I L-O-V-E summer. Even though I am not in school anymore, summer still smells like freedom to me! Summer meant replacing my school books with the pool, the ocean, the rivers, and the woods of South Georgia! (We didn’t have any of that “year round school” stuff back in the day!) My birthday is right in the middle of summer. (Watermelon and homemade ice cream anyone?!) During college, summers meant that my long-distance lady-friend (now wife) and I lived in the same town for a few weeks. Years later, we were married in summer… and our first child was born just last summer.
And yet, none of these are my sweetest summer memories. During the long sunsets of summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I learned to meet with God. That summer, my whole life changed. I stayed up late crying out to God in distress and confusion. I learned to be honest with Him. I learned to sit with a Bible and listen to the ancient words that God spoke to His ancient people…and to me.
This summer, could you make memories with God? Could you use the long days and late mornings (if you are out of school) to deepen your most important friendship?
Wondering how to do that?
Well, if you want to do a devotion together in person this summer, let me know and I’ll be happy to show you how I do devotions! Alternatively, keep reading this post, and I’ll invite you back into my summer days, onto my porch and into my prayer closet, and give you a picture of how I learned to spend time with Jesus.
- Attention: Commit to a particular time and (un-distracting) place. (Psalm 119:37) If spending time with God is a priority, you will have to…well, prioritize it. Choose a time when you’re generally free: morning, evening, afternoon, whatever… and make a regular appointment with God. If people ask you to do something during that time, tell them you already have an appointment! (It’s not lying.) Find a place where you can give your attention to God and His Word. Psychologist William James defined attention as “withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” In other words, you can’t meaningfully connect with God’s word and text your friends and check your Snapchat and browse Instagram and play with your sister and do your chores and sleep and binge-watch Netflix all at once. Sorry. Can’t be done. You will have to withdraw from some things in order to give your attention to other things. My advice is to leave the phone behind and take a paper Bible. (Or stone tablet or lambskin scroll or something that has no ability to digi-magically distract you. Embrace the digital withdrawal.)
- Prayer: Start by being brutally honest with God. (Psalm 62:8) If you don’t feel like spending time with God, just tell Him upfront. If you are upset or struggling with something, go ahead and get it out on the table. If some issue or situation is on your mind and you keep thinking about it, talk to God about it. God wants to meet with the real you, not the cleaned-up, churchified version of you. (Pick almost any Psalm and you’ll find prayers from guys who were brutally honest with God… they’ll almost make you blush and wonder if it’s ok to say that to God!) It’s ok to confess sin, or give thanks, or worship, or weep, or just feel “normal”. Start where you are. (It’s even alright if your mind wanders at this point, just talk with God about your mental wanderings!)
- *John Piper’s “I.O.U.S” is a good prayer to help start devotion times. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/one-way-to-avoid-vain-repetition
- Word: Humbly listen to a passage of Scripture. (Isaiah 66:2) Reading through a specific book of the Bible has always been the best way for me to understand the Bible. Since our church is focusing on the theme of “Jesus is Greater”, maybe read one of the gospels and see Jesus in action? Maybe read and re-read the book of Hebrews as our church studies it together?
Reading the Bible is NOT like reading an instruction manual for Ikea furniture assembly. Reading the Bible is seeing God for who He is… and this should melt our hearts in love for Him as we see His winsomeness, His strength, His wisdom, His justice, His passion, His death-embracing love.
How do you read and understand what God is saying in a passage? Don’t over complicate it. Read a chapter or even just a paragraph each day. Ask for God’s help in comprehending the point of the passage. Two questions that can always be asked of any passage is “what does this passage teach me about the nature and character of God” and “how should this passage change me?” Asking these questions leads to the fourth and last step of your time with God.
4. Journal: React and act upon what you’ve read. (James 1:22-23) After you’ve poured your heart out to God and then filled it up with His Word, (steps 1-3) prepare to let God “work on you” for the rest of the day. I do this by just writing a bit in a journal. (I’ve kept short journal entries ever since that summer before my junior year, and I now have over 10 years of my conversations with God, so I can look back and see God’s faithfulness to stubborn old me!) Writing something based on the passage that I just read helps me to focus. Sometimes I just re-write a verse or two that was particularly meaningful. Sometimes I write out my emotional reaction to the passage, even if it involves simple questions or admissions of failure or cries for help. Sometimes I write out an action step that I need to take in response to the passage. (What should I stop doing? What should I start doing?) Basically I’m just talking to God in response to what He just told me through the Bible. Writing it down keeps me focused. Talking/praying out loud can help too!
What does this summer hold in store for you? I hope you’ll discover what I did as a teenager… a God who can be known, because He’s revealed Himself to us in His Word. And I hope that you’ll fall in love this summer. Not with a boy or girl or even summer itself, but with the Lord who created summers and watermelons and waves. Every ounce of joy and fun you experience this summer is but a drop from His finger.
Help us…help me believe Psalm 16:11…that in Your presence there is fullness of joy.
Help us seek you and find you!