“So what did you get out of your reading today?”
That question is pretty commonly asked by my dad. Whether he’s asking about our devotional time, church service, or the Sunday School lesson, he likes entering into conversation about what we’ve learned about God, what we absorbed, what truth we’re walking away with.
If I’m honest, though, sometimes that question makes me squirm a little. Sometimes that’s because I had a hard time focusing and really didn’t pay close enough attention to glean much of anything. Other times it’s because I really didn’t walk away with anything new, and I feel like I should have.
There is this certain kind of anxiety that builds inside me that says if I don’t walk away from an experience with God and not have something to show for it, then I obviously didn’t do this right.
That just doesn’t sit right with me. Encountering God should lead to less anxiety, not more.
While I think that question of “What did you get out of this?” is important–we should be able to explain what we’re learning about God and apply Scripture and teaching to our lives–there’s another equally important question we should be asking: What am I putting into my time with God?
The Bible isn’t about us
There is a common misconception about the Bible, and I think it’s the main reason so many of us have trouble getting into it. We think the Bible is about us. We see it as a guide map, a book of instructions telling us how to live, and it is in part.
I taught English for a couple of years and one of the things we often spent a lot of time on was writing objective summaries. These summaries are short, sweet, and to the point. They do not reveal what the reader thought about the story or article; they simply state the facts of what the passage is about.
If I were to give you an objective summary for the Bible, it would be something like this: God is holy and loves his creation and is doing everything he can to win humanity back.
While the Bible does offer instruction on how to live, it’s there because God cares enough about us and wants relationship with us restored to tell us how he is working it all out. He knows what right relationship with him looks like. He knows how we need to live in order to have abundant life (John 10:10).
Throughout the pages and stories of the Bible we have the opportunity to get to know God’s heart. And while it is important to get God’s word inside of us and walk away from our devoted time with truth, it’s important that we put our whole selves into the experience.
Each time we sit down to spend time with God–whether that be in a Sunday sermon or our personal time with God–let’s get our hearts right. We’re meeting him, listening to him speak, entering into conversation.
Let’s focus on putting our whole selves into that time, rather than just getting something out of it.
How to put the most into your devoted time
When I talk about devoted time, I’m referring to the time you intentionally show up to connect with God. Whether you are meeting with him in community or by yourself, putting the most in always starts with showing up.
Once you make the choice to show up and spend some time with the Lord, you’ve already conquered the hardest part of the battle.
I often like to describe God-time as a date. It helps me get into the right mindset and remember that this is about relationship.
Sometimes we view devotional time or even attending church as the thing we should do because we’re Christians; but that puts us in the mindset of completing tasks, checking off boxes, and performance. From personal experience, I can tell you that that mindset is destructive and anxiety-inducing.
God desires relationship. Devoted time is simply about spending time with him, getting to know him better.
After you show up, here are some other things to keep in mind that will help you put the most into that time with him:
- Be honest. The goal is not to show up and show God how put together you are. The goal isn’t to keep on the mask you wear in front of the rest of the world and prove to him that you’re okay. As with any relationship, intimacy is birthed out of honest vulnerability. So be honest. If life sucks, tell him about it. If you’re mad at him, share that. If you’re struggling to trust him, he can handle that admission too. Don’t worry about saving face with him. God already knows what’s in your heart, and coming into your time with him honestly will not hinder your ability to connect with him. In fact, it will do quite the opposite.
- Be open to conversation. We can be pretty good at talking at God, but how often are we open to hearing his side of things? How many times do we stop and listen to see if he has anything to say. Learning how to talk with God can be difficult. God rarely speaks in an audible way, which can make conversation challenging; but he has given us multiple ways to hear his voice. Sometimes we just need to learn how to hear him, and asking him to teach us to know his voice is a great prayer to pray. Sometimes he will speak through his word, the Bible. Sometimes it will be thoughts in your mind that aren’t yours. There is no end to the ways God can speak with you. Be open and enter into that conversation with him.
- Follow God’s leading. When it comes to our devoted time, most of us have some sort of plan that we follow. Maybe we use a reading plan or a devotional. Maybe our plan is simply to pick something and read it. Having a plan is great, but don’t be surprised if God leads you down a different path. Our goal here is to encounter God, not check off boxes. Continue to cultivate the discipline of devoted time by having a plan or a structure that you follow, but be willing to allow God to mess with that plan. Some of my richest times with God have been on days when he took me down an entirely different path than I had expected.
- Eliminate distractions. If you’re going to put the most into this time, you’re going to have to take steps to get rid of the things that will distract you, at least for that period of time. Turn off the phone. Spend time with the Lord in a quiet place, or a place that doesn’t steal your attention. Do what you need to do to protect your time with him. The rest of the world will still be there later.
- Be consistent. Like any relationship, the more time you spend together, the better you know each other. Showing up that first time can be hard, but showing up again and again and again takes intentionality. It means that sometimes you show up even when you just aren’t feeling it. It means protecting that time by saying no to some things. If you’re going to put the most into your God-time, you have to show up and keep showing up.
- Let go of the take-away. You don’t have to walk away from your devoted time with some big revelation. Sometimes the take-away is simply the fact that you sat with Jesus for a while. And that’s enough. Don’t stress yourself out by trying to find something you can Tweet or share on social media or even write in your journal. Sometimes it’s just enough to sit in his presence and be with him.
Whenever and wherever and however you meet with God, put your full self into it. That is all God requires.
If you’re looking for a way to connect with God on a deeper level, or if you’re needing help reviving your devotional time, the #10daydevochallenge is a great tool for you. There is more than one “right” way to connect with God, and each day of this challenge you’ll get a short reading and a prompt to help you connect with a God in a new or different way. Click the banner below to sign up and get started today!
Community question: What have you been believing about meeting with God, and in what ways does today’s post give you freedom to better relate to him?
Live in his love!