Molly Mooberry praying for Jani: What a blessed day this has already been! And we just bow our hearts and our heads before you, Lord, in humility, waiting for Your words, Lord, to come into our hearts. Oh, Lord, we're hungry for Your Word.
I pray for this time, that You would just speak through Jani, God. That You would take her words and that Your Holy Spirit would be here in our midst, and that You would deposit them into the hearts of each woman seated in this room in exactly the way she needs to hear it to be encouraged, to be loved . . .so that we can walk away from here, Lord, more passionate to meet with You, and to have tools of knowing how to better be in Your Word and just in devotion with You, Lord.
We give You this time. We stand on holy ground, for You are here with us. We give You the glory, and we pray for her words, that they would glorify You. It's in Jesus' Name that we pray, Amen.
Jani Ortlund: Hello, ladies. I'm so glad to be here with you. The Lord is here! I welcome you in the Name of the Lord Jesus! We get to take an hour together and talk about digging into His Word; how to build a life of personal devotion to Him.
I've put a very simple outline on the overhead, just so that you know where we're headed. And it keeps me honest-I don't go down too many bunny trails when you know the outline. If you have any questions about it, or if you'd like to talk further, please feel free to email me at our website, www.ortlund.net. I'd be glad to communicate with you.
Every woman in this room-indeed, every woman today-is living in two worlds, really: the internal world of what's going on in her heart and her mind and her soul, and the external world that comes out with her words and her actions. These two worlds are not always in sync . . . in fact, oftentimes they're conflicted.
We can see that in the five-year-old looking up at his mother as she's taking him to "time-out", and he's saying, "I may be sitting in that chair, but in my head I'm still standing!" Or in the woman who looks so together on the outside, but if we could get into her heart we would see the questions bouncing around in her brain: "Oh my goodness-does anybody know who I really am? Would anybody love me if they did? Where do I fit in, how do I measure up?"
Or, we can see this conflict in ourselves, as I did, when a very unkind, caustic remark sprang from my mouth last week over a Facebook comment that Ray, my husband, was reading to me. As soon as I saw Ray's surprised look-as that comment came out of my mouth-I said, "Oh my, where did that come from!?" But we both knew. It came from my evil, self-centered and covetous heart, and it sprang forth before I could stop it.
We live in two worlds. You live in two worlds. I live in two worlds. And one will end up governing the other. We want to take the next hour and talk about our internal world, and in particular, how to develop and cultivate a meaningful devotional life with Jesus Christ.
Devotion . . . that meaning of eager love, intense admiration and the ensuing commitment that follows. That's a heart issue. You can't talk about devotion without thinking about your heart. When Paul talks about an undivided devotion to the Lord (I Corinthians 7:35), he's talking about something that springs from our inner man-that internal part of us-our souls.
So, we're going to be doing soul-work for the next few minutes. What I want to do right now-and we've already been prayed for (Molly, thank you for that)-is just ask us all to bow silently before our Lord and King and ask Him to open our hearts and our ears. Because ladies, as you know, I'm one speaker and these words can come out of my mouth and they will fall flat right here on this red carpet unless the Holy Spirit comes and breathes life into them, and brings them into your soul and gives you ears to hear and eyes to see.
So let's stop and pray, all of us, silently, asking the Lord to do work in our souls, alright? Will you bow and ask the Lord for that? [period of silence] Hear our prayers, Holy Spirit, come . . . come . . . come. . .in Jesus' Name.
Now, we want to consider three questions together today: the "why," the "how," and the "what" of personal devotions. Why should we spend time? Let's think about that a moment. And then, how do we cultivate an intimacy with Christ, so it's not just-as Mary Kassian said this morning in her wonderful and helpful talk-just gaining more knowledge? How does it become intimate, personal, one-on-one? And then, what different things can our devotional times include?
At the very end, I'm going to ask each one of us in this room to take the next step: What is one thing we can do, and take with us from this hour as we head home?
So, first of all, why should we spend time developing a devotional life?
Well, we probably could find reasons on every page of the Bible, starting with, "In the beginning, God . . ."At the beginning of everything is God, and here in the Bible is where we learn about Him. All throughout every page, to the very end when we're gathered with Him around the marriage supper of the Lamb, all throughout Scripture, we can find reasons.
I'm going to limit myself to six reasons. The first reason why we should develop a devotional life: We live out of our inner life, and any woman who has no inner life becomes a slave to her surroundings. Without a stable inner life, circumstances will control our actions and thoughts. What comes at us will control us.
When things go well, we'll be pretty happy, but when they don't, we'll be overcome with fear, anxiety, resentment, and bitterness. But developing a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through developing a devotional life will fill our hearts with the wisdom of Christ, and He will help us to interpret and respond to the inevitable difficulties that we all will face between here and heaven.
