Time and Energy Required
Like all healthy and satisfying relationships, our relationship with God needs time and energy. But giving time and energy to our relationship with God actually increases free time and energy because it helps us get a better perspective on life and order our priorities better, it reduces the time we spend on image management, and it removes fear and anxiety.
Here are some things that have helped me to keep my personal relationship with God personal and avoid falling into the trap of relating to him only through my ministry to others:
1. Guarded Time
I try to guard personal Bible reading and prayer time as jealously as I guard my own children. I keep my 6:20 a.m. appointment with God each morning as zealously as if it were an appointment for kidney dialysis.
2. Undistracted Mind
In a survey of eight thousand of its readers, desiringGod.org found that 54 percent checked their smartphones within minutes of waking up. More than 70 percent admitted that they checked email and social media before their spiritual disciplines. I agree with Tony Reinke, who commented, “Whatever we focus our hearts on first in the morning will shape our entire day.” So I have resolved not to check email, social media, or the news before my devotional time, as I want to bring a mind that is as clear and focused as possible to God’s Word.
3. Vocal Prayers
As I always pray better when I pray out loud, I like to find a place where I can do so without embarrassment. Hearing my own prayers helps me improve the clarity and intensity of my prayer. Also, I cannot cover up a wandering heart or mind so easily when I pray out loud.
4. Varied Devotions
Sometimes I read a psalm, a chapter from the Old Testament, and a chapter from the New. Other times I read just one chapter or part of a chapter and spend longer meditating on it. Or I may read through a Bible book with a good commentary. Though the speed varies, I do try to make sure that I’m reading systematically through both testaments and not just jumping around here and there.
5. Good Sleep
If I get a good seven to eight hours of sleep each night, I come to God’s Word with more energy and concentration.
6. Christ-Centered Sermons
Using sites such as sermonaudio.com, I listen to many preachers outside my own tradition because I often find their approach to texts refreshing and stimulating.
7. Christ-Centered Books
Books that draw me into communion with Christ include John Owen’s The Glory of Christ and Spiritual Mindedness; John Flavel’s Christ the Fountain of LifeKnowing Christ.
8. Selfish Reading
Sometimes I read a book exclusively for my own soul. I resolve that I won’t use it for any sermon, article, or lecture, and that I won’t share any of it on social media. This makes a significant difference to the way I read and the profit I get from it.
9. Daily Reminders
In order to maintain or recover communion with God through the day, I link regular daily habits with prayer or meditation. For example, I may use a coffee break to remind myself to pray, or I may use a time of standing in line to memorize a verse written on a card.
This personal relationship with God is so important because character is so important. Dave Kraft, author of Leaders Who Last, quotes statistics that show only 30 percent of leaders finish well, and in his experience, failures to do so usually happened because popularity and professionalism took the place of character in Christian leaders’ lives. He writes that “in many quarters there seems to be a tendency to overlook a lack of character in one’s personal and private life in exchange for a high degree of success in one’s professional life. . . . Most leaders focus too much on competence and too little on character.” General Norman Schwarzkopf agrees: “Ninety-nine percent of leadership failures are failures of character.” Character is formed primarily in communion with God. We put this relationship first because it is the most influential in all other relationships, not least in our marriages.