Summer Lovin’: Basics of Daily Devotions for Teens (and others!)

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.

  1. 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.)
  2. 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!)
  3. 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.

Lord,

Help us…help me believe Psalm 16:11…that in Your presence there is fullness of joy.

Help us seek you and find you!

Amen.

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Elder Update From Gene Woodall

The blog this week is from one of our elders, Gene Woodall.  Gene has been serving as an elder for several years now and is going to take a respite from actively serving as an elder for a season.  His encouraging, thoughtful, prayerful presence will be greatly missed by our team.  Your prayers for him and for all our elders are so greatly needed and appreciated!
Thankful,
Larry


Dear North Wakers,

Over the last several months, I have been praying about whether or not to stay active as an elder at NW.  After a season of prayer, I feel led that the time to go inactive for a season is now.

Please understand that I fully and wholeheartedly support the NW leadership and truly care for and love all of the elders and all of you. Serving as Elder at NW has been a significant highlight of my life and I am honored to serve in this role with such God-loving men. I have learned a great deal in how to love better, care better, and serve better.  It is time, however, for me to take this time for my physical, mental, and spiritual health.

I certainly plan to remain an active and involved member of NW and continue to serve as God leads. I do plan to continue to lead a NW small group. I am excited about what God is doing in our small group and I am anticipating a deeper walk with God as we go forward. I covet your prayers as I continue in this role.

It is challenging for me to pen this note as I love the fellowship of the elders and will truly miss that but also know it is time for me to follow through on this decision.

I do want to take this opportunity to thank the NW body for the ongoing love and support you give the elders. As an elder, I am amazed at the number of challenging issues that confront us. It has been a joy, however, to see how carefully and prayerfully the elders seek to provide comfort and instruction as they pursue God’s best in every situation. The elders shepherd the body tirelessly and need restoration from time to time. Your willingness to set aside time for the staff elders to take sabbaticals is wonderfully generous and very much needed. They need this time for physical and mental restoration and solitude with God. Please, please commit to praying for the elders. Pray for wisdom, effectual counsel, and for individual protection for all these men as they seek to shepherd well.

I appreciate your understanding and covet your prayers as I make this change.

Anchored in Christ,

Gene Woodall


Just the Facts Christianity

There is a catchphrase from 1950’s television that I have always related to…“Just the facts, ma’am.” This was the phrase regularly uttered by Sgt. Joe Friday while conducting interviews during police investigations on the show Dragnet. As an ex-accountant whose left-brain is regularly in charge, I default to logic, analysis, structure and organization. So I can connect with a guy who helps people get straight to the facts. Just tell me the important information that I need to know so that I can be as productive as possible. After all, this is efficient and does not waste anyone’s time.

Well, by default, I applied this mindset to my spiritual disciplines when I became a believer. Even that phrase “spiritual disciplines” was attractive to me! Discipline, order, structure…Yes! (If you can’t tell, I am grunting like Tim the Tool Man Taylor from the TV show Home Improvement at this point)! I scheduled my “quiet time,” planned how much I would read each day, determined how much time I would spend praying (20 minutes should do) and organized my prayer time around the key aspects of the Lord’s prayer. The tithe was simple to me…10%. Now it was not easy because my disposable income decreased, but it was simple because there was a percentage to apply to my salary (I now understand that giving under the new covenant is not a set percentage). Nevertheless, my “just the facts” mentality seemed to really help me establish what, from all external purposes, appeared to be a meaningful and vibrant devotional life.

It was not until later that I began to notice the weaknesses and, to be honest, the dangers of that approach to pursuing God. I began to notice that my view of His satisfaction with me had a direct correlation with these structures and goals I had set. For example: if I did not read the Bible or pray the full 20 minutes one day, I felt as though God was disappointed. On the other hand, if I had an extended time in the Word and prayer, God was overjoyed with me. Also, my time with Him was more of an intellectual pursuit. It was mostly about knowing more about Him instead of knowing Him more. In many ways, my relationship with God was a checklist that I could cross off like we do a grocery list or a To-Do list at work.

I also began to run into passages like “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matt. 13:44-46) and “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). These passages and many others began to redirect my perspective on pursuing God. I had been treating the spiritual disciplines as the goal instead of the means to the goal of enjoying my God. Reading the Bible, prayer, giving, etc. were supposed to be conduits, pipelines if you will, to God. He was the One I was ultimately after, not the ability to check things off some list.

