for reflection and prayer, but found myself just trudging through the chapters in order to get them done. When it comes to Bible reading, we’re not looking to just “get it done”, but to hear God’s voice, and to be changed by the sight of Him found there.
So I’ve learned to slow down. I tweaked the plan so that I am reading 4-5 chapters per day. Here’s what that looked like one day last week:
Reading #1: Psalm 31
I read a Psalm every morning, and cycle right back to the beginning when I finish. With all of the passages I read in a given morning, I know I am not looking to lead a Bible study or preach a sermon on these verses, so I am not looking to solve every mystery or answer every question that might pop up. I begin with prayer, asking God to show me the words, phrases or sentences that He has for me to ponder today, and that He would use them in my life to make me more like Him. Then I read, looking for little daggers of truth that I can shoot at the devil when he mounts an attack on my faith (1 Peter 5:8).
As I read Psalm 31, I am struck by these words:
"9Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress…my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing…14But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”15My times are in your hand…
I always have a note card with me, on which I write the words that especially capture my attention. I don’t want the Word doing its work in me only at 6:00 AM, but throughout the day, and if I don’t write it down, it won’t stay in my mind when I need it: when I get a discouraging email, am dealing with a disobedient child, preparing for a difficult conversation on the phone, etc. I write the words down on my note card, and I look at the card several times throughout the day (at least, I aim to. Truth be told, sometimes I forget, and the card stays in my pocket all day).
So today, I write these words down from Psalm 31. I am struck by the Psalmist’s affirmation of trust in God, though his circumstances are miserable. I’m not very good at doing that; too often my emotions are ruled by the circumstances of a given day. So I write these words down, and spend a few minutes praying that God would do that in my heart: that He would grant me confidence in His will, even when it feels like things have gone wrong. A particular ministry situation pops into my mind, and I begin to pray these verses about that situation, for my own heart and for the others involved.
As I’m praying, I remember a family who is walking through a dark time, and I include them in my prayers. I should have – but failed to on that day – reached out to this family and let them know that God had brought them to mind as I read and prayed through these verses, so that my own discipleship might begin to spill over into the lives of others (see my blog post from a couple of weeks ago).
I also write down verse 19:
“19Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!”
The imagery of God storing up goodness is one that I want to ponder more, and as I take a couple of minutes to pray on this, I find my heart more joyful and confident in His goodness. I envision a closet packed full of God’s goodness, which is then opened, with its contents spilling out all over the place. That is the way God is in His goodness to me; He is following me all the days of my life with His goodness and mercy (Psalm 23:6), and I praise Him for that. Being mindful of it will help me as I am pressed to deal with the inconveniences and frustrations that inevitably will arise in any given day in this fallen world.
After praying, I move on to reading #2. I am less than ten minutes into my "meeting" with God, but already my cold, lifeless heart is being moved to fresh love and worship for my Lord and Savior. He is so good to do this in me day after day after day.
Reading #2: Matthew 24
I know the church’s reading plan is also currently moving through Matthew, but in my personal reading plan I happen to be in Matthew as well. Today I write down two verses on my note card:
"42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming."
"35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
I am convicted as I read verse 42 about my propensity to earthly-mindedness. I regularly get discouraged by minor inconveniences and disruptions to my comfort, because I am thinking about creating my best life now, rather than eagerly waiting for Jesus to come, which is the only thing that will fully, eternally satisfy my hungry heart. So I turn that into prayer as well, and declare the truth of verse 35, that the words of Jesus surely will never pass away. Hope in Jesus’ return is rock-solid, well-rooted hope. His words cannot and will not fail.
As I pray along these lines, I am reminded of my wife, who has taught me more than anyone about what true heavenly-mindedness looks like, and I give thanks for her, and pray that God would help me to love and cherish her as Christ does His Church.
