2.9. The Devotional Life
In our hurry up, man-centered, man-dependent world that measures success by activity, making big bucks, or how much we accomplish, finding time to hide ourselves alone with God for steady spiritual growth is a lost priority. It is viewed by many as a nonessential, as something for those who have nothing to do. The question people often ask is where is the practicality of time alone with God?
We have become so utilitarian that we find it extremely hard to look at time in terms other than ‘To Do’ lists and projects, performance and accomplishments. Others view time alone with God as a virtual impossibility. There are centrifugal forces at work in our modern world that propel us into a whirlwind of activity or business. But perhaps more than anything else our society has been led into a dangerous mood of impatience. Eugene Peterson accurately captures this mood of our day and writes:
One aspect of world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by thirty-page abridgments.
There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.
Everyone is in a hurry. The persons whom I lead in worship, among whom I counsel, visit, pray, preach, and teach, want short cuts … They are impatient for results …The Christian life cannot mature under such conditions and in such ways.99
King David knew his need of daily time alone with God and, though faced with trials and pressures that were pulling him in other directions, he vowed that nothing would keep him from meeting with God daily—especially at the beginning his day. In Psalm 5:3 David vowed: “Lord, in the morning you will hear me; in the morning I will present my case to you and then wait expectantly for an answer.”
No doubt it was this intimate morning-by-morning meeting with the Lord that developed David’s faith and made him a man after God’s own heart. This morning watch, as we might call it, has the special reward of knowing God more intimately and of Christlike transformation. Surely the Lord had this in mind, at least in part, when He said in Matthew 6:6 “But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”
The rewards of time alone with God are often not immediately evident and in our impatience we run to something more visibly practical. But there is a self-deception at work here as well. The negative effects of ignoring daily time alone with God is also not immediately visible. It’s not like falling off a roof where gravity immediately takes over and swiftly plunges us to the ground.
Ecclesiastes 8:11-12 When a sentence is not executed at once against a crime,
the human heart is encouraged to do evil.
12 Even though a sinner might commit a hundred crimes and still live a long time,
yet I know that it will go well with God-fearing people—for they stand in fear before him.
The aftermath of failing to draw near to God is more like the decomposition of organic material, slow but sure. In time we can begin to see and even smell the signs of spiritual and moral decay. Ironically, spiritual decay is often accompanied by a paradox, the rock-like hardening of our souls which may blind us to the rot taking place in our heart.
Hebrews 3:7-8 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!
8 “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness.
Hebrews 3:12-13 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. 13 But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception.
Mark 6:51-52 Then he went up with them into the boat, and the wind ceased. They were completely astonished, 52 because they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Unless we make time alone with God a priority, the other hours devoted to our busy schedules will be poorly used. We are prone to ignore times of retreat because our work, our ministry, our families, all seem more important. Doing seems so much more practical than praying or meditating on the Word. But the spiritual disciplines of prayer and meditation on the Word do not constitute idleness or indolence. They are rigorous disciplines that are vital to the spiritual life.
No doubt getting alone with God is not easy and forms a kind of paradox that modern man finds tremendously difficult—retreat is really God’s way for us to advance. Satan obviously delights in deceiving us in this matter and works overtime to make it difficult. And the fact it is difficult only serves to highlight the great need we have for time alone with God. We need to hear and identify with God’s word to Elijah the prophet when He told him to hide himself by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:3).
Finding time to get alone with God is a need for all Christians—wives and mothers, husbands and fathers, children, students—everyone. Why? Because it is through seclusion with God that we are able to develop and maintain the mind of the Spirit and keep our spiritual equilibrium so that God is at the center and in control of our lives.
It is through the two spiritual disciplines that will be discussed in this lesson that God communicates to us and we to Him. Here is where our faith is developed both in content (what we believe), and in degree (how much and how consistently we trust in Him rather than in ourselves).
Through the dailies, and what I will call for lack of a better term, the weeklies, we are able to get into God’s Word and get God’s Word into us for conviction, motivation, edification, comfort, direction, and disciplined living by the power of the Spirit.
The Two Disciplines
The dailies refer to the discipline of daily getting into God’s Word and daily going to the throne of grace. The weeklies refer to the discipline of weekly (regularly) assembling together with other believers for fellowship, singing, reciprocal ministry, prayer, and the study the Word. Though this study will deal with the weekly aspect, the primary focus will be on the daily devotional life.
The dailies and weeklies are part of the means by which believers are able to more intimately know their God, relate to and rest in their new life in Christ, and experience true spiritual change and liberation from life-dominating patterns of sin. The dailies promote growth in devotion to God and the ability to grasp, personalize, believe, and apply the Scripture, God’s personal Word to His people. Apart from the dailies and weeklies properly understood and experienced, there will be very little peace and true spiritual change from within through a deepening faith relationship with the living God.
For instance, Romans 8:2-4a speaks of the Christian’s new life in Christ with its new possibilities of emancipated living available to believers through the Spirit-controlled life. However, this is not just some mysterious, automatic experience that somehow suddenly sweeps over the Christian after he or she has trusted in Christ. So Romans 8:4b relates this new life-changing capacity to a walk in accord with (adapted to and under the control of) the Spirit. Then verse 5 relates this spiritual walk according to the Spirit to the focus of one’s mind. Literally, Romans 8:5 reads,
For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.
As the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit is the one who teaches us and illuminates our hearts to the Word (Eph. 1:15-20; 3:16-19). True spirituality, walking by the control of the Spirit of truth, will result in spiritual illumination, understanding, and so right thinking about God and man and the real values and priorities of life. But it is equally true that meditating on the word and right thinking is crucial to true spirituality or the Spirit-controlled walk.
The Holy Spirit does not operate in a mindless vacuum, one devoid of God’s point of view. The Word and the Spirit work together so that, if we are not taking time to get alone with God in His revelation to us in the Bible, two things will happen: (a) we will quench the ministry of the Spirit and grieve Him, and (b) as with a partial vacuum, we will tend to draw in the attitudes and viewpoints of the world around us.
Romans 8:6 adds to our understanding of the issues here. It reads: “For the outlook of the flesh is death.” The mind of the flesh is attempting to live independently of God; it’s the mind of man’s point of view, of human solutions to life, and of human will power. The result is death. Death means separation and a loss of life, but the context must determine the kind of death or loss of life involved. The apostle was writing to the Christians at Rome, and by the context he was undoubtedly referring to a life of carnality, frustration, and the absence of peace, a life dominated by the sinful nature. If continued, such a life would eventually result in physical death as discipline from the Lord.
Ephesians 5:14 For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
“Awake, O sleeper!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you!”
Romans 8:13 (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.
Hebrews 12:9-13 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.
1 Corinthians 11:28-32 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.
By contrast, “the outlook of the Spirit” is the mind of spiritual dependence on God, of operating by God’s viewpoint with His values, objectives, and priorities. The result is life, peace, victory, fellowship, a life controlled and led by the Holy Spirit, and of being transformed in God’s image.