The Bible says, in Psalm 1, that the woman who spends time in the Word of God becomes like a steady, fruit-bearing evergreen tree. I love that! Think of the alternative . . . Of course, those of you who know Psalm 1 know that the alternative is becoming chaff that the wind just blows away.
Jesus speaks of an alternative as well. In Matthew 13, Jesus talks about the seed that was sprinkled on rocky ground and never got any depth. Without depth, He said, what happens is the dry periods come, the drought comes-the disappointments, the failures, the circumstances-and the seed withers and dies. That's the alternative.
We live out of our inner lives. Every human being was born with a soul. Your soul is the eternal part of you. The human soul is vast! And profound! It's so boundless and deep that nothing in all the created world can satisfy it or contain it. What my soul finds rest in, what your soul finds rest in, matters deeply because it shows the inclination of my heart.
I love Psalm 62:1 (NIV): "My soul finds rest in God alone." What do I turn to when my soul is restless? What do I turn to when I'm worried or tired, or anxious, or scared, or bored, or overcome? To the refrigerator, sometimes? (Baskin Robbins happens to be my favorite…) Perhaps to the telephone . . . texting . . . Facebook . . . Instagram? To the TV, to the internet? What do you turn to? What attracts and engages our souls? What diverts our souls from the truest and best in life? We live out of our inner lives. Let's not become slaves to our surroundings. We have a higher Master named Jesus Christ!
Reason number two why should we spend time in the Word and develop a devotional life: Well, because the Word of God is eternal! It's infinite, it's endless! Our world here . . . oh, it's so temporary, it's so fleeting, it's so limited. I can tell you, as an older woman, I don't know where the last sixty-five years have gone. I just don't know where they've gone.
I can look back and see different times, but the years-like I've got a moment here, and moment there, a picture here, a [mental] movie there-you know==but the years have flown!!
My husband and I are sixty-five. We figure we have twenty, maybe thirty more years. That's nothing! This world is fleeting. This Book is eternal. Our life here is short, but the shortness of it, don't let that bother you, because it's filled with eternal significance. We need something from beyond this temporary world; we need something from eternity speaking into our lives here, to enlighten our souls, to make us wise, to revive our souls. Psalm 19 says that's what the Word does, the eternal Word of God.
Your souls matters. God formed your soul within you. It's the eternal part of you. He doesn't want to empty it, He wants to energize it. He doesn't want your soul to always be saying, "No, no, we can't do that. I'm so bad, I'm so . . ." He wants to energize your soul with Himself. He wants it to be such a wonderful dwelling for Himself.
ll Corinthians 4:16 puts it this way: "So we don't lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self [our soul] is being renewed day by day by the eternal Word of God." It's hard to set our eyes on eternal things, things that are truly worthy of our attention and time and money and effort . . . and sometimes our blood.
A woman who spends time with Jesus in daily devotions will know how to live life well. . . how to live with eternity in view. The Bible teaches that "the unfolding of your words gives light. It imparts wisdom to the simple." Do you feel simple? Sometimes I feel so "simple." This is where we get light and wisdom.
Number three: Sin is real and Satan is crouching at the door, seeking to destroy us (Genesis 4:7). The Bible reveals a profound truth about what defines the human heart. There are really only two kinds of people on the earth: those whose mind is set on the flesh, and those whose mind is set on the Spirit (Romans 8:5).
Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Which group are you in? I vacillate! The mind set on the flesh is charmed, enticed, fascinated and rewarded-temporarily-by things of the flesh.
The mind set on the Spirit is charmed, enticed, fascinated and rewarded by things of the higher and eternal world. A woman who spends time with the Lord in His Word will be freer from the entanglements and temptations of sin. The Spirit will equip us to stand firm against the wiles of the devil.
"I have stored up your Word in my heart that I may not sin against you." (Psalm 119:11) Sin is real. A life of personal devotion will help you stand firm.
Number four: Time with Jesus-intimate time of significant and meaningful conversations and time spent together-brings joy. Do you want to see a joyful person? Look for someone who has spent time with Jesus. A woman who spends time in the Word will be full of joy in life.
Jeremiah 15: 16 puts it this way: "Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart." Jesus said in John 15:11: "These words have I spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full." Do we want more joy in our lives? Oh boy, whoever had too much joy? Time with Jesus will bring us that joy.
