Years ago, I was speaking at a Christian high school on developing a regular time with God. At the end of my talk, I strayed from my notes and challenged the students to spend five minutes a day with God for 50 days.
I told them if they did anything for 50 days in a row, it would become a habit for life. I’d written a student devotional called Addicted to God and in the moment, I offered that book free to anyone who wanted to take me up on the challenge.
The book has 50 short devotionals, so my point was if they read one a day, they’d be finished in 50 days. And perhaps the students would have developed the habit of planting the Word of God in their heart as a habit they could continue.
At the very end, I also added, “If you take me up on the challenge, I will take those who complete the devotional challenge out to lunch.” I was doing the math in my head, thinking most of these kids won’t take me up on the challenge. Otherwise, it was going to end up costing me a lot of money.
Which of course it did. I spent more than $800 on those students, but it was worth every penny.
More than 120 students took the challenge. I was happy about it, but also trying to figure out how I was going to tell my wife we were paying for 123 books, as well as taking kids who finished the challenge out to lunch.
Usually I’m not a pessimist but I remember telling my wife, Cathy, “most of the students won’t complete the challenge so we won’t need to pay for a lot of lunches!”
Fifty days later, 96 students had finished the challenge. At lunch, most of them asked me, “what’s next?” They’d spent the last 50 days with God and it was now a habit they wanted to keep. Here is what I learned from that one experience with those students and from my own life:
1. Devotionals provide a plan
A devotional is an easy way of creating a plan to create space to spend time with God. We often need the structure as well as the inspiration to keep up the spiritual discipline of time with God.
If you’re looking for ways to kickstart your personal devotional life, check out this great post from Carey Nieuwhof.
2. Something is better than nothing
Start small and keep it short. Many of us hear that Billy Graham spent two hours a day with God. So we try that and then we fail. We get discouraged and quit.
But working through a short devotional that is meaningful creates small victories in the discipline department. Just like keeping our bodies in shape physically it’s better to win with small steps over a long period of time.
3. Devotionals are personally-tailored discipleship
Find a devotional method that works for you. I read the One Year Bible and Jesus Calling every year. My wife thinks that sounds boring to do the same thing over and over again. She’s more creative and is always doing something new and fresh. Do whatever it takes to bring you closer to God.
4. Become a “resource junkie” of great devotionals for others
Devotionals come in all shapes and sizes. The ultimate goal is to bring inspiration and God’s Word into a person’s life as they practice the spiritual discipline of time with God.
As a leader, develop multiple options for each phase of kids, as well as for your leaders and parents. I have a friend who goes really deep and loves the early church fathers and mothers. That isn’t for everyone. My experience with kids is that the more “experiential the better.”
5. Use devotionals in your marriage and family times
Cathy and I created something that we copied from another couple we call “Closer time.” To stay in tune with each other spiritually, we commit to 20 minutes a week of going through a devotional book and praying together.
We even wrote a devotional together about how couples can use God’s word to draw closer together.
Some families create space in their schedule to meet weekly in a devotional setting with their kids. Do whatever works for your family. Just remember the words of the founder of Young Life, Jim Rayburn, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the Gospel.”
By the way, I now look at that money spent on those students as one of the most effective aspects of my ministry. If even half of them created the spiritual disciple habit of a regular time with God, it was more than worth it. Paul’s advice to Timothy, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness” is a worthy goal for everyone.