These spiritua1 disciplines or routines (the dailies and weeklies) are God’s grace means of channeling our minds according to the Spirit. Here is the place where the mind is filled with the things of Christ and restructured by the Spirit of God according to the Word of God that we might walk in newness of life.
An Important Balance
There is a subtle balance which must be maintained, a narrow road, or we will miss the way of deliverance by grace and end up in the pit of one of two extremes, maybe even both.
We are calling the dailies and weeklies spiritual disciplines because the term discipline focuses on the fact of the believer’s responsibility in the process of godliness. But this is not meant to imply that by the discipline of human will power or human effort we can overcome our sinful nature and its life-dominating patterns. We cannot consistently and in all areas free ourselves from life-dominating habits by our willpower no matter how badly we desire to do so. For one thing, very often, the goal in such pursuits is selfish.
Though people often overcome some habit by sheer determination, self remains at the core and true Christlike change does not occur. People often want change and may turn to God for help, but if they are not really seeking to know God and grow in their relationship with Him, they will only be turning to God as a kind of Genie.
A basic truth of the Bible is that spiritual change is the product of genuine godliness, of growing in our dependence on and relationship with God through Christ.
Colossians 2 touches on some of the methods or human regulations men often use in their attempt to control sin or bring about change. In 2:23 Paul refers to one of these methods as “self-made religion” or “will-worship” (KJV). This is the Greek word eqeloqrhskia from qelhma meaning “will” and qrhskeia meaning “external religion or worship.” It refers to will-worship, service, worship of the will, or a self-imposed religion of do’s and don’ts by which men attempt to change their lives.
Colossians 2:20-23 If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world? 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” 22 These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings. 23 Even though they have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body—a wisdom with no true value—they in reality result in fleshly indulgence.
But the apostle shows us in this passage that such methods are doomed to failure and they are doomed to failure for two reasons.
(1) First, they fail because all human methods are futile to deal with man’s condition in sin which is so ingrained in his total being. The flesh simply cannot overcome the flesh. Self cannot overcome self because self will always remain the center of the life.
(2) Second, man’s religious methods do not work because they are faithless in the Christian’s new position and life in Christ. Perhaps Paul is also warning us that the moment we attempt the process of change by our willpower, we are worshipping our own will (self) which takes us to the heart of the problem, our need for faith and dependence on God and what He has done for us in Christ. Will-worship is doomed to failure because it neutralizes faith in the Christian’s position and divine operating assets in Christ. It is the opposite of dependence on the Lord and His grace work. As long as we think we can deliver ourselves by our own willpower, it will only make the sin within us stronger.
Note also that in Colossians 2:23 the apostle teaches us that such man-made religion or will-worship has “the appearance of wisdom.” It will have an outward display of success to some degree, in certain areas, and for a time, but there will be serious flaws, cracks, and crevices in our righteousness and the true condition of our inner life will eventually manifest itself in spiritual failure.
Matthew 12:33-36 reveals another truth which is practical to this point.
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. 35 The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury. 36 I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak.
The Pharisees to whom Christ was speaking in this passage were religious externalists who sought to be good by their own will power and religious works. Since their inner life was not being changed by God’s grace—by regeneration and by continued fellowship with the Lord—it was impossible for them to truly speak good things and behave in a righteous way. Sooner or later, regardless of their outward appearance, the real condition of the heart would become evident. Such is actually true of any of us, even though we are regenerated by the Spirit of God as believers in Christ. If our inner world is not being fortified daily by an intimate life with God, the true condition of the heart will come to the surface.
It is not that we want to be that way; we have no intention or desire to give vent to our inner hostilities, explode in anger, or react in self-pity, self-justification, arrogance, or act in fear. But, as we go through life, as we meet varying problems and people, the real condition of our heart will manifest itself.
Though we may try to cover these up, stifle them with all our might, the truth will come out by what we say or do, or even by our body language. Will power and good intentions have no defense against the sinful nature. Only a heart, a spiritual mind which is right with God, one treasuring up God’s truth and using it through these spiritual disciplines, can provide a defense against the unguarded moment.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments 5 and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.
Knowing this, we are brought face to face with a vital truth. All aspects of true righteousness are gifts of God: imputed righteousness, experiential righteousness, and, of course, ultimate sanctification. It is essential that we understand that experiential righteousness, victory over the sin nature (“putting off old habits” and “putting on the godly character”), or overcoming life-dominating sins is the work of God. True, we are called upon to cooperate with God by faith and positive response to grace, but the needed transformation, the spiritual change, is grace given through our new life in Christ and the power of the Spirit.
Romans 5:17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ!
The gift of righteousness mentioned in Romans 5:17 should probably not be limited to imputed righteousness. There was no such dichotomy in Paul’s theology. With the gift of God’s righteousness in Christ also comes the work of God on our behalf to produce His righteousness within by grace through faith. So Paul adds, “reign (live victoriously) in life through the one, Jesus Christ!” When and where? In life, not just after this life, but even now through the new life that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Here, then is a key truth and a place where we can easily slip off the narrow road to spiritual change. When we grasp this truth, that righteousness is by grace, even experiential righteousness, we are tempted to do nothing (to “let go and let God”) or to believe there is nothing we can do or should do. This is where these routines of spiritual disciplines comes into play. God has ordained these spiritual disciplines as the means of receiving His grace or of appropriating it into our lives so that God can change us. These disciplines allow us to put ourselves in the place of blessing and at God’s disposal.
Galatians 6:7b reminds us of the law of the harvest. “For a person will reap what he sows,” We reap according to what we sow. Just as a farmer is helpless to grow his crop without preparing the soil and sowing the seed, so we must prepare the soil of our hearts and sow the seed of the Word to reap a harvest of righteousness. Then automatically by the power of God’s Word, the seed produces (Mark 4:26-29).
So it is with these spiritual disciplines. They are God’s means of preparing the soil of our hearts, of sowing to the Spirit, and of setting the mind on the things of the Spirit. Without these spiritual disciplines, we sow to the flesh and reap of the flesh, either in mere human good and dead religious works or in sinful behavior or both.
One vital characteristic of godliness is contentment. Think about just how much evil exists because of greed and the lack of contentment. Paul wrote, “Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit.” (1 Tim. 6:6). “Contentment” is the Greek word autarkeia meaning “self-sufficiency.” But as this word is often used in the New Testament, it included the concept of becoming independent of things for one’s satisfaction, significance, or security. Instead, these things are found in God through the sufficiency of Christ.
Philippians 4:10-13 I have great joy in the Lord because now at last you have again expressed your concern for me. (Now I know you were concerned before but had no opportunity to do anything.) 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. 12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. 13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.
Regarding contentment, Spurgeon wrote:
We need not sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough, because they are indigenous to earth: and so, we need not teach men to complain; they complain fast enough without any education. But the precious things of the earth must be cultivated. If we would have wheat, we must plough and sow; if we want flowers, there must be the garden, and all the gardener’s care. Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated; it will not grow in us by nature; it is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in us.100
In Genesis 12:1-13 we find that Abram failed to stay at the place of blessing near Bethel where he had built an altar to worship God. When faced with the famine, he failed to stay occupied with the Lord and moved south toward Egypt (a picture of the world) to find relief from the famine. Abram forgot God’s promises and turned to his own solutions by escaping to Egypt and then by lying about his wife whom he claimed was his sister, a half truth.