Number five: We will leave a godly legacy. The lives that we touch will be influenced. A woman who cultivates her devotional life will have something to pass on to others. If she is in a family, it will be her family members. If she's working out in the market place, it will be those with whom she works. If she goes to a church and serves there, it will be among those people. She will have something to pass on. l Corinthians 14:3 puts it like this: We'll be able to speak to others "for their up-building and encouragement and consolation." Oh, isn't that wonderful!
Isaiah 50:4 says it this way: "That I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary." We will know what to say because, "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). What is your heart overflowing with today?
Our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren (whether they be biological or not-within the body of Christ are children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren) will benefit. Listen to this passage from Psalm 78-one of my favorite in all the Scriptures (I'll just read a few of the verses):
Psalm 78:3-7: ". . . things that we have heard and known . . . we will not hide them from [our] children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the [mighty works] that he has done. . . that the next generation might know them, and the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God…"
What are we to tell them? The glorious deeds of the Lord. Things that we have heard and known. Oh, we want to leave a legacy. If we spend time with Jesus, we will.
Number six: You become like those you spend time with. Do we want to be more like Jesus? Let's spend time with Him! I found this story this week fascinating. I'm reading through the Bible this year, and in Matthew 16, Jesus is teaching the scribes and Pharisees-well, He's not really teaching them, because they were not teachable-but He's talking to them, and then He went away, and He told His disciples something.
He said, "Beware of the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees." He's telling us that what we eat is like leaven-it grows within us. What are you feeding on? Let's be women who feast on Jesus. The Bible says, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good." (Ps. 34:8) Do you know, to taste something is so much better than to be old about it?
What if I described my favorite new Mississippi Mud recipe: the kind with brownie on the bottom-that really moist, thick brownie with extra bits of dark chocolate-and then the marshmallow crème you spread over it while it's warm and it melts . . . and then, oh!, the chocolate chips and sugar and butter and milk icing you pour over the top . . . and then you've got to add a few walnuts on top of that. (If you don't like walnuts, you can add some pecans, or mix them both in, if you like nuts) . . .
Okay, I just told you about it, and just think! If I had one or two hundred pieces to give you to taste, wouldn't that be better? "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good." Don't just listen to someone talk about Him; don't just listen to a podcast of somebody else telling you about Him. You taste!
We're going to talk more about that in a minute, but let's move on. We saw some reasons for the "why". I'm sure, if we had time, we could go around this room and you could tell me scores of more reasons "why" this is so wonderful and important. We need to remind ourselves "why."
Now: How? How do we cultivate intimacy with Christ? Ladies, this is no mystery! This is not a mystery. If you came in here for this great mystery to be revealed, you're going to be disappointed. How do you develop intimacy with anyone? You spend time together, you talk together, you listen to each other, you share your joys and sorrows.
What builds a strong relationship? Shared experiences, some of which are intentionally planned. If someone asked to be your friend, but she was never available to spend time with you, your friendship would not blossom and grow. Your relationship with God is no different. There is no secret formula for it.
I love the story of Dr. Chafer, who was the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary. The students admired Dr. Chafer's walk with the Lord, and they had heard that he got up really early-like before four and four-thirty every morning-and spent time with the Lord.
And they just didn't know how he managed to do that. And so they got one of the students to ask him, "Dr. Chafer we really admire your walk with the Lord, and we understand that you get up early in the morning and have a devotion with Him-a quiet time, whatever you call it, Dr. Chafer-and you're just with Him. Could you please share your secret with us?"
And the story goes that he turned to that young man and said, "Oh, but of course! This is what I do: I set my alarm clock, and then I get up." [laughter] Let that land on us. We're looking for a "secret". God is a lover. He created us to enjoy Him. He invites us to meet with Him in His Word.
You're probably familiar with those verses in Revelation 3:19 and 20. Those verses are written to believers, to a church. "Those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold," (He's talking about repentance and zeal here, in this invitation) "I stand at the door and knock." (You know this verse.) "If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him."
Let's be women who open the door! Let's make a conscious, deliberate choice. Let's listen, let's be zealous, let's be ever ready to repent over whatever He is speaking to us about. Let's open the doors of our hearts and welcome Him in. Let's eat with Jesus!
God is actively seeking communion with us. We see it all over Scripture. I'll pick two verses here: Psalm 53:2: "God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God." It's as if God, from His mighty throne, is looking down and saying, "Oh, I see you! You're looking up to Me. Let's meet! I see you! Let's meet together." He's eager to meet. He's looking down from heaven on the children of men to see who's seeking after Him.
James 4:8: "Draw near to God," and what's the promise?-"He will draw near to you." Part of drawing near to God is meeting with Him. God is looking, knocking, inviting, drawing near. The Eternal, All-Powerful, breathtakingly magnificent God of the universe wants to be known by you and by me.
He invites us to listen to His voice and open the door of our hearts to Him. He wants to be dear to us, near to us, real to us. How does this happen? How do we go from stale, dry, lethargic, bored, indifferent, guilty, even fear-filled daughters, to vibrant, eager, courageous, delighted daughters of the King?
How do we respond in love to Him? How do we learn to love Him more by spending time together? When we don't regularly feast from His abundant house and drink from what He calls His river of delights (Psalm 36:8), we become malnourished.
Jesus says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." (Matt. 5:6) Hunger for His Word is a sign of health. I don't know if you have any house plants, but sometimes when I let mine go dry for too long and I try to give them water, the water just rolls off the top. I need to start with just a little bit at a time, and then it can absorb.
Let me illustrate this point about hunger and thirst being a sign of health, of how we can receive more, with an illustration from our oldest grandchild, Kate. She was born early, ten years ago, in Scotland, emergency C-section. Eric, our oldest boy, called and said, "Mom, I know you were planning to come. Could you change your ticket and come early?" And I could hear the fear in his voice.
When I got there, little Kate was doing okay. She was tiny, but they had let her go home. But she hadn't developed a good sucking reflex, as sometimes happens when you're born several weeks early.
Eric and Erin, our kids, weren't really good at knowing how to develop that, and they hadn't been coached enough in doing that. Over the next few days, little Kate wasn't drinking very much, and she was getting a little more jaundiced. Now there's a wonderful thing about having a baby in Scotland. (I had our fourth baby there. Do we have any Scots here? Brits? It's a wonderful place to have a baby!) The reason is, you do not have to take your baby in for well-baby checks. The midwife comes to you for those first few babies. That was really wonderful.
When the midwife came to visit little Kate and Erin-Kate was five days old-I met her at the door (Erin had had a C-section and was still recovering from that) and said, "Something's worrying this grandma's heart. Something's not right. She looks yellow to me; she's not crying. They think she's just an easy baby. I think she's not sucking."
So the midwife, very wisely, looked at her and said very calmly, "I think we ought to take her in the hospital and check her bilirubin level." So we called a cab-the kids didn't have a car-and we went to the hospital. And as they ushered us in, they let me come, and I was in the room with them. And they pricked little Kate's thumb to try to get a little blood.
And that little five-day-old baby didn't flinch, didn't cry, didn't do anything when they took her blood. And the doctor said, "Let's admit the two of you for the night and we'll get the nursing going. We'll get everything straightened out." And as they took Erin and the baby away, I excused myself and I followed the doctor and asked him, "I fear that something's wrong. Why didn't little Kate flinch or cry when she was pricked with that needle?"
And he could see the tears welling up in this grandma's eyes and he said, "Don't worry, she just doesn't have enough calories yet to cry. Once we get some calories in her, that baby's going to cry!" And he was right. It took about twelve to eighteen hours to get her around. She just didn't have enough energy to cry.
Sometimes we need to take little bits of His Word to begin. If you haven't been having a time of personal devotions, do not begin Kay Arthur's study of Revelation tonight! [laughter] I love Kay. We've ministered together, and she gets what I'm saying. Do you see what I mean, though? You'll get discouraged.
If you leave today and say, "Oh, I'm going to spend an hour in Bible study every day of the week, then I'm going to pray for a half-hour, then I'm going to memorize and meditate and journal. . ." Start developing an appetite for it.
I'll show you how in a few minutes, but the point is this: hunger and thirst are signs of good health. If you are unhealthy, ask God to heal you in this area. Are you hungry and thirsty for God? Perhaps. If not, it's because you've been filling your soul with lesser gods, quenching your thirst and dulling your hunger for Him with temporal-and ultimately disappointing-food and drink. Come to His table hungry.
Let me talk for a minute, in this second point about cultivating intimacy with Christ, about the importance in my own life for a place and a time for me to meet with God.
It helps Jani Ortlund to have a consistent place and time. Will I always be able to meet with Christ there? No. This morning I couldn't-I was in my hotel room. Travel or company may prevent us from that consistent place, but when I am home you will find me there. I have a chair, I have a candle, I have a little coaster to put my cup of tea on.
I meet with Him in the morning (we'll talk about that in a minute), and I try to get ready the night before. I try to have my Bible and my notebook right there by the chair, and my pen, and in the morning I get up and get something to drink, and I go to meet with God.
Let's be women who give God the best part of our day. For me, morning has fewer interruptions. I don't get as many phone calls, texts-there are fewer temptations. There's not as much brain and compassion fatigue. Sleep seems to have refreshed my soul.
