Heart and mind feeling disconnected from God? Follow the 6 spiritual habits to reconnect.
Are there times you feel like God is nowhere to be found? It seems your heart and mind cannot connect to God. You are not alone. My husband (a pastor) and I have encountered many individuals like this over the years. On the bright side, there is a simple solution: following the six spiritual habits.
We often feel disconnected from God and wonder where He is because we, not God, have walked away. We cannot just check the "saved" box or "went to church" box and think these will lead to a deep and abiding relationship with God. To have a relationship with anyone -- including God requires effort. There is no way around it.
For example, if I want to feel connected to my son, I have to do the necessary things to be connected. I need to talk to him, participate in activities with him, listen to him, and ponder the questions or suggestions he raises. Our relationship would disintegrate if I gave my son a cursory glance and hello. It is true, and we all know it to be true. So, why do we think we can give God a cursory glance and feel that will infuse a rich and abiding relationship? It will not, and then we get frustrated and think God does not care when God has been there all along.
You have to follow the six spiritual habits no way around this. And yes, I am being super serious right now. The six habits are daily devotionals, Christian community, sabbath holiness, tithing, missions, and witness. And the first blog in this series is on daily devotionals.
I know what some of you are thinking. Do you mean daily devotionals? Like, everyday daily devotionals? Yes and no. That is precisely what I mean. Just keep reading. Spending time reading scripture and praying are just necessary. There is no way around these two things. How can we call ourselves Christians if we do not read our holy book or pray to God?
There are many ways to have a devotional, and no one is correct. Some methods may be better than others, but I (and, more importantly, God) would rather you have a devotional which works for you and your season of life than not have one at all. I will list a few of the different ways to have a devotional: reading scripture straight from the Bible, using an online devotional/bible study website or an app, devotional/bible study books, devotional/bible study podcasts, stations of the cross, walking a labyrinth, pilgrimages, journaling, painting, and the list goes on. A devotional is simply an intentional time of connecting with God and should consist of reading scripture, praying, and silence.
There are many ways to have a devotional because, at different stages and in the various seasons of our lives, we connect better to God in distinct ways. And, if you have been having devotionals for a while, you know a change of pace helps deepen the connection with God. Just an FYI, while I am talking about daily devotionals, there is a difference between using a devotional book or a bible study for your devotional. A devotional app or book is usually topic driven. The author has picked a topic and then fits a verse(s) to the topic. A bible study is looking at specific scriptures and seeking to understand what God is trying to say through those verses. They both are beneficial.
When I first became a Christian, as a teenager, just reading scripture straight out of the Bible worked for me. I did not use a devotional book, and there were no such things as online Christian websites or apps. I just used what I had, the Bible. Now, for some of you, maybe you tried that, and you were miserable, especially if you started trying to read the Bible from front to back. I would only recommend this devotional if you are familiar with the faith. If you want to read from the Bible, start in the New Testament and read a chapter at a time. If you come to something that speaks to you, sit with that word or verse for a while. You do not need to keep on reading. Let God talk to you and pray.
If you have read through the New Testament and want to read through the Old Testament, go ahead, one chapter at a time. I recommend a study bible to give background and explain why you read certain things. For example, the book of Numbers is easier to get through with some historical background and theological information. So, do yourself a favor and get a study bible. Or you can try a bible study app like First5 or find the same material at the main host website at First5.org. As I write this blog, the First5 app is literally walking through the book of Numbers verse by verse with theological explanation and historical background.
If you try this out and it seems too heavy for you, no worries; that is when a devotional book like Jesus Calling by Sarah Young would better serve you, or there is even the Jesus Calling app. Or you might like the Proverbs 31 devotionals.
Sometimes when I am doing my devotionals, I am bored; I need to get more out of what I am using. If that happens too much with the material I am using, I have to change it to something else, and you will need to do the same. Your devotionals must change as you grow in your walk with the Lord. Or you have a traumatic experience that necessitates a change of devotional material or how you do your devotionals. When my mother died, I used a devotional website (not a bible study website), and I began journaling and painting as part of my quiet time.
If you have never had devotionals or stopped and started, begin with Jesus Calling. When you work through that, then go to Time with God. Then, get a one-year or two-year study bible and read through the entire Bible. (And please get a version you can read. Check out my earlier blog on this topic). After this, try a bible study app or bible study book that dives deeply into one book. Use what works for you and keeps you doing a daily devotional. I have recommended my Old and New Testament college textbooks to some people because they were just in a space where they needed to understand the in-depth historical background. They would read about Genesis from the college textbook and then read Genesis in the Bible. It worked for them.