Bethel means “house of God.” This, along with the altar Abram had previously built there, reminds us of the need of times of worship and the spiritual disciplines which allow God to work to keep our hearts centered on Him and so, give us victory. We might say that Abraham forsook the dailies.
As David thought on the work and nature of God as his Shepherd, he prayed, “You prepare a feast before me in plain sight of my enemies.” (Psa. 23:5). We must be careful not to view these disciplines as a set of do’s and don’ts. Rather, just as we would view a Thanksgiving table lavished with all its good things, so we need to view these spiritual disciplines as a communion table spread before us by the Lord; a place where we are invited to come and sit in order to dine and nourish our soul on the living God and His matchless grace.
Revelation 3:20 Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me.
Dangers to Keep in Mind
(1) These disciplines should not be thought of as a magical formula for spiritual change, nor as procedures to gain points with God. They only help to prepare the soil of the heart. They put us in the place where God can work His righteousness within through the Spirit of God, in the light of the Word of God and its sufficiency, and the sufficiency of Christ. It involves doing what we need to do to allow God’s grace to work through the discipline of these procedures. As Paul challenged Timothy, “But reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness.” (1 Tim. 4:7b). Or as I might paraphrase Paul’s admonition to the Philippians, “continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.” (Phil. 2:12b-13). Obedience to these disciplines is a matter of grace because through them we simply make ourselves available for the work of God.
(2) These spiritual disciplines are not just for pastor-teachers, missionaries, monks, or for those people often think of as spiritual giants. They are for all believers: for ordinary people, for people with jobs, families, children, etc., and for all believers in all levels of spiritual maturity.
(3) While these disciplines involve routine procedures, we must guard against allowing them to become simply routine, mere habit, drudgery, or legalistic procedures in which we take pride like the Pharisee who prayed proudly in Luke 18:11-12. Rather, these disciplines must be viewed as privileges of grace by which we draw near to God that He in turn may draw near to us. The goal is to know the living God more intimately, to experience His life within ours.
(4) While the dailies and weeklies involve specific set times (corporately and individually) they must not be limited to these times. In fact, these scheduled times are designed to bring these disciplines and the reality and truth of God into all the activities and circumstances of our day. So we should not just go to church once a week, or have our so-called “quiet time” with God and then forget it in a kind of “see you next week, God” or “see you in the morning, Lord.”
(5) The desire to feed at God’s table can have its own addiction that could keep us from seeing the hurts of our world. When the pursuit of the Savior and our inner life obscures the outer world and the needs of people, our spiritual disciplines become an aberration. We must not see our time alone with God as a means to escape the pain and pressure of a crazy world. We are simply taking steps to fortify our inner life.
The dailies refer to those daily spiritual disciplines and routines which are needed to maintain and experience personal fellowship or a personal walk with the Lord that will result in the fruit of growth, production, and spiritual change or Christlikeness. Included in these daily disciplines are prayer, Bible study and reading, Scripture memory, meditation, and daily dying to the self-life through faith and devotion to Christ.
The Importance of the Dailies
The importance of these daily disciplines is brought out in Scripture by a number of factors:
(1) There is the repetition of such words as “daily,” “today,” “night and day,” in contexts that stress prayer, Bible study, meditation, etc. (See Appendix 6 for passages that emphasize this ‘daily’ emphasis with principles that apply.)
(2) The need for these disciplines on a daily basis is seen from the nature of who we are as human beings. We are frail, weak, sinful, prone to wander in arrogant independence of God, and we possess a sinful nature which dominates and controls unless that power is broken by the power of Jesus Christ. Remember the old hymn with the words, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the Lord I love.” We are like sheep who tend to wander and turn to our own way.
Isaiah 53:6 All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.
(3) The Word warns us that we live in an evil day, and that our enemy, the devil, walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He does his best to divide and fragment the thinking of God’s people. He tries to get people confused as to who they are and why they are here. He gets them preoccupied with other things. He wants them to be independent, to think like the world thinks, to think like the natural man thinks in the futility of his mind. He keeps people away from serious involvement with the Word of God in order to keep their relationship to God’s Word superficial and secondary.
Ephesians 5:15-16 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.
Someone has said that our adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. Satan has a number of cultural values or belief systems, actually illusions he uses to confuse and manipulate the church so that it must, of necessity, fail in its calling and purpose. Each of these are opposed to and work against developing and maintaining the mind of Christ through studying and meditating on the Word. They are designed to keep us out of the Word which is so essential to our ability to avoid the delusions of Satan and the world system and to hear and respond to the call of God on our lives. (See Appendix 7 for a summary on the subtle snares of worldliness.)
(4) The Greek grammar of the New Testament also highlights our need. Some passages use the present tense of continuous action in the verbs that exhort believers to watchfulness. Others use the aorist imperative which carries an element of urgency because of the ever present danger of our enemies. All together, this strongly stresses that Christians must be on alert, watching carefully how they are walking and handling life each moment of the day (cf. Eph 5:15-16 and 1 Peter 5:8 above).
(5) To make things even more precarious, Scripture warns that, as the church age moves toward the last days, things will grow worse and worse meaning that the evil of the day and the demonic forces will not be in a state of status quo but will be very much on the increase. Thus, as that great day approaches there will be greater and greater difficulty and pressure on believers as well as for all mankind (cf. also 2 Tim. 3:1-4:4).
1 Timothy 4:1-3 Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, 2 influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. 3 They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
This pressure will come in many forms to distract, discourage, and defeat believers. There will be direct demonic attack on the minds and bodies of men. There will be the problem and frustrations of national and international fiascoes of government, economic instability, greater government interference, increased loss of freedom, escalating talk of disarmament, world peace, and foreign policies with godless internationalists which leave us more and more open to the loss of our freedom. There will be continued breakdown in law enforcement and control of the criminal element. There will be, as we see so rampant today, the extreme moral breakdown of society where white is black, black is white, evil is good, and good is evil. And there will be the perpetuation and increase of the human viewpoint delusions and temptations to seek happiness in the details of life, in man-made religion, in asceticism, emotionalism and materialism. So there will be increased danger for believers to become side-tracked, distracted, and loaded down with side issues in the pursuit of peace and prosperity, comfort and pleasure.
1 Thessalonians 5:3 Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape.
Philippians 3:17-19 Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example. 18 For many live (about whom I often told you, and now say even with tears) as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things.
Romans 13:11-14 And do this because we know the time, that it is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. 12 The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. 13 Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.
Of course, God has not left us defenseless against the three enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 2:14; 5:4-5). However, the believer must avail himself of his spiritual assets in Christ, his spiritual armor, which God has so graciously issued him. So we are told in Ephesians 6:10 to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. This is a command for us to strengthen ourselves continually (a continuous present), moment by moment in the strength, power, and ability which God gives. Such strengthening is certainly aided through the spiritual disciplines of the daily life and the weekly assemblies.
Since the Lord Jesus is our trailblazer and example to follow in the Christian life, we would expect to see Him emulate the dailies for us and this is precisely what we find (cf. Luke 5:15-16).
Hebrews 12:2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Luke 5:15-16 But the news about him spread even more, and large crowds were gathering together to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. 16 Yet Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.
1 John 2:6 The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked.
In the Luke passage just quoted, Christ was in the thick of His ministry and popularity with hundreds coming to Him for aid and to hear Him speak (see also Mark 1:29-39). He had plenty of opportunity to claim, as many people do today, that He was too busy for prayer and private time with the Father. But even though the Savior often exercised His deity to perform His miraculous works, Jesus, the man, never operated from the source of His own ability or independently of the Father. Every step He took was a product of total dependence on the Holy Spirit.
John 14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds.
Luke 5:16 begins with “but,” the Greek word de, an adversative or continuative particle. Here it is adversative and places verse 15 and 16 in contrast to one another to call our attention to an important point. The point is this. Though filled with all kinds of opportunities, though confronted with great needs and great popularity, though deeply burdened and concerned for the people, the Lord Jesus never ever neglected His own personal spiritual life with the Father. Daily and regularly He sought time for private fellowship to fill His life with the life of the Father.
The phrase “frequently withdrew” is what Greek grammarians call an imperfect periphrastic. This is a grammatical construction designed to lay some stress on the idea of action that was either customary or continuous in past time. The point is, this was the habit and custom of the Lord Jesus. He regularly slipped away for private personal time with the Father. Obviously, if He, the sinless God-man needed and valued this, then how much more should not you and I?
What the Dailies Include
Time in God’s Word
Based on the analogy of Scripture, the goal and ideal is to daily hear the voice of God speaking to us from His Word. We need to read, study, hear, meditate, and learn the Scripture and its truth, but for this to have its maximum impact on us, we need to daily get into the Word for ourselves. In this way, Bible study becomes a first hand, personal experience rather than simply second hand from someone else.
Acts 17:11 These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.
Hebrews 3:13 But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception.
Proverbs 8:32-36 “So now, children, listen to me;
blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Listen to my instruction so that you may be wise,
and do not neglect it.
34 Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching at my doors day by day,
waiting at the posts of my doorway.
35 For the one who finds me finds life
and receives favor from the Lord.
36 But the one who does not find me brings harm to himself;
all who hate me love death.”
Psalm 119:2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart.
Psalm 119:2 points out an two important ingredients that we do not want to miss as we think about the dailies. First, the verbs in this verse are in the imperfect tense and in a context like this, it denotes a process that is on going, a pattern of life. Second, the Psalmist pronounces blessing on those who observe (NASB) or keep (KJV, NIV) the testimonies of God’s Word. “Observe” is a Hebrew word ( nasar) which means “to guard, watch over.” It is used of guarding one’s mouth (Prov. 13:3; Ps. 141:3), one’s tongue (Ps. 34:14), one’s path (Prov. 16:17), and the heart (Prov. 4:23), but it is also used of guarding with fidelity and this is usually centered around observing or keeping God’s covenant or His Word (Deut. 33:9; Ps. 78:7; 119:2, 22, etc.).101 But third, we should note the second line of the verse, “Who seek Him with all their heart.” The goal is to seek and know the Lord. This is the great motivation for obedience. As we daily go to the Word, we should be seeking to see and know God in the pages of Scripture.
Suggested procedures for getting into the Word daily are:
(1) Follow a daily reading program that will take you through the Word in a year. Some excellent resources are: Read through the Bible in a Year, by John Kohlenberger, Moody Press. Another is The One Year Bible, by Tyndale House. This comes in most of the versions. Some study Bibles contain such a guide. One illustration is The Ryrie Study Bible.
(2) For those who spend considerable time on the road, an excellent way to hear the Word is to listen to the Scriptures on tape.
(3) Spend time in personal study and examination of a portion of Scripture. Read for major ideas and ask questions like who, what, why, how, etc. Take notes on your observations and discoveries. List promises, principles, commands, warnings, and personal applications. Above all, pay attention to what you can learn about the glories of God—mercy, grace, love, goodness, etc.
(4) Today, good studies on the Scripture (commentaries, doctrinal studies, etc.) are not only available in books and magazines, but through the Internet. Find conservative, sound, evangelical sites like the Biblical Studies Foundation and download the studies that are in keeping with your personal needs. But whatever you read, always keep your Bible handy and check what you read against the Scripture itself (cf. Acts 17:11).
(5) Become involved with a Bible teaching ministry that makes the preaching and study of the Word a priority and regularly attend the services and Bible studies. Take notes when you hear the Word taught and then study those notes with an open Bible as part of your daily time in the Word. This will prepare you for the next lesson and help you to personalize what you are hearing.
Meditating on the Word
Psalm 1:2 Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands;
he intently studies his commands day and night.
Psalm 119:99 I even have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your rules.
Joshua 1:8 This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful.
In his excellent work on the spiritual life, Pathways to Power, Unger wrote these introductory words to his chapter on meditation:
Meditation upon God’s Word is fast becoming a lost art among many Christian people. This holy exercise of pondering over the Word, chewing it as an animal chews its cud to get its sweetness and nutritive virtue into the heart and life, takes time, which ill fits into the speed of our modern age. Today most Christians’ devotions are too hurried, their lives to rushed. But holiness and hurry never did suit well together. Prayer and preoccupation have always been strange bed-fellows. A head knowledge of the Word may perhaps be consonant with the scurry of the age, but not a deep heart experience of its preciousness. A deep knowledge of spiritual things can only come by the way of unhurried reflection upon God’s truth and by prayer.102
The fervor of the ancient Psalmist for the Word of God needs to grip our hearts today (Psa. 119:97, 103). Personal Bible study along with the memorization of Scripture work in concert with meditation. Meditation should really become a part of study, memory work, and prayer.
The word used the most for “meditation” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word hagah which means “to utter, moan, growl, speak, think carefully, ponder, meditate.” So two ideas are prevalent in this word, thinking and speaking. The original idea is that of speaking with oneself, murmuring in a low voice as is sometimes done when we are carefully thinking and pondering over something we are about to do or say. For this idea compare the following verses:
Proverbs 15:28 The heart of the righteous considers how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
Proverbs 24:2 for their hearts contemplate violence,
and their lips speak harm.
Psalm 1:2 Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands;
he intently studies his commands day and night.
Joshua 1:8 This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful.
The principle idea of the word as used in Psalm 1:2 and Joshua 1:8 is that of carefully and personally reflecting on the Word, on a point of doctrine, or on a passage of Scripture. Meditation involves personalizing the truth of Scripture and speaking to ourselves with its principles so that God’s Word is transformed from the logos (the revelation of God) to the r$ema (the spoken Word of God), that which has spoken to us in a personal way. Meditation, then, involves insight to Scripture with personal application as James so exhorts us:
James 1:22-25 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does.
Why do we meditate? In eastern oriental meditation men meditate in order to empty the mind. But biblical meditation operates on the principle of exchange or renewal. We are to meditate, not aimlessly or mystically, but to cleanse the mind of man’s thoughts and ways in order to fill it with God Himself and His thoughts and ways. Meditation is done to exchange man’s point of view with God’s truth.
Isaiah 55:8-9 Indeed, my plans are not like your plans,
and my deeds are not like your deeds,
9 for just as the sky is higher than the earth,
so my deeds are superior to your deeds
and my plans superior to your plans.
Psalm 119:15 I will meditate on your precepts
and focus on your demands.
One of the main purposes for the daily disciplines is renewal and replacement. In Luke 11:24-28 the demon possessed man failed in his quest for freedom after the removal of the demon because of failure with regard to the principle of replacement.
None of us can overcome sin merely by renouncing it or by human reformation. We can only overcome sin when we replace it with God’s righteousness through His plan of redemption and sanctification in Christ. Sinful habits cannot be broken without replacing them with righteous ones through the life of Jesus Christ. The daily disciplines help us to appropriate His life by faith. In Philippians we are told to meditate or think on biblical topics and good things.
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. 9 And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.
Let’s look at an illustration. If you want to replace all the air in a bottle you do it by filling it with something else. Meditation only has value when it is occupied with God and His truth.
When should we meditate? There should be specified times, scheduled times when we get alone to reflect and ponder on the Word of God (Psa. 63:6; 119:148). We should also meditate without ceasing, day and night, all through the day (Josh. 1:8; Psa. 1:2).
For some of the rewards of meditation note the following verses:
Psalm 1:3 He is like a tree planted by flowing streams;
it yields its fruit at the proper time,
and its leaves never fall off.
He succeeds in everything he attempts.
1 Timothy 4:15-16 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress. 16 Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
Meditation can produce rest, removal of tension, and can lower the blood pressure which means better health. It can also give us greater insights into God, biblical truth, self, our true needs versus our wants, the needs of others and the needs of our ministries.
Since we cannot meditate biblically in a vacuum, and because it may open our mind up to Satan’s attacks, there are some biblical requirements for meditation:
(1) Be in the Word—To meditate biblically we must be in the Word, hearing, reading, studying, memorizing. This means we must establish priorities, discipline, scheduling time for this daily and weekly. It also involves ways and means by which we can accomplish this need, like purchasing books, getting involved in a memory program, carrying a cassette in our car, etc.
(2) Desire and Longing—Psalm 1:2 says of the man who meditates, “Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands;” Closely related here is a recognition of the need. First Peter 2:2 says, “And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,”
(3) Be Prepared for Battle—Through the Word and the indwelling Holy Spirit we have the spiritual equipment with which to destroy the evil fortresses of the mind, the vain reasonings, powerful imaginations, rationalizations, and the perverted viewpoints and attitudes of the world. But Satan will not give up his ground without a struggle, so we must be prepared. This basically means being prepared to resist Satan with our spiritual armor (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:10f).
When confronted with sinful thoughts we need to:
(1) Identify the evil thoughts—God’s Word, Bible teaching, and study provides the index for what is evil.
(2) Recognize their nature—They are futile, destructive, vain.
(3) Confess them if you have cultivated them.
(4) Refocus and replace them with the viewpoint of God’s Word—Draw upon biblical truth.
(5) Meditate—think on these things, on God’s Word.
Memorization of truth
Proverbs 6:20-22 My child, guard the commands of your father
and do not forsake the instruction of your mother.
21 Bind them on your heart continually;
fasten them around your neck.
22 When you walk about, they will guide you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
when you wake up, they will talk to you.
Exodus 13:16 And it will be for a sign on your hand, and for frontlets between your eyes, for with a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 6:8 You should tie them as a reminder on your forearm and fasten them as symbols on your forehead.
Exodus 13:16 and Deuteronomy 6:8 are to be taken figuratively for remembering God’s truth so that it is readily available to apply to the situations of life. The frontals or frontlet bands on the forehead stood for the retention and thinking area of the mind. The sign on the hand referred to the application of doctrine to the concerns of life. The hand also speaks of doing, working, and serving from the motivation, skill, and ability which God’s Word gives.
The Pharisees of Christ’s day took this literally and wore phylacteries, little leather boxes or pouches containing four parts of Scripture (Ex. 13:1-10; 13:11-16; Deut. 4:4-9; 11:13-21). These were tied about the head and hands and were worn by some as a charm for protection against evil which was never God’s intent. Jesus Christ strongly condemns this in Matthew 23:5 because it missed the metaphorical picture and original intent.
Phylactery is the Greek word fulakterion and means “an outpost,” or “a place of fortification.” The word is from fulax which means “to guard,” so it means “any kind of safeguard.” But wearing a phylactery came to be used by some as a kind of amulet. The Word of God is not to be carried as an ornament or amulet, but stored in the mind as a guard against man’s viewpoint or that of the world, Satan’s devices, and the sinful nature. Christ was also condemning the Pharisees for the external show of their religious practices.
Thus, right from the start we have a very pertinent warning regarding our worship practices whether they are corporate (the weekly assemblies) or individual (the dailies). These are never to degenerate into mere religious, external practices as a kind of mysterious charm against evil, nor are we to do them to impress others (Matt. 23:5). Rather, they are a means of getting the Word within our hearts so that, if it is understood clearly and retained, it can then be applied carefully and accurately to bring every thought and action into the captivity and obedience of Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:4-5 for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments 5 and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.
In Proverbs 3:1 the command is given “my child, do not forget my teaching.” “Teaching” is the Hebrew word, torah, the term used for the Law. Fundamentally, it means “direction, instruction.” Here it refers to the principles of doctrine taught by the parent in the home, based, of course, upon the Law, the Old Testament Scripture. Verse 3 tells us how this is to be accomplished, but first there is a reiteration of the need to retain God’s truth. “Do not let truth and mercy leave you.” “Mercy” is the Hebrew word chesed, and in this context, undoubtedly refers to the steadfast love and grace of God and His provision for man. So it is again a command not to forget the Word which is the storehouse of grace and truth.
Then, Solomon points us to the method of remembrance:
“Bind them around your neck.” Though the language is slightly different, this alludes to the memorization of God’s Word metaphorically pictured in Exodus 13:16 and Deuteronomy 6:8. God’s grace and truth are to be retained, memorized, so that through their application, they become an ornament of beauty to the life.
“Write them on the tablet of your heart.” This is added so the picture is clear. In this context, “heart” refers to the mind, and “writing” to the process of memorizing which implants the instruction of grace and truth in the mind.
Proverbs 3:21-22 My child, do not let them escape from your sight;
safeguard sound wisdom and discretion.
22 So they will give life to you,
and grace to adorn your neck.
Proverbs 4:21 Do not let them depart from your sight,
guard them within your heart;
Proverbs 6:20-23 My child, guard the commands of your father
and do not forsake the instruction of your mother.
21 Bind them on your heart continually;
fasten them around your neck.
22 When you walk about, they will guide you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
when you wake up, they will talk to you.
23 For the commandments are like a lamp,
instruction is like a light,
and rebukes of discipline are like the road leading to life,
Proverbs 6:20 gives the command to retain and apply the Word. Then verse 21 points us to the method. “Bind” is the Hebrew word gashar which means “to confine, league, tie together, bind fast and firmly.” “Heart” again refers to the mind. The Word is to be memorized, bound securely and confined to the mind so that it cannot escape. But it is to be so bound that truth is tied together with truth. Perhaps the idea is that it is all to be joined together so that, as God’s truth is memorized and stored in the mind, it forms a wall of protection to the believer as well as an ornament of grace.
“Bind” ( gashar) is used this way in Nehemiah 4:6, “… all the wall was joined together …” As the people rebuilt the wall and joined its sections together for the city’s protection, so believers are to rebuild their minds with God’s viewpoint by memorizing the Word. Thus, a wall of protection is developed against the forces of evil.
“Continually” is the Hebrew word tamid. The need for continuousness could have been expressed by a participle, or by an imperfect tense, but to make sure we get the point, this special word is added. This is to be a process which goes on without interruption throughout life.
“bind them around your neck” is again metaphorical of the applying what has been memorized so that it forms an ornament of beauty portraying godly character.
Proverbs 6:22 gives us the general effects of the memorization-meditation process. God’s Word provides guidance and protection in the conscious and subconscious life. God’s truth becomes a friend for all times and seasons—a guide by day and an comforter by night.
Proverbs 6:23 describes something of the nature of God’s truth and illustrates something of what it does.
“Commandment” is singular and may refer to the Bible as a whole, as God’s special orders to direct our lives. But to know God’s commandment is like carrying a lamp to light our path. “Teaching” is the Hebrew torah and could well refer to the categories of doctrine that are to be memorized as a light for life.
“Reproofs for discipline.” “Reproofs” is a word which means “argument, reproof, rebuke, correction.” “Discipline” means “discipline, chastening, corrections, training” but it can also refer to “instruction” or “principles and precepts of doctrine” that are designed to discipline, correct, and train so that one is brought into conformity to the plan and way of God. The phrase could be paraphrased, “the correction/training received from the principles of doctrine is the way of life.” So we should memorize verses of Scripture, categories of doctrine, and the principles of the Word as well. The principle behind this is that the believer should first understand, learn, and then commit to memory everything he can about the Word.
Proverbs 7:1-3 My child, keep my words
and treasure up my commands within your own keeping.
2 Keep my commands so that you may live,
and obey my instruction as your most prized possession.
3 Bind them on your forearm;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Committing God’s Word to memory gives us the capacity to recall His truth for meditation, application, and utilization. Just as hearing is not learning and understanding; so understanding is not memorization. The Apostle Peter calls this to our attention and had this concept in mind in 2 Peter 1:12-13. One of his teaching techniques was repetition so that people might not only know and understand a doctrine or verse of Scripture, but that by repetition they might have it memorized for easier recall and constant availability.
2 Peter 1:12-13 Therefore, I intend to remind you constantly of these things even though you know them and are well established in the truth that you now have. 13 Indeed, as long as I am in this tabernacle, I consider it right to stir you up by way of a reminder,
Thus, through the dailies, the truth of the Word of God, in one form or another (verses of Scripture, principles of doctrine, categories, etc.) is constantly reviewed and gradually committed to memory. Then the Holy Spirit is free to bring back to mind principles of the Word or passages which are pertinent to the needs of the moment.
John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.
Though by strict interpretation this passage was a promise given to those who would later write the New Testament, it may illustrate how the Spirit brings to mind the truth we have committed to memory for application to the situations of life.
Very soon the apostles of the early church were faced with the rising needs of the people and their desire for the apostles to come to their aid which would pull them away from their primary responsibilities (Acts 6:1). This illustrates the typical centrifugal pulls which often come with ministry and the temptation to invest time and energies in many good and necessary tasks. But the apostles refused and determined rather to give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word. They did not ignore the needs, they found others to do the work described in Acts 6:1, but they refused to be drawn away from the greatest need—prayer and the teaching of the Word.
Acts 6:1-4 Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. 3 But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
It has been reported that Martin Luther once said: “I have so much business, I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” Like Martin Luther, these early disciples recognized that the secret to failure is failure in secret prayer.
In Acts 6:4 the word “devote” means “to attend steadfastly to, to persist in a certain course of action.” Here the action is prayer and the study and teaching of the Word. And a careful reading of Psalm 119 teaches us that we really cannot even study God’s Word effectively without prayer.
How do you suppose these apostles came to such a conviction and commitment to prayer? While the Lord Jesus was on earth, these men never asked, “Lord, teach us to preach,” or “teach us how to study.” But they did ask “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). The point is they had never seen anyone pray like Christ with the fervency, the dependency, and the consistency with which He always prayed. What they didn’t realize then, but did later, was that he was teaching them both by His life and His lips. Christ’s whole life was a lesson in prayer and prayerful dependence upon the Father for everything He did; the words He taught, the miracles He performed, everything.
This request of the disciples was followed and answered by some specific directions on prayer, and many other passages in the gospels set forth the teachings of Christ on prayer. Nothing, however, probably had as much effect as our Lord’s own life of dependency upon the Father as seen in His prayer life.
What exactly did they see in Christ’s life? Prayer was more than an occasional practice. It was a moment-by-moment attitude, an attitude of heart and mind. For Jesus Christ prayer was like breathing. His life teaches us that prayer is to the spiritual life what breathing is to the physical life. Prayer for the believer should become just as automatic as breathing as Paul exhorts us “constantly pray” (1 Thess. 5:17).
Obviously then, our daily prayer does not always consist of just a specific time, but should be an attitude of praying without ceasing, ever drawing upon and communicating with our heavenly Father.
How did the disciples come to see this need so that they would ask the question, “Lord, teach us to pray”? By the constant attitude of expectation and prayerfulness which our Lord demonstrated in everything He did. Before he performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, he looked up and thanked the Father. Before He told Lazarus to come forth, He thanked the Father (Luke 10:21-22). Of course He was also seen spending long hours in prayer, often very early in the morning, sometimes all night, and often in the midst of the busiest times of His ministry.
Christ was demonstrating to His disciples by the example of His life that at all times men ought to pray and never to lose heart (faint) (Luke 18:1). The words “at all times” means that constantly, in every situation and circumstance, even when things appear to be going our way, when we do not see some special crisis or need, we still need to pray. It’s like the old hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” Indeed we need God’s sustaining grace every moment.
Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable to show them they should always pray and not lose heart.
“Should” is the Greek word dei which emphasizes a moral and spiritual necessity and obligation. “Lose heart” is the Greek enkakew from en, a preposition meaning “in,” and kakos, “bad, mean, worthless,” and thus “to act badly or in an evil way.” But in usage, it came to mean “to act cowardly, to lose heart, faint.” When we faint, give up, become depressed, etc., we are acting badly as though God were dead, didn’t care, and was helpless to enable us or to guide and provide for us. This verse emphasizes a contrast of alternatives. Either we pray constantly or we will faint, act badly or cowardly.
Why don’t we pray as we should? Why isn’t prayer like breathing for us as it was for Christ? Perhaps it’s because, as one man put it, we treat it like a fire extinguisher which has a sign “for emergency use only!” Why is that? Why don’t we at all times enjoy the privilege and power of prayer? Why aren’t we like the Psalmist who declared in his determined commitment “Lord, in the morning you will hear me; in the morning I will present my case to you and then wait expectantly for an answer. (Psalm 5:3)
Psalm 119:164 Seven times a day I praise you
because of your just regulations.
Part of the answer lies in an awareness of our need and an attitude of expectancy and faith—believing God will work in our life through prayer. Another cause for our self-sufficiency is our failure to truly allow the Word to speak to our hearts (Psalm 119:164). The daily intake of the Word not only guides us in how to pray biblically, but it should become a great incentive to pray and communicate with our God. (See Appendix 8 for George Mller’s comments on the importance of the Word to his prayer life.)
Far too often in our prayer, private or corporate, we are merely fulfilling a religious duty which we think God wants and which we ourselves know is important. But somehow we fail to enter into prayer out of a sense of our need and in a state of believing expectancy, praying in faith, knowing and believing God is at work in answer to our prayers. I think too, that people do not pray expectantly because they are afraid God will work and it will mean changing our habits, or that God send us somewhere and we aren’t really available.
Our second routine procedure is likewise essential for deliverance from those daily life-dominating patterns. The book of Nehemiah records the third return of a remnant of believers to Jerusalem after seventy years of captivity. The first and second returns are recorded for us in the book of Ezra. The third return is recorded for us in the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah the prophet returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city. This was accomplished miraculously through the leadership of Nehemiah as recorded in the first seven chapters of the book. The last chapters deal with spiritual reformation in the nation (Neh. 11-13), but, before spiritual reformation can occur, there needs to be spiritual renewal of the heart and repentance.
Nehemiah 8:1-12 all the people gathered together in the plaza which was in front of the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly which included men and women and all those able to understand what they heard. (This happened on the first day of the seventh month.) 3 So he read it before the plaza in front of the Water Gate from dawn till noon before the men and women and those who could understand. All the people were eager to hear the book of the law.
4 Ezra the scribe stood on a towering platform constructed for this purpose. Standing near him on his right were Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Masseiah. On his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5 Ezra opened the book in plain view of all the people, for he was elevated above all the people. When he opened the book, all the people stood up. 6 Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people replied “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah—all of whom were Levites—were teaching the people the law, as the people remained standing. 8 They read from the book of God’s law, explaining it and imparting insight. Thus the people gained understanding from what was read. 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priestly scribe, and the Levites who were imparting understanding to the people said to all of them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping when they heard the words of the law. 10 He said to them, “Go and eat delicacies and drink sweet drinks and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared. For this day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 Then the Levites quieted all the people saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy. Do not grieve.” 12 So all the people departed to eat and drink and to share their food with others and to enjoy tremendous joy, for they had gained insight in the matters that had been made known to them.
It is interesting and instructive in the passage above that we first find the people gathering together to hear the Word of the Lord explained and proclaimed by Ezra the scribe, a man highly trained in the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures (Ezra 7:6; Neh. 8:1-8). On this day of the reading and explanation of God’s Word, the people were told This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping when they heard the words of the law.” Then in verse 10, in connection with this day and the explanation and reading of Scripture, they were told not to be grieved, for the joy of the Lord was their strength.
What is the “joy of the Lord?” May I suggest to you that it is God’s people assembled to hear God’s Word read and explained which brings conviction and repentance, and brings them into vital communion and fellowship with the Lord because this further increases their knowledge of Him and His life and plan for the believer’s life. This is called “the joy of the Lord” because it causes joy in the heart of God when God’s people assemble to hear and respond to His Word.
It is also this assembling together to hear God’s Word that gives strength and stability to believers (8:10). It provides the spiritual renewal necessary for understanding God’s ways (8:12b, 13), repentance of our ways (9:1-3), praise to God for His being and actions in history (9:5ff), and reformation or godly change in one’s own life (10:28-13:31).
Malachi 3:16 is another Old Testament passage which speaks to us on this subject of regularly assembling to worship and think together on the Lord and the things of our salvation.
Malachi 3:16 Then those who respect the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord took notice. A scroll was prepared before him in which were recorded the names of those who respect the Lord and honor his name.
As the context in this passage suggests, the wicked and the world are constantly mouthing their secular, humanistic viewpoint and their accusations against God and His truth. We live in an evil age that is rampant with the viewpoint of a world system in opposition to God, so the godly must be warned and instructed against that which they hear and face in the world. In the midst of spiritual failure and corruption all around, the people of God must come together to hear, learn, think, and reckon on their God.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.
There can be no real deliverance and depth in our walk with God without this. Assembling together for fellowship with one another in prayer, praise, and study is absolutely essential to godly living and spiritual change.
The same truth is found in the New Testament with an even stronger emphasis. In Acts 2:42f we find that the New Testament church in Jerusalem actually met together daily for fellowship in prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and the study of the Word. The results were phenomenal in terms of expressions of love, unity, and outreach, or souls added to the church by the Lord.
Acts 2:42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Another passage we can learn from is 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” First, we have a command. Literally it means either “stop being deceived” or “never allow yourself to be deceived.” The point is, people are being deceived; they think that the people they pal around with (or with whom they fail to spend time as with the body of believers) have nothing to do with their behavior patterns or their spiritual life. Paul tells us that to think that way is foolish. It is to be led astray, deceived by spiritual ignorance, or indifference. Note the connection in the following verses:
1 Corinthians 5:9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.
1 Corinthians 6:9-12 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
12 “All things are lawful for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “All things are lawful for me”—but I will not be controlled by anything.
1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
In 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul quotes a Greek proverb under inspiration because it is absolutely true and pertinent to the believer’s life, growth, and victory in this life. The basic and clear principle is—those with whom we spend time, and what we do in those associations has a definite bearing on our conduct. This is a spiritual law of life.
The verb “corrupts” is what we call a gnomic present tense. It points to a general principle of life, to what is always true. The verb means “to spoil, ruin, destroy.” “Manners” is also interesting. It is the Greek word eqos which means “custom, usage, habit, or pattern.” It is used in connection with habits of purity, or good patterns of behavior. Now the principle is clear—running with the wrong crowd, and failure to assemble with believers for fellowship in the things of God’s Word, definitely affects one’s capacity for spiritual change.
But let’s note a further implication here. It is not enough to just avoid the wrong crowd, or refuse to intimately associate with those who have no interest in spiritual things, nor is it enough to just start spending time with believers in formal and informal gatherings to hear the Word. One needs to do both, to put off the old associations from the standpoint of running with them as before (1 Pet. 4:4), and to put on the new associations, to regularly assemble for fellowship with believers.
Perhaps the strongest passage on our need to weekly meet together with other believers for fellowship and spiritual encouragement is Hebrews 10:24-25:
And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.
In verse 24 we are asked to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Literally, the Greek text says, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works,” This is first an exhortation to pay attention to one another that we might minister to each other to help them experience the sufficiency of Christ’s love in the interest of also promoting love and good deeds.
Then in verse 25 the author of Hebrews gives us the means whereby we can do this. The means is two-fold:
First, by “not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing,…” It is perfectly clear. One way to minister and be ministered to is by cultivating the pattern of frequently and regularly meeting together for fellowship with the saints (believers in Christ).
Of course the question arises, how often should we assemble? Some think once a week is enough, others, once or twice a month. But the early church met daily, and later they met at least once a week on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
But this is not what the passage tells us in the last clause of this verse, which the author leaves last for emphasis. He says, “and even more so because you see the day drawing near.” Wow! If one only has a heart to hear God’s Word, this is plain. This is not a legal thing wherein we put in so many appearances a month or a week. This is related to our need and the recognition of not only the importance and blessing of meeting together, but also of the growing dangers, deceptions, pulls, and distractions of the last days as we get closer and closer to the return of the Lord.
So what does the author mean by “and even more …” In the Greek text the phrase is a dative or instrumental of degree or measure stressing quantity, size, or amount. Literally the text says “by so much the more as.” The principle is that we aren’t given a specific number of times to follow. That which determines this is our sensitivity to the times in which we live and the great importance of assembling together and the results it is designed to have on our lives.
In addition, we are not simply to assemble together without purpose, or just or get together socially. So the text adds “but (by) encouraging each another.” The word “encouraging” is parakalew. This is a very broad term with a variety of ideas though all are somewhat related. It means “to call on, beseech, exhort, or admonish, cheer, encourage, comfort.”
Regardless, in whatever sense it is used, it makes a strong appeal to the individual to make a choice, or to act or move in a certain direction. The appeal may be prospective in the sense of obey God’s Word, follow its instruction, or respond to the Lord in some area (Rom. 12:1). Or the appeal may be retrospective in the sense of believing God’s Word and being comforted or consoled over what has happened, as with some trial or loss as with the loss of a loved one in death.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. 15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
When we put this in the total context of the book of Hebrews, one of the primary purposes of assembling together then, is to hear the Word taught and expounded which comforts, exhorts, and encourages us in our walk with the Lord. The exposition of the Word along with the personal encouragement of one another become the means of exhortation and comfort which promotes love and good deeds (cf. also Heb. 3:7f; 5:1-6:1).
Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.
Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith.
The issues are clear, or should be. We all desperately need time in seclusion with God. We need to be still that we might know God more intimately; that we might truly know that He is God (Ps. 46:10). To grow in our walk with the Lord and to experience biblical change that occurs from the inside out, we must be hearers and doers of the Word through the dailies and the weeklies.
The problem of living in an affluent and secular society is we become so easily duped and we fail to understand our real need. Our need in the spiritual realm is far greater than our dulled awareness. We have been numbed to our need because we have so much in the physical realm and in some ways, at least, we seem to be able to cope with life. Indeed, some seem to prosper without God at all. This almost caused the Psalmist to slip as he wrote in Psalm 73:1-3. But later, having come into the sanctuary or house of God, the place of fellowship (equivalent for us to the dailies and weeklies), he saw how numbed he had become and wrote the beautiful words in the rest of the Psalm.
Scripture warns us that “He did this to teach you that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth.” (Deut. 8:3). And our Lord warned us: Then he said to them, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions…23 For there is more to life than food, and more to the body than clothing…31 Instead, pursue his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well." (Luke 12:15, 23, 31).
The Dailies and Weeklies:
A Means of God’s Protection
If properly understood and utilized, the dailies and weeklies are God’s protection for us against certain dangers:
(1) Misplaced Confidence. It is so easy for us to put our confidence in the wrong things—in people, possessions, good health, power, position, wealth, personal abilities, training, and on the list goes. This is one of the warnings God gave to Israel once they entered the land. The danger of our physical blessings is that they can so easily numb us to our real needs.
Deuteronomy 6:10-12 Then when the Lord your God brings you to the land he promised your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you—a land with large, fine cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with choice things you did not accumulate, hewn out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—and you eat your fill, 12 be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, the place of slavery.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. 19 In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life.
Luke 12:15-18 Then he said to them, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 He then told them a parable: “The land of a certain rich man produced an abundant crop, 17 so he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
(2) Misused Privileges. Though our new life and spiritual blessings and privileges are the foundation for spiritual success, they do not guarantee it. They must be appropriated by faith and used daily or we become callused to the presence and blessing of God and it can happen so quickly (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-10:12).
Just three days after the children of Israel had seen God deliver them from Pharaoh’s army through the miracle of the Red Sea and had sung the glorious song of God’s redemption, they began to grumble against Moses when they came to Marah and found only bitter water to drink. You would think that, having witnessed what they did, and having sung God’s praise in declaration of His person and power, they would have responded to the situation with something like, “Lord, since there is no one like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders, we are trusting you to give us water and to meet our need.” But in only three days they got their eyes off the Lord and on the situation in callused unbelief.
But you know, if we are not extremely careful, it’s no different for you and me. The need is for us to daily hear the warning of the apostle: “So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12).
(3) Misplaced Priorities. In our materialistic society, perhaps no passage is more crucial than Matthew 6:19-34. Why? Well, because our treasures are so determinative regarding what we do with our lives. One’s perspective (earthly and temporal versus heavenly and eternal) determines one’s treasures, and one’s treasures determine devotion, values, and priorities. It is so easy for us to be duped into devoting ourselves to that which passes away.
A clear demonstration of our values is an undying commitment to the Word as the index and fountain of our lives. Many Christian leaders tip their hand here. They espouse this conviction with their mouth, but deny it by their activity and business. They are “go go boys.” On his daily radio program some years back, I heard Dr. Paul Meier, a well-known Christian psychologist in Dallas, Texas, say he needed at least two hours a day to meditate on the Word. Our values and commitments demonstrate not only our love for God, but our awareness of our real needs.
(4) Missed Reality or Hypocrisy. We simply cannot live, experience, or impart to others what we do not possess ourselves! The genuineness of our relationship and walk with the Savior will always determine the reality of what we are in our experience. The biblical prayer is not, “Lord, change my wife or children or church board,” but “Lord, change me. Make me like your Son.”
Matthew 23:1-5 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long.
Isaiah 29:13 The sovereign master says,
“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual.
I think it was Howard Hendricks who said, “the big question is not simply, is Christianity true? There is plenty of historical evidence that it is. The basic question is what difference is it making in my life? This is what the world looks for in our lives as the evidence of the real thing.” It is the dailies that can help keep us real with the Lord if we take the warnings given earlier in this study and approach them as a time to feed at the table of the Lord rather than as an obligation.
May we heed the words of the old hymn:
Take time to be holy, Speak oft with thy Lord,
Abide in Him always, And feed on His Word,
Take time to be holy, The world rushes on;
Much time spend in secret, With Jesus alone;
Take time to be holy, Let Him be thy Guide,
And run not before Him, whatever be tide.
99Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL, 1980, pp. 11-12.
100 Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Morning, Feb. 16, Electronic Format.
101 R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980, p. 495.
102 Merrill F. Unger, Pathways to Power, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1953, p. 41 .