A couple months ago I had the chance to interview Gary Thomas for the ChurchLeaders Podcast. It was a unique interview that really stuck with me. We talked about practical things leaders can do to enjoy deeper personal worship times with God. This conversation sparked significant changes to my own personal times of worship, more than any other interview I’ve ever done.
There are five upgrades I’ve made to my morning devotional times that have made a big difference in the grace I see flowing into my life during these quiet hours. May they bless you in the same way they blessed me.
1. Entering His Gates With Thanksgiving
Psalm 100:4 says,“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.”
Whenever we pause to come before God, we should come before him with an offering of thanksgiving and praise.
I start my morning worship times by remembering and writing down several things for which I’m thankful and have come into my life in the previous 24 hours. I’m training my heart to see the good things God is doing in my life right in that moment. This practice is helping me observe and be thankful for what I see God doing across the span of my life.
This habit shifts our hearts from focusing on all the things going wrong in our lives (our outstanding prayer requests, perhaps) to those things which are going great. Nothing cures a complaining heart as quickly as gratitude. Start your personal worship times by thanking God for the good gifts he’s recently brought into your life.
2. Reading a Bible Designed for Reading
Have you heard about the great shift happening in the world of Bible publishing? Several publishers have been producing Bibles designed for readers. By removing verses, notes, and section headings, Bible readers are left with nothing but the biblical text.
Crossway has released several new products with this strategy in mind. Their Reader’s Bible provides an outstanding reading experience. It’s a Bible designed to read and reread over a lifetime. If your goal is to let God’s word wash over your heart and mind day by day, free from distractions, this Bible is an excellent choice.
Additionally, Crossway is releasing the 6-Volume Reader’s Bible, which I recently had the chance to preview. This Bible is any book lover’s dream come true. Well-constructed with thick, quality paper and a strong binding, it has already boosted my enjoyment of reading the Bible.
One last reading Bible I own and love is the Cambridge Clarion Reference Bible. This Bible includes chapters, verses, and headings, but has a beautiful layout perfect for readers. Like the Bibles mentioned above, it’s a beautiful resource I use regularly.
3. Hearing and Reading God’s Word
One of my biggest struggles in reading God’s word is keeping my mind focused on the message. My mind often wonders to the many things I have to do or decisions I need to make.
An upgrade that seems to have solved this problem is listening to the Scriptures as I read them. I listen to an Audio Bible on my phone while I read the words in a physical Bible. This change has helped me keep my attention on what I’m reading. There is something about reading and hearing God’s word at the same time that has almost completely eliminated my wandering thoughts during these times.
4. Understanding the Big Picture
A common struggle many people have with Bible reading is getting lost in the more challenging books. Leviticus, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel, and others can create quite a challenge for readers of the Bible. Sometimes it’s hard to track what’s really going on in a particular chapter. Frustrated, we ask, “How does what I’m reading relate to the message of the book and the overall message of the Bible?” If we don’t understand the big picture, our Bible reading can quickly feel more like drudgery than delight.
But the good people at The Bible Project have been producing excellent short videos, providing a great solution to this problem. These videos summarize the major themes and ideas of each of the books of the Bible. They do an excellent job giving you a big picture of some of these weightier books.
I’ve found that after watching these videos (sometimes more than once), I have a much better grasp of the context of the book. When I come to a confusing passage, I can chew on it in light of the overarching message of the book. This has brought more light and clarity to chapters that I used to find confusing or unhelpful.
Here is The Bible Project’s video on the book of Job. I think it’s one of their best videos.
5. Recording Our Prayers and His Answers
My final upgrade recommendation concerns prayer. I’ve often struggled to pray during my times of personal worship. I find it hard to know how to pray and can succumb to the fear that my prayers are ineffective.
So I’ve upgraded my prayer life by writing down my prayer requests and the answers I’ve received. This has been one of the best changes I’ve ever made to my prayer life. A whole section of my prayer journal is split into two columns: “Prayers” and “Answers”. As I pray, I write down specific things I’m asking God for. Then when God answers, I record those answers.
This has been used by God to build up my faith in meaningful ways. I’ve discovered that God often answers my prayers, more often than I would have guessed. My prayer journal often prompts me to pause thank God for his answers to my prayers.
Our God writes down what he values most (Luke 10:20), so how fitting that we should write down all he has done to us in answer to our prayers. I’ve seen God answer through marriages, pregnancies, financial needs met, safe trips, healings, etc. One of my favorite parts of keeping a prayer journal is following up with friends who have shared a specific prayer request. My prayer journal helps me keep praying for these requests and follow up. So many friends have been encouraged when I ask how God has answered our prayers.
I can’t recommend this one enough. Write down your prayers and answers. Over and over, I have been reminded our Heavenly Father loves to answer the prayers of his children. I love to ask him for big things and small things, record his answers, and thank him over and over for his loving kindness.