So I began to make some changes. The first step may seem minor, but I stopped calling them spiritual disciplines and began calling them spiritual delights. I needed to shift my mindset from duty to delight. My desire was to delight in God. I also began shifting my focus from simply knowing about God to knowing God. I figured if my wife wants me to know her and not just know about her, then God would probably want that as well. Larry Trotter calls this the difference between transformational and informational reading of the Word. I wanted my time to transform me not just increase my Bible IQ. To help my left-brainedness (if that is even a word), I began to pray almost every morning, before I got out of bed, that I would find my ultimate delight in God and that He would give me faith to do so. I pray the same thing for my immediate family as well. It takes just a couple of minutes and it orients my mind for the day. I also gave myself more freedom and flexibility on how I spent my time in the Word. It was okay if I did not read through the Bible in a year. Slowing down and studying shorter portions of Scripture was helpful. I even introduced other people into my times with God…saints who have walked faithfully with God and written their experiences and insights into Scripture. I will read good, Bible-saturated books now as part of my devotional life. Basically, I allowed myself to do anything that aided in my pursuit of delighting in God. Those things that helped me find my supreme affection in Him.

So even though I am naturally bent towards the “Just the facts, ma’am” approach, I have found that it is not the best approach to my relationship with God. He desires to give me more than information. He desires to give me Himself. He longs to enjoy my company. And for me to enjoy His company, I must enjoy Him. My spiritual delights are simply the means by which I enter His presence where the fullness of joy is found.

Delighting in Christ,

Jake


I have read several good books that have helped me along the way. A few are:

  1. Desiring God by John Piper
  2. Simply Jesus by Joseph M. Stowel
  3. Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves
  4. The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper
  5. Chasing Infinity by Mark Liederbach
  6. Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves.

The Valley of Vision

Have you ever sat down to your devotional time with the Lord and wondered what to pray, or just started praying the same things, like, “Dear God, thank you for today, thank you for my family…” You mean what you pray, but sometimes, your prayer time has become such a routine that you zone out, don’t pay attention, and pray the same thing twice or even three times.

The Valley of Vision is a book of puritan prayers that has become an amazing prompt for me. There are sections labeled things like “Needs and Devotions,” “Holy Aspirations,” and “Service and Ministry.” These sections contain several short two-page devotions that are written in a poetic meter (even if they don’t rhyme), with such poignant phrases that, even though I’m reading the prayer, I end up praying it! I mean what these puritan guys are saying!

The Valley of Vision has often been a reason for me to cry or rejoice. “Though my sins rise to heaven, Thy merits soar above them…” (p. 150). What a thought! What a prayer! “May I see all things in a divine light so that they may inform my judgment and sanctify my heart!” (p. 275). I wish I could pray things like this on my own! But what a blessing it is to have these faithful men guide me in this way.

It is definitely not a replacement for my time reading the Bible, but I have found that starting my time in one of these prayers is a good way to get into the right frame of mind. It’s like having a really old British man pray over you a prayer informed by his years of meditation on Jesus. Remember, these guys didn’t have phones, the internet, cars, television or really any modern distraction at all. They weren’t perfect by any means, but ‘eating the crumbs that fall from their table’ has been a delicious way to start my time meeting the Lord in the mornings. I hope you enjoy it too.

Here is a link to a rotating post from The Valley of Vision: https://banneroftruth.org/us/devotional/covenant/

It is also available from online bookstores in both paperback and leather-bound versions.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices

Thomas Brooks wrote this really cool reference-devotional for people struggling with various plaguing thoughts and habits. In a way, it is a guide for self-counseling, which has been weird at times, but fun. When a dear friend gave it to me, I thought, “What a strange title,” but it has turned out to be one of the sweetest gifts ever.

Some of the chapters are about ‘Keeping the soul from holy duties,’ ‘Keeping the soul in a sad, doubting, uncomfortable state,’ and ‘Drawing the soul to sin.’ These chapters then include subsections like, “By (Satan’s) causing [souls] to be still poring and musing upon sin,” and “By (his) presenting to [souls] the danger, the losses, and the sufferings which attend the performance of such and such religious services.”

Like The Valley of Vision, Precious Remedies is written in a more antiquated, British English. But if you give it a chance, like I did, you might find short (one or two paragraph!) answers to big questions that you’ve had all your life. I now recognize Satan’s work just a little more when I’m in a “sad, doubting, questioning” frame of mind. It helps me not only recognize, but name certain attitudes of my heart so that I can more effectively battle them!

In a way, certain sections are even like the prophet Nathan coming to King David to talk to him about his great sin with Bathsheba—sometimes unless someone tells me about sin in my life, be it God, a friend, or a Bible verse, how will I know how to repent?

Pick this book up from an online store in paperback or view the whole pdf here:

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices

 

Fig Monday: Forgiveness and Moving Mountains

 

In Sunday’s message (3/12/17) I alluded to a Lenten devotional on forgiveness that was very powerful.  You can read the whole devotional (poetry, art, scripture, video, devotion) here:

If you’d just like to watch the video from that devotional that I alluded to in the services on Amish Forgiveness.  Here it is:

And this is the article I mentioned by Pastor John Piper on the amazing promise of mountain-moving prayer in Mark 11.  I found his perspective very helpful: