A young professional man asked me for help to make Bible reading and prayer a daily part of his life. With his permission I share the essence of my response with you, my reader.
SUGGESTION ONE. Between 15 and 30 minutes first thing in the morning is a good target time to aim for. But preparations must begin the night before. When and how we retire each night either supports or sabotages this devotional exercise in advance of the next day. Planning sleep time accordingly is just one element in a disciplined Christian life. In another context, the Apostle Peter exhorted, “Be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8). Even try leaving your Bible open to the passage for the morning.
SUGGESTION TWO: Read the Bible according to a plan. Flipping aimlessly from place to place will not challenge your attention or hold your interest. And it is not likely to give you biblical patterns. I suggest you begin with the Gospel of Mark, the shortest Gospel, reading either a paragraph or a chapter at a time. Perhaps even say aloud at the beginning “This is the Word of the Lord.” And when you finish Mark, be prepared to begin another plan. For this morning time, I prefer to follow a Bible Reading Guide published by the Canadian or American Bible Societies. This prompts me to keep aware in an ordered way of all sections of the Bible. Copies can be ordered by a phone call: 416 417 1757.
SUGGESTION THREE: The time spent in prayer need not be long but should be active, countering any drowsiness that lingers after showering and making preliminary preparation for the day. Use the exercise to commit yourself and the new day to the Lord, declaring your trust in Him, and thanking him for his care. Ask him to grant mercy to family, friends, neighbors. Offer prayer for your church. If need be take extra time for specific needs, or to offer special words of gratitude, but don’t fixate on one matter alone.
SUGGESTION FOUR: Choose the posture for prayer that best enables you to remain concentrated. Kneeling reflects reverence but may invite sleepiness or wandering thoughts, especially early in the morning. Many pray sitting or standing. The late Oswald Smith walked back and forth in his study while he prayed. From that exercise he wrote the gospel song that begins, “I have walked alone with Jesus in a fellowship divine.”
SUGGESTION FIVE: Whenever possible, pray out loud. This will keep your mind alert to what you are doing. It is good to voice your prayers, even if only in a whisper. Hearing your words increases concentration.
For example, while sitting in silence next to a friend, your thoughts could go in several directions, but that is not as likely to happen if you are communing with that friend in conversation. Prayer can be conversation with God. It’s amazing how hearing one’s own words in prayer helps prayers to remain focused.
SUGGESTION SIX. Keep in mind that Bible reading and prayer at the outset of the day can set a tone for the whole day. Once the practice is fixed you will discover that the impulse to pray manifests itself at various times in the day. Call them flash prayers. They’re like spillover from the early morning’s prayers. Perhaps something like this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he exhorted, the Thessalonians, “Pray continually,” or “Never stop praying” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Remember that my suggestions are only starters. For many believers, prayer is a lifetime development. And beginners should be mindful of this: the establishment of a disciplined life of prayer may begin with a struggle against the flesh (prior habits, fatigue, distractibility) but if pursued will turn into one of the day’s great joys — communion with the Eternal God.
(Next week I’ll share the five elements of prayer)
Photo credit: Vinoth Chandar (via flickr.com)