Reading #3: Genesis 49
After reading Matthew 24, I turn to my reading in Genesis, which in this case is a description of the blessing that Jacob bestowed upon his sons before he died in Egypt. As I read the chapter, nothing specific grabs my attention. It takes me maybe 3-5 minutes to read through the chapter, but I just don’t see much that’s going to be fruitful for my reflection on that day. That’s not to say there isn’t anything there, but I’m just not seeing it.
I don’t beat myself up about this. That’s what I enjoy about reading from several places in Scripture on a given day. If nothing in Genesis 49 affects my heart, there are a few other places where I am sure to find something helpful for me. So I move on to reading #4. Some days, if I see nothing in the chapter, I might move on and read another chapter from the same place, but on this day I choose to move on.
Reading #4: Galatians 4
There is some difficult stuff in the second half of the chapter, highlighting the difference between the children of Sarah and the children of Hagar. I know I don’t have time to dig into the depths of that this morning. But my eyes fix on verses 4-7, and I write them on my index card.
"4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."
I ask God for faith today to believe that I am a beloved child, and to live in the freedom and joy that comes from knowing that He does not regard me as a slave, but as a son. Because He’s a good Dad, He’ll surely take good care of me today. And beyond today, there is the hope that I am an heir of God! My inheritance is the world (Romans 4:13)! I want to believe that in every aspect of life, God is treating me like a beloved child. So I ask Him to do that in my heart, and I write it down so I won’t forget when I am called to play the role of a servant to someone else today.
As I pray, I’m also reminded of my own calling as a father, and the children whom God has blessed me with. I am moved to pray for their hearts, and for mine as a father, that I would represent the heart and character of my heavenly Father well as I shepherd them. I ask Him to help me relate to them not as slaves (barking orders at them and getting easily irritated when they are not compliant), but as dearly loved children (with tenderness and compassion and a joyful spirit, even when they need a firm word or action of corrective discipline).
Reading #5: Nehemiah 9
With my regular plan, a typical morning finishes at that fourth reading, and then I have 5 readings from 5 different places the next morning. But I have a few extra minutes today, so I move onto a fifth chapter. I am blown away by the richness of the prayer that is recorded in this Scripture. Specifically, I write down parts of verses 32 and 33:
"32Our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love…You have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly."
In prayer, I affirm that God is the great, mighty and awesome God, who uses that power and might to keep faithful to His covenant to me and pursue me with His steadfast love, which comes to me through the shed blood of Jesus. I am mindful of how faithful He has been and continues to be, despite my ongoing weaknesses and struggles with sin.
This is especially helpful to me, because I am currently in a season where I find myself inwardly fretting and grumbling when things aren’t going my way. Being reminded of God’s faithfulness to me in the midst of my wickedness cultivates the needed dose of humility that will slay the arrogance and sense of entitlement that my fretting and complaining are rooted in.
Aim for Quality, Not Quantity
So this is what a typical morning meeting with God looks like for me. I’m not saying it’s the only way to meet with God; it’s just my way. And if you have no way, then maybe this way will provide some incentive, and an example, of what that kind of meeting could look like. It’s usually about an hour-long period of time for me, though if I am short on time I might just do the readings and index-cards (approx. 30 minutes), and try to spend some time praying at another point in the day (on my commute to the office, for example).
Don’t let that time-frame overwhelm you. As I wrote earlier, the point is not quantity of time, but quality of communion: asking God to speak, listening attentively to His Word, responding to His Word in prayers of praise and supplication, and striving with the help of His Spirit to live out obedience to His Word throughout the day. 10-15 minutes dwelling on one chapter of Scripture (or just one verse!) is certainly better than nothing. So if you’ve got no regular habit, try giving yourself to 30-days of spending a short amount of time like that, and you may find yourself setting aside more time after a month.
What a privilege we have, to know God and to have His Word. I beg of you, for your soul’s joy and for the glory of our great God and Savior, don’t let it sit on the shelf! May God grant you an increasing love for, and submission to, His precious Word.
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