So, what time of day should you do your devotional? An answer: whatever time ensures you will do one. If listening to the scriptures while driving is the only way to fit it in with your current life circumstances, then do that. In the evening, after everyone has gone to bed. Do that. Just do it. Is there a better time of day to do your devotional? Yes, in the morning before you begin your day. There is simply something about starting your day off in God's word that sets your mind straight for the day and helps you prioritize. I have not found anyone who says this is not the case. However, although I work full-time and have two part-time jobs, I am willing to get up at 5:00 a.m. for my devotional time. You may want to gouge your eyes at the mere thought of getting up any earlier to do a bible study. And guess what? It is perfectly fine if you do not want to get up earlier. I would not have gotten up at 5:00 a.m. to do a devotional at any point of my life until now, and God has not struck me with lightning because of it.
As part of your devotional time, you should also pray. Prayer is simply talking with and listening to God. You can pray before, during, or after you read your Bible -- or you can do all of the above. Whatever feels right to you. More than likely, it will change over time. I always used to read scripture first, then pray. After my mom died, I prayed first, read scripture, and prayed some more.
If you do not know how to pray, then start by using the Lord's Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13:
Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, forever. Amen. (KJV) (One of the few times I like the KJV.)
If you want to pray your own prayer, but need to know how, then follow the ACTS method of prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Adoration is where we praise God for who God is and what God does. The focus is entirely on God.
Confession is where we lay our mistakes at God's feet, where we have done wrong and not honored God or maybe even hurt others. With confession, there are three parts. First, we name our sins (the stuff we do wrong, and we have all done wrong) because it is in the naming and speaking of those areas that we get freedom. After naming our sins, we detail what others have done to us and where there is unforgiveness. (God has forgiven us, so we need to forgive others.) The third part of confession is repentance. We look at our sins and then see if there are things we need to change or do differently in our lives so we will stop doing those wrong things and tell God this is something we will actively work upon. By doing this, God will help us help ourselves in these troublesome areas.
Thanksgiving is when we thank God for all the good; He has done in our and others' lives—for example, good health reports, a new job, or a new baby. And supplication is where we pray for ourselves and others. We might pray for needs, health, or wants. We include others in both thanksgiving and supplications because the focus does not always need to be upon us.
You can also pray scripture. I was taught this in college by my freshman religion professor. For example, take Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (NIV) You can pray this over yourself, by inserting "me" or "I" for the "you": "May the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in him, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Or, you can insert your friend's name: "May the God of hope fill Susan with all joy and peace as she trusts in him, so that she may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
You can do this with a lot of scriptures. When I learned how to do this, the professor gave us a specific scripture he wanted us to pray over each individual in our group daily. The eight of us spent 5-6 months praying the same scripture for each person. That was a powerful and uplifting experience. It still lifts my spirit when I come across it in the Bible and often brings tears to my eyes. Here is what we prayed:
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy
because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that
he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (NIV)
Silence means to stop praying and listen. What is God trying to say to you? What do you need to learn or understand? Ask God those questions, or if you have something you have been wrestling with, bring it to God.
Starting small, sit for five minutes in silence and try this until it becomes comfortable and natural. Then bump it to ten minutes, then 15, and so forth, until you can sit for an hour. Pick a physical space that allows for silence, and perhaps use a scent that helps define this time. Keep going back to your word, phrase, or question. If you get monkey mind, no worries; go back to what you must focus on. Be kind to yourself as interruptions occur, or you might become super distracted. There is always tomorrow.
At one retreat I attended, we would spend an hour in silence with God twice daily. One hour with God, no talking, and just one question. One day, the speaker gave us a choice of two questions; I picked, "How do I show hospitality?" I walked a labyrinth, walked to the water, walked the trails, and for a solid 50 minutes, I drew a complete blank. I did not hear a thing from God. And then, suddenly, it was there, the answer to the question. God gave it to me, and its truth rang to the marrow of my bones.
Sometimes it takes an hour or hours to hear what we need to hear; other times, it is in minutes or instantaneously. It depends on where we are in our walk with God, how hardheaded we are regarding the particular situation, how pressing our need is, or how difficult the situation or trauma is.
So, near the blog's beginning, I mentioned you might be thinking, do I mean daily devotionals? And I answered yes and no. Yes, you should have daily devotionals every day, hence the word "daily." However, it should never become another box to be checked off. To do devotionals in this way would miss the point entirely. Also, devotionals are meant for us, not us for the devotionals. In other words, devotionals are to be life-giving, not a rule which must be rigidly adhered to for adherence's sake. If you are sick, lay down and sleep, the devotional can wait. Your friend gets rushed to the hospital, go to the hospital and skip your quiet time. If the morning did not turn out as planned, shorten or skip your devotional. And, on Sundays, if you want to count church as your time of connecting with God, then do so.
Trust me when I say you will know when missing a devotional was in your best interest. And the more you do devotionals, you will find if you miss one, your day does not seem to go well. It is almost like we are to be in connection with God. It is better to regularly have devotionals and grow in your walk with God than not do them at all or make them a sacrosanct event that makes you miserable.
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