When my kids were little, I couldn't count on the time between four-thirty and six-thirty to be quiet at all. I never knew when one was going to get up and need me, so I would sometimes make time in the afternoon or the evening. But there are ways to have a quiet time with little ones.
We have four children, all married, and grandchild number eleven is due in February. So we praise the Lord! We have one daughter in the midst of three boys. (Oh, I thank the Lord for Christa! I love my boys, but… [laughter] ) Christa and John have three little ones ages six, three, and almost two. What they have trained those little ones to do-it's so interesting when I go to visit-they get them up, get them a drink, and put them next to Mommy and Daddy on the couch right there with some books, and they say, "Now it's quiet time-You sit there and drink your (usually it's warm milk or apple juice or something) and read your books."
They don't start out the day running, they start out the day quiet together. And it's a wonderful thing. And those kids do it! When I was there, I heard Christa say, "Now Lizzie, Mamie's meeting with God. We're just going to leave her alone for a few minutes," and dear little Lizzie did!
Do the children in our lives ever see us reading our Bible? Do they ever see us on our knees in prayer? We can find so many reasons not to meet with Him. There's fatigue, there's illness, there are stresses. There are time constraints and interruptions. There are failures from past efforts, and guilt over how long it's been since we last met with Jesus personally. But let's fight for that time.
As Mary Kassian exhorted us this morning, let's not be wimpy, weak women. This is worth it. Let's be women who plan for time with the Lord. Let's arrange for it. Something is wrong with our lives if we can't find time to meet with the One who gave us our lives. Let's "choose us this day whom we will serve." (Josh. 24:15) Christ, or our calendar?
John Bryson, a pastor friend of ours in Memphis, says, "Until you get radical, nothing will change." Let's get radical! If we don't make that choice, we'll end up living our life in our own energy. And down the road we'll end up exhausted and discouraged, wondering why life weighs us down so much.
My husband Ray says this, "Friends to God's grace ought not be strangers to His company." How do we enjoy the favors of God's grace, the fullness of His love, the delight of His company? How do you grow to love Him more? By setting your hearts to know Him, and then nurturing our inner lives through Bible study and prayer.
We love God by responding to His invitation, by saying "yes" with gratitude and anticipation, and by adjusting our lives so that our schedules look like God is really important to us, that He truly is our first priority! To make God our first priority means we adjust, we align, we order our lives to have that time with Him.
As women, we often tend to view our lives according to relationships: "I'm Ray's wife. I'm mom to Eric, Christa, Dane, and Gavin. I'm these kids' grandma. I'm her neighbor, or her Sunday School teacher." And we've got all these relationships. Now, what is the Lord going to say to me when I stand before Him? (Hebrews 4:13: "We must give account.") "Oh, Jani, it's okay. I excuse you. I gave you so much to do." No! He is not going to say that.
Anne Ortlund, who went to be with Jesus last November 4th, has been a great influence on my life. Perhaps some of you have read some of her writings. She said this: "If we live always doing the urgent, we spend our time responding to alarm bells and racing to put out fires. Ten years down the road we'll feel totally impoverished, because over the long haul the seemingly urgent is seldom important."
Let's learn to be women, true women, who know how to distinguish between the urgent and the important. It will always look easier "in the next stage of life." Don't trick yourself into believing that, as I did. When I first married I thought, "Oh I'm working now, have to get up so early, be at work at seven-thirty. Oh, when I get to stay home with a baby I will really have good quiet times!" [laughter]
And then the baby came, and more babies came, and then it was, "Oh, when they sleep through the night!" or "When they go to preschool!" or "When they go to high school." or "When they leave the house." You are always thinking it's always going to be easier. But the next stage in life is built on the foundation here. We can only build today, and if we don't build today, we won't have a foundation for tomorrow.
Fight for that time with God. Claw for it. Scratch for it. Do whatever you need. Arrange it. Choose God! Today is all we have. Let's be a generation of women who build for tomorrow by investing in today.
Now, before we move on to this third point, let's see what our devotional times could include, what mine include, and what I could offer to you. Let me make one point, and you may push back a little bit, but that's okay, I can handle it. But I do see it in Scripture, I think, if you think I'm interpreting this properly.
We've been talking about a time and a place; I want to be a little bit more specific. I want to say something about morning time. The longer I live, the more I believe in the importance of beginning my day with God. There are fewer interruptions, the day is fresh, it's full of new hope and mercy from God.
And I see this in Scripture. David says in Psalms 5: "In the morning you hear my voice," or he asks the Lord, "Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love." (Psalm 143) The sons of Korah, in Psalm 88, say, "In the morning my prayer comes before You."
Psalm 119: "I rise before dawn and cry for help." Isaiah: "Morning by morning He awakens my ear to hear." Do you see-are you getting the pattern?
