With the new year comes the natural desire to set goals for ourselves, whether related to relationships, finances, health, or our professions. Given that my husband is a pastor, I often talk to people about their spiritual goals for the coming year, and generally, people have a desire to more consistently devote themselves to practices like scripture reading, prayer, and silence.
While I by no means consider myself an expert in mastering spiritual practices, I have found one tool to be particularly helpful in creating space for more meaningful time with God in the mornings.
In 2016, our church started using something called Community Bible Reading journals, which are designed to encourage daily reading and application of scripture. The journals include a schedule of daily scripture readings, followed by blank pages with writing prompts.
If you stick with the scheduled readings each day for a year, you’d end up reading through a significant amount of the bible. But the journals aren’t intended to give you yet another thing to get through and check off your list. They’re intended to create space for people to spend time with God. In fact, if you miss a day (or week, or month) in the schedule, you’re encouraged to pick up on the current date’s reading, instead of trying to catch up on ones you’ve missed.
There are all kinds of devotional books out there that can guