A Daily Devotional Time
January 13, 2015
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
God Centered Life Ministries is pleased to welcome Dr. Wendell Hawley to the blog today. Dr. Hawley (LL.D., California Graduate School of Theology; D.D., Western Baptist Seminary) has preached and taught the Bible for over forty years, has served on the pastoral staff at College Church in Wheaton, and is the author of A Pastor Prays for His People (Tyndale, 2010).
It was about as abrupt a change of prioritizing as I could imagine. Having grown up in a parsonage, I eventually followed the exemplary modeling of a self-starting, self-scheduling pastor in his ministerial routine. Of course the overarching, ever-demanding priority was the preparation of two sermons with the attendant worshiping ingredients. Sandwiched in at my own discretion were hospital visits, meeting with church volunteers, long range planning and devotions (not to be confused with reading for preaching material), working in some counseling situations both for those who were seeking a meeting and those who were avoiding one, and perhaps most difficult of all, significant time in prayer. All of this and more, to be integrated with my own selfish desires to be free to do whatever I wanted when I felt like it. Self-starting and self-prioritizing — the heart and soul of pastoral activity.
In the midst of all this satisfying, self-ordered life, but due to some providentially ordained events, I volunteered to enter the United Stated Army as a chaplain, and that’s when my schedule was turned upside down. It began the day I stood before the commander of my assigned unit and said, “Chaplain Hawley reporting for duty, Sir.”
With just a few sentences he made it absolutely clear what he expected of “his chaplain”: “Duty day begins at 0730, but you are on call 24/7. Before the duty day begins you will check the Duty Officer’s log book at each four Battalion Commander’s office. Incidents listed there will partially determine your activities for the day.” (The log book records all incidents that have happened involving all one thousand plus members of the command during off duty hours. This might include accidents, sickness, fights, robberies, AWOL’s, family housing disturbances, etc.) It was immediately clear to me that my daily activities would be reaction rather than proaction.
“Further,” he continued, “I want you regularly visiting each training site, work stations, dining facility, confinement facility. In short, wherever the troops are is where you will be. No chaplain of mine will be found sitting all day in the chapel drinking coffee.”
My thoughts were immediately jumbled and my mind reeled as I thought “what about sermon preparation, Bible study time, the planning and conduct of religious services, prayer time… my own time?” But my only verbal response was an impressive, “Yes, Sir.”
This commander’s orientation was by no means a universal experience of all Army chaplains. In fact, it was quite unique, so much so that I have since wondered if God was behind it all for the lesson He wanted to teach me. And thereby hangs the rest of the story.
It wasn’t long before I realized that in the schedule I was keeping, I had entered the most spiritually empty time of my life. The intake of spiritual nourishment was nil. I was so empty I didn’t even have fumes to run on. What earlier in my life had been an easily scheduled daily devotional time had now been pushed off the overcrowded radar screen.
The army provides every chaplain a one half day a month for spiritual retreat and reflection. However, with the constant demands upon me, even this provision seemed an unacceptable luxury. But the Shepherd of my soul was not to be denied. My heart was famished for the sense of God’s presence, and I fled, as it were, to a quiet place and there inaugurated a daily priority time in God’s Word.
The Word of God which that day spotlighted the great turnaround was Psalm 27:8, “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.'” That day began a rock-ribbed commitment that each day, no matter how busy, would begin with a worship time.
The format has changed over the years, and today it encompasses: a daily reading, humming or silently singing a hymn, the reading of a psalm (the same psalm each day for a week), one chapter of Proverbs, an in-depth study of a book of the Bible (currently Ezekiel and usually only a paragraph or two), and prayer time. My prayer starts with praise and some item of thanksgiving.
Then I pray for our pastoral staff, followed by my fourteen family members. I don’t just mention their names, but have specific items relating to each one. This is followed by an ever-changing list of friends and their needs along with six others who I am currently pleading with God to bring into salvation. For me, this is a deeply satisfying regiment.
So, what’s the takeaway? It is my firm conviction that alarmingly, few men open their Bibles week in and week out. A systematic devotional time is just not part of most men’s daily activity. Before my Army experience, my “self-employed” situation made it adaptable to a daily devotional time. I thought that all of my Christian brothers could do the same. But I realized that most of my male Christian friends live incredibly jam-packed lives of activity with demanding job situations that will fill up long days.
It is to these individuals I can now relate. And if they are dissatisfied with their Christian experience I point them to Psalm 27:8 and say, “God is calling you to meet with Him, and you can respond positively.” It requires determination, and you will be tempted to skip days or to forget your “appointment,” but if you want the joy of the Lord as your portion, your determination will reap incredible blessings!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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