This has taken me a few days to write, and it's pretty long and kind of personal, but in a way I feel like by putting it out there it will help hold me accountable and serve as a reminder about how I reached this decision and why I'm working hard to follow through on it.
I am now officially participating in a 30 day challenge that I hope leads me to some lifestyle changes. I think I'm on day 8 but I'm trying not to count days because I want this to be a long-term thing. It has nothing to do with dieting, even though that's how it sounds. I'm sure I'll need some kind of dieting challenge come this fall, but as for now I'm enjoying eating a lot of pretty much whatever I want... without getting crazy. I can't have ice cream twice a day every day, even if I am tempted occasionally.
Anyway, the challenge I'm referring to is a devotion/quiet time challenge. A challenge for my spiritual life and my daily life. A challenge to spend a specific, set-aside part of my day in the Word and in prayer- every day. I discovered the challenge randomly (although I know it couldn't have been completely random because God doesn't do random) through another blog and really felt drawn to it and like I needed to dive in and participate. She had a link on the blog to listen to a lady (I had actually never heard of her) named Nancy Leigh DeMoss speak about the importance of our devotional lives. It was long- over an hour, but I was able to listen to a few minutes here and there and when I finally finished I was determined to participate in the challenge and make some changes.
Just a little background... I have had a devotional time/quiet time off and on daily for a really long time, probably going back to childhood. I've gone through stretches of never missing a single day and stretches of rarely having one. It usually depends on whether or not I'm super attached to my devotional book. Also, I've always done my devotion/quiet time in the evenings before bed. Always. I've never been good at waking up and immediately trying to read something. It just puts me back to sleep. I like to pray every morning while I'm getting ready to start the day, but my official quiet time has always been at night. In the evenings before bed is when I'm typically most relaxed. I've taken care of everything that needs to be done, gotten ready for the next day, and I'm finally ready to get settled in with my devotional book and Bible.
Okay, here comes the lifestyle changes. First of all, as Nancy says, your devotional life must be regular, must be a priority, and must be devotion to God- not devotions that you're checking off your to-do list. Guilty. I have definitely had times when I'm so determined to have a quiet time every single day and not miss one that it's become something I'm just trying to check off my list.
She also talks about how, ideally, it's best for it to be early in your day, and alone without distractions. Again I'm guilty since I definitely don't have mine early in the day. She also had a solution for those of us who don't consider ourselves morning people. Go to bed earlier. My family probably thinks this one is funny because I already go to bed pretty early, especially compared to my hubby. However, you have to know yourself and determine for yourself (and your season of life) the best bedtime for waking up the next day at the time you need to. And at times it means rearranging your priorities. (Once Austin arrives I may have to have my quiet time while I'm nursing, or during naptime. Who knows.) When I was teaching I was asleep before 10:00 every night... because I knew the alarm would be going off around 5:00 and I would feel horrible if I didn't go to bed that early. It was a priority. Now that I've been home for 2 years it seems like my bedtime is creeping back later and later and I'm paying for it the next day when I'm wiped out by naptime. So one of my lifestyle changes in an effort to prioritize my morning quiet time is an earlier bedtime.
She also recommends journaling. Even though this takes a little time, I definitely see the benefits of it. Keeping a journal gives you an opportunity to jot down what you're learning, how you're applying it, prayer requests, praises, etc. So far I've enjoyed jotting down (not writing a paragraph) a Bible verse that's really stood out to me or that I've prayed, my prayer requests for the day and the more long-term ones, and praises and blessings I'm thankful for. Writing some things down has actually helped guide my devotion time and keep me on track (instead of letting myself get distracted or my mind wander when I'm supposed to be praying or reading the Bible). Another change- journaling through my quiet time.
The 3 aspects you must have during your quiet times are: reading of the Word (there is absolutely no substitute for God's Word, even though I can forget this sometimes and even though there are some really good devotional books out there) praises, and prayer. I love that. So simple and to the point, nothing crazy or elaborate or intimidating. So far, this is what I'm doing every morning and so far it's working out pretty good. I did order Nancy's book "A Place of Quiet Rest" and just started reading it so hopefully that will be an even better guide for me. I have to admit that it's sometimes really difficult to just open up the Bible and know what to read or where to start. I'm hoping her book will give me some starting places and some direction on Scripture reading.
One of the things that really led me to not only take the challenge but to make some lifestyle changes in order for this to last much longer than 30 days was something she said near the end of her session. I can't remember it word for word but I jotted down the jist of it. If you don't seek God and truly know Him in the "light" and when things are good, you will trip and fall and struggle to find Him in times of trouble and distress. Wow. That is so true when you really think about it. If you don't have an intimate relationship with Him when your life is good and things are going along like normal, how can you expect a close relationship with Him when life is hard and unfair and unexpected things happen? How can you truly trust in Him and put your hope and faith in Him when you weren't even really doing that when things were good? These questions really made me think and ultimately led me to make a conscious decision to implement some changes to my daily life in order to make my time alone with the Lord the priority of my day. That part isn't going to be easy. The priority of my day right now is getting to the things on my to-do list... time with Garrison, groceries, laundry, cooking supper, etc. That's one of the reasons I'm not really counting the days. I'm praying that this does become the priority of my day and the changes I need to make become second nature too.
Going to bed earlier so I'm able to set my alarm for 15-20 minutes earlier
Waking up, getting ready (while praying), and having my quiet time
Reading the Bible everyday... and not letting anything replace it
Taking my to-do list before Lord (As Nancy says, "What's on your to-do list may not be on God's to-do list for you")
Becoming aware of His guidance and presence throughout my normal everyday tasks and responsibilities instead of just first thing in the morning or right before bed at night
Okay, one more (technically two) really special people led me to this decision and these changes... Garrison and Austin. It is SO important to me that Garrison and Austin see my relationship with Jesus. That they know He's real and that Terrell and I love Him and pray to Him and have a relationship with Him. We are responsible for raising, training, teaching, etc. our children what it looks like to be a Christian and know Jesus. We have to live this out for them. We can't just talk about it or expect them to see and learn everything at church. We have to be their primary example. It all starts with us, at home. They are going to continuously soak up and take in everything we say and do (we are well aware of this already since Garrison loves to repeat everything we say) and if our relationship with the Lord is distant or lacking, it's going to show through in our words and actions. As Nancy also pointed out, you eventually become like the people you spend time with. Therefore if you want to become like Jesus, you have to spend time with Him. If I continue to spend time with Him daily and make it a priority, it's going to shine through in the things I do, the things my children will see me do.
So there you have it. There are many reasons I'm participating in the challenge (she gave 8 purposes of a devotional life that were really good) but I think the most important reasons are to grow in my relationship with the Lord, and for my children. It's not going to be easy, especially on vacation and busy weekends and time away from home, but I am choosing for it to be a priority. Even if it's only for a few minutes or if it has to be later in the day instead of first thing in the morning, or if I can't journal every single time, etc. Pray for me as I continue with this challenge... and do it yourself. =)