We could follow Jesus' example: Mark 1, and Luke 5: "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus departed and went out to a desolate place and there he prayed." This was after a very, very busy day. He'd been teaching in the synagogue, healing a man with an unclean spirit, then he came and healed Peter's mother-in-law.
We read that and we think, "Oh, He just snapped His fingers . . ." Healing took something from Jesus. Think of the woman who touched the hem of His gown. At sundown the whole city gathered at His door and He healed them. This was after a very busy day, and He still rose early.
For you, you need to have a time of quiet. Ask God to help you, He'll show you. Your circumstances, your babies, your job, your roommate-you have no place to get alone?-they're no surprise to Him. He's arranged them to help you "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, because He's at work in you." Oh, I love those verses, Philippians 2:12 and 13. He is working in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
What's our part? An eagerness, a yearning, a longing, a stretching, a striving. We can never be too hungry for God. We can never be too thirsty or desirous. What parent starves his child? We love to give our children nourishing food. Satan wants to replace your taste for God with blah, boring nothingness. Don't let him! God invites us to drink deeply from His rivers of delight.
ll Chronicles 34:27 (I love this verse): "Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words, I also have heard you, declares the Lord."
Let's move on to our final point: What should our devotional times include? I want to strongly, underlined-in-italics-and-bold-print-strongly recommend our dear leader Nancy Leigh DeMoss's book, A Place of Quiet Rest. If you do not have it, I recommend that you get it. It's just a wonderful resource about this.
I'm going to tell you seven things that my devotion times include-not all seven every day-but it's how the Lord Jesus has helped me build a time of quietness with Him.
First of all , in the morning before I even start reading His Word, I just utter a quick prayer. Usually it's a verse of Scripture: Psalm 119:18, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." Maybe Psalm 119:125, "I'm your servant; give me understanding that I may know your testimonies." Find your own prayer. Look at the Psalms. Maybe there will be one that you can use to open your day with the Lord.
And then (#2) I read . I open my Bible and I read. I have nothing else with me except my pen. Proverbs 8:34 and 35 say this, "Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates…for whoever finds me finds life." Daily life.
Proverbs 2:4 encourages us to "seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures." That means intentionality. Open your Bibles and read. At that point in my devotions, I'm not reading another book about the Bible, I'm not reading my husband's commentary on Proverbs as my quiet time. I'm reading Proverbs.
I've tried different plans to read through the Bible, but what I've done most successfully the last twenty-nine to thirty years is Daily Walk, from Walk Through the Bible. It takes me through the Bible in a year, reading six times a week, three to five chapters, depending. I've really appreciated Daily Walk.
Maybe you've found a better system, one that works for you. It's not the system so much, it's the actual getting into the Word. I don't know about you, but this is confession time from Jani: There are times when I open the word and I'm reading-particularly (now I don't want to pick on Moses or Ezekiel, but you know…) Leviticus? It can be a little bit tricky. Or Ezekiel? I read that every August. I'm finding it richer now, but sometimes it's just hard.
I have two questions that my mother-in-law passed down to me that I use when I find my mind wandering. I often use these because my mind wanders often. In my daily Bible reading I have a piece of paper there in my notebook near me, and I write two questions at the top.
If you're taking notes, I would like you to write down this reference and these two questions, (we're going to do something because we've got a minute here for this little breather), Acts 22:8 and 10. This is when Saul came to meet Jesus. The first question that Saul asked Jesus, when he was meeting with him, was, "Who are you, Lord?"
So, on one side of my paper-usually the left side-I write the question, Who are You, Lord? And then in verse 10, Saul says, "What would you have me to do, Lord?" What should I do? Write that question down. I usually write it on the right side of the paper. And then I ask God to give me eyes to see.
I don't always fill up the whole page. Maybe one day it will be one thing I see about God. Maybe another day it will be five things He wants me to do. Let's turn together to Proverbs 2. I'm going to give you one minute to just look at-just skim through-verses 1-10 and see if you can find one answer for one of those questions. We'll share them in a minute.
Just read Proverbs 2. You know what, I'm going to read it out loud. We'll do it together. I want you to get how you can take this home and use it, alright? Listen as I read Proverbs 2:1-10 (ESV):
"My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,Alright, Who are you, Lord? Just call out a couple of things you see about God there. [Ladies call out words] "Shield. Wisdom. Giver. Counselor." Yes, do you see? We could just spend so long . . .
making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul."
What would you have me to do, Lord? What do you see there? [Ladies call out words] "Seek. Search. Receive." Yes, do you see? If you are coming to read your Bible, and you find your mind is wandering, you're writing your grocery list instead, write those two questions at the top of your grocery list and ask God to give you something from Himself.
Beyond reading, (#3) we want to study. Study is different from reading. I couldn't study through the whole Bible in a year. I can read through it, but I can't study through it. So I have my ESV study Bible-I'm a little bit prejudiced since my husband helped with that translation and some of the notes, and one of my sons helped publish it, but I'm just shameless, I'm sorry! [laughter] But I do recommend it; it's a wonderful study Bible.
Crossway has just come out with the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible-Jesus on every page. They have notes on how to find Jesus in Leviticus. I love it! So, study! I'll tell you more about that in a minute.
(#4) Memorize! A dear, older lady discipled me in this. She taught me how to write verses I'm memorizing on index cards and just keep them in a file. So each fall I choose some verses to memorize, and each spring I choose different verses, and then during the summertime I go through them and review them.
Memorize. Hide His Word in your heart. You can do that during your devotional time. If your children are bothering you, just take some time, get out paper and crayons for them and let them draw, and you write out some Scripture to memorize.
(#5) Meditate . If you can worry, you can meditate [laughter]. Just take one phrase or one verse. Again, I use index cards. I'm meditating these days on Acts 14:22. I write it down on three index cards: I keep one in my Bible to read during my quiet time, I keep one on my bathroom mirror, and one at my bedside table. So I read the verse at least three times a day.
Meditate, take it in. Mumble the Word to yourself.
(#6) Pray ! We want to pray over His Word. We could take a whole hour teaching on prayer. I'm not going to, but, prayer has to be part of it. God is speaking to us and we speak back to Him.
Then finally, (#7) we do a heart check , an attitude check. Sometimes women come to me and say they fear that if they hold to a daily quiet time, it will become legalistic, and we do not want to be legalistic. I agree. We're women of grace. They don't want their relationship with God to be something they check off.
Let's just remember, we never have quiet times to gain God's favor. We have them to enjoy His favor freely bestowed on us already, through the blood of His son. Grace does not exclude obedience. Almost everything worthwhile we do in life, we do because we ought to: I should eat healthy and exercise; I should keep my house tidy and get the laundry done; I should turn off the TV and read a good book.
But duty doesn't necessarily exclude delight. When I eat well and exercise, I feel good; I feel better than when I don't. And when my home becomes tidy, it's more a haven where I can rest and relax. I rarely derive as much pleasure from Fox News as I do from a good book.
Oh, don't get discouraged. Nancy Leigh DeMoss says, in that wonderful book I recommended to you, A Place of Quiet Rest: "Not every day is a feast, just like not every meal is a banquet." Don't get discouraged if every day is not a feast. Some days (this is our heart/attitude check) you might feel that all you get is a crumb.
There's a beautiful story about a woman who wanted a crumb. Do you remember the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15)? She wanted Jesus. Her three words were, "Help me, Lord." And Jesus was talking with her and saying, "I'm really called to the Jews." She knew she was a "Canaanite dog," but she said, "Even the dogs lick up the crumbs under your table"-under the Master's table.
And what did Jesus say? "Great is your faith, oh woman. I'm going to do what you're asking." Just a crumb-even a crumb-was enough for her. Jesus sees your being grateful for a crumb, and not grumbling that you didn't get this huge euphoric experience-He sees that as faith! I love that. Let's be grateful for a crumb. Let's be patient. Let's be women who learn to wait for God.
Dad (Ray) Ortlund used to tell me in my periods of impatience-which were frequent-"Waiting, Jani, is what faith does until God shows up." Psalm 37:7, "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Fret not yourself". Let's serve Jesus Christ by waiting for Him. At every season in your life, there's going to be something to fret over: a husband, a much-longed-for baby, a home, a paycheck, a bigger paycheck, a good report from the biopsy, a wandering child, a move, an aging parent-you name it.
Psalm 27:14 says, "Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord." He'll give you a crumb today-it's okay. Let's be meek. Let's receive His words. "Receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21)
Let's come pre-committed to humbly obey whatever Christ says, with a glad acceptance of His words. Let's always place ourselves under, never pointing at the Word and being picky. We cannot live for two ultimate goals at once. Let's hold everything else lightly, but grab hold of Jesus Christ and never let Him go, because He's the only one who can truly satisfy.
Now, sometimes you'll be invited to a feast, and the Lord Jesus will feed you so abundantly you will hardly be able to contain it. I love these verses in Psalm 36:7-8. If you need a verse to meditate on, I want you to meditate on Psalm 36:8. Listen to these two verses: "How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings." (Being in the shadow of the wing means you're close to His heart.) "They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights."
God has a river of delights from which He wants to give us drinks. Sometimes reading will be like feasting on the abundance of His house. As we accept His invitation as He knocks at the door of our heart, what will we find? Oh, dear sisters, we'll find so much!
What a Good Shepherd He is to His flock
- What a solid shield He is to one who is being attacked
- What a real Friend He is to someone who is so lonely
- How like a tender mother He is to a fussy, hungry infant
- What a powerful King He is to His needy countrymen
What a loving Father He is to an unloved orphan
- What a faithful Husband He is to the hopeless widow
What a strong defender He is to the fearful
- What a clear Light He is to those who are in darkness
- What an eager helper He is to those who are over-burdened
- What a delightful drink He is to those who are thirsty, and
- What an abundant feast He is to the famished.
Oh, do you hear it? Do you see it, do you want it?
Meeting with God is not just a daily thing to check off our list. The "shoulds" in our life reap tremendous rewards, the "musts" become meaningful, and the "have-tos" become "get-tos." Let's not miss out!
Now before we finish, I want to ask something of you. You've come here eager to hear, I know that. You've come here because you need encouragement, and so I want to ask you to ask God, What one new step do you want me to take when I go home? And I'm going to list some steps that we can take, and then I'll tell you-with great embarrassment-about my step. Perhaps God brought us all here together this weekend to kindle a more intense hunger, a deeper thirst, a new desire.
If you're hungry, here are some new steps you could take: Maybe you could commit yourself to reading the Bible fifteen minutes a day, six days a week. That would be an hour-and-a-half a week. Do you think you could manage that? That's about the time it takes me to plan my menus and get coupons cut . . . about the time it takes me to vacuum our house. An hour-and-a-half . . . it's not that much time . . . fifteen minutes a day. Maybe you could commit to that.
Maybe you're reading, but you're not really studying. You could continue your reading, but choose one book this next year that you want to get to know, that you really want to study. I recommend Jen Wilkin's book, Women of the Word, an excellent book on how to study the Bible for yourself.
So, reading (maybe you want to make a new commitment there), studying (maybe you want to commit to going deeper). . . how about memorizing? We read through Proverbs 2:1-10, a fabulous Scripture on Scripture. If you were to memorize one of those verses starting next week, between now and Christmas you would have it all memorized-ten wonderful verses about the Lord and His Word. You could do that, memorizing one verse a week. You could do it with your husband, family, kids, or co-worker.
How about meditating? Write out Psalm 36:8, and meditate on it. Or Psalm 1. Find a verse, find a promise you need. Meditate on it, mumble it to yourself. Anytime you're worried, go to that and meditate on that.
Or prayer . . . this is one place where I've really had to grow. I am really good at praying through lists, because I want my kids and grandkids to follow the Lord, so I really pray for them. But I'm not really good at just talking to the Lord out loud, so two years ago (I'm so sorry to tell you this-I'm just such a puny wimp, not mighty and strong like Mary [Kassian] wants us to be, but I'm growing!) I asked my small group to hold me accountable to five minutes of audible prayer to the Lord on my knees. I know that's nothing-I'm so sorry to confess that to you. This year I'm doing six minutes! I upped it a whole minute [laughter]. And in January I'm going to do seven. I tell "Siri" (the automated voice on my device), "Set my timer for six minutes," and she does it obediently.
I figure if I live another twenty years, I'm going to be praying almost half an hour, out loud, on my knees, every day to the Lord. Wouldn't that be wonderful? I want to have long conversations when I see Him face-to-face.
Maybe there's some prayer directive you need, or an attitude check. Maybe that's what you need to do this afternoon. Let me just tell you this, there's a difference between duty and delight. Do you remember The Fiddler on the Roof? We'll close with this illustration and some Scripture I want to read for you and pray over you.
Do you remember the father in The Fiddler on the Roof? He asks the mother, "Do you love me?"
She says, "Of course I love you! I've given you five daughters!"
"But do you love me?"
"What do you mean?! I cook your food!"
"But do you love me?"
"What do you mean? I wash your clothes!"
"But. . .do you love me?"
There is a difference. Let's ask God to help us love Him. The Bible says He always answers that prayer. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Matt. 7:7-8)
Oh, dear friends, let's be women who spend time with Jesus. The world needs women who know Him well. Let me pray these words over you, and we'll go (Ps. 34:4-8):
"I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor [woman] cried, and the Lord heard [her] and saved [her] from all [her] troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the [woman] who takes refuge in him!"
Oh, Lord Jesus, we come to you. Give us more of Yourself. Help us to open when you knock. We love You. We need You. We want You. Pour out Yourself in abundant, overflowing mercy upon us all, and we'll give You the glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen.