How to Spend Time with God, Part 2
One of the commitments of our Membership Agreement at Emmaus Road says, "I will devote myself to the study of Scripture and to prayer both privately, and in group contexts." But developing the disciplined rhythm of daily time with God in his Word and in prayer is challenging for many. There are all kinds of possible reasons for this, but one is simply not knowing what to do.
In Part 1, I said that the first step is to simply start reading, anywhere and anytime you can. Just read the Word and don't worry about trying to wring every last drop of meaning out of the text. Humans don't live by carbs and calories alone but by every word that comes from God's mouth, so think of God's Word like nourishment for your soul. Sometimes you'll be able to sit down and savor a feast, but other times you’ll be eating on the run. Whatever you do, eat!
As you daily partake of God's Word and as your appetite increases, there are a few simple ways you can learn to better savor and digest what you're consuming. Here is one outline to give some structure to your daily time with God: pray, read, pray. That's it! Pick a few of these ideas to give you focus and direction when you meet with God tomorrow.
One way to prepare your heart to hear from God is to pray John Piper’s acronym, "IOUS."
- “Incline my heart to your testimonies” (Psalm 119:36).
- You may not feel inclined toward God and his Word when you open it up, so ask him to bend your heart his direction.
- “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).
- Reading and understanding Scripture requires more than literacy or IQ; it requires supernatural illumination from the Holy Spirit. Praying for the spiritual sight to see wondrous, soul-stirring things is a way to remind yourself that you are meeting with God because you want to behold his glory.
- “Unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).
- Your heart may feel divided and pulled in a hundred different directions, so ask God for a singular passion and focus as you meet with him.
- “Satisfy [me] in the morning with your steadfast love” (Psalm 90:14).
- You're not reading the Bible to check it off your to-do list; you are reading because God alone can satisfy your heart-hungers. So ask God to nourish and satisfy you.
Start with a plan
Whether you’re working through a specific book of the Bible, the entire New Testament, or the whole Bible, reading with a plan keeps you from wandering aimlessly through the Bible or flipping open to random pages, hoping to encounter the perfect passage. A plan gives you direction, introduces you to books and chapters you may otherwise skip, and guides you through the whole counsel of God.
- Want to read the whole Bible in a year? Check out the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan.
- Want to read the New Testament in a year? Try Discipleship Journal’s 5x5x5 Plan.
- Several women in our church are reading through the New Testament this summer by doing this Bible Reading Challenge. (And there's a version for men here.)
That is, read slowly and thoughtfully enough to think about what you’re reading, but don’t get bogged down. As someone else has said, don’t read like you’re cramming for a test, but read like one who expects to pass by this way again. Look for the author’s main point (usually a command or a repeated idea). Read to get the big picture. If you have the time, try summarizing the main point of the passage in your own words in a journal.
Ask and answer the 4 Questions as you read:
- Who is God?
- What is God doing? (Or what has God done?)
- Who am I in light of this?
- What should I do in responsive and obedient faith?
Or try using the "PEPSI" acronym to help you look for any…
- Promises to trust
- Examples to imitate
- Problems (i.e., errors or temptations) to avoid
- Sins to confess
- Instructions (or commands) to obey
Be a doer of the Word
Think through the categories of head, heart, and hands to hear and obey what God is saying to you:
- Head: Is there a new thought or truth to learn or consciously remember?
- Heart: Is there an appropriate attitude or affection to cultivate in response?
- Hands: Is there a behavior to practice or a step of obedience to take?
And since we are committed to living as disciples who multiply disciples, ask yourself one more application question.
- Multiply: Is there someone I know who needs to hear this good news?
As God speaks to you through his Word, it’s right to respond to him in prayer.
Pray Scripture back to God
Use the content you just read in God’s Word to give you language and thoughts and categories for your prayer. Check out John Piper’s “Tips for Praying the Word.”
Or use the ACTS acronym
This is a simple outline that can to give structure to your prayer life, whether you have 2 minutes to pray or 20.
Adoration: Praise and worship God for who he is and what he has done. What have you seen about God’s character, nature, and ways in Scripture? What have you been relying on God to be and do for you lately? Express your adoration in prayer.
- Confession: After Isaiah beheld the glory of the holy God, he was deeply convicted of his own sinfulness (Isaiah 6:1-8). Take some time to identify and confess specific sins to God, both sins of commission (evil things you have thought, felt, or done) and sins of omission (good things you have sinfully avoided doing). After confessing your sins and turning from them, affirm God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
- Thanksgiving: Cultivate gratitude by thanking God for specific evidence of his grace in your life. Start by developing a habit of daily thanking God for at least three specific blessings you enjoy (James 1:17; 1 Cor. 4:7).
- Supplication: Pray for yourself and others by making your requests known to God (Phil. 4:6) and casting your anxieties on him, knowing that he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Who should you pray for? Try praying through different lists of people: lost friends and family members one day, members of your Missional Community another day, coworkers the next, etc. Consider keeping a written list of specific needs and concerns that you pray for each day.
Remember: pray, read, pray. Don’t feel like you have to use all of these strategies every time you seek the Lord, and don’t think that you have to manufacture phenomenal encounters with God every time. Simply make it your habit to turn daily to the Lord to be nourished and satisfied by every word that comes from God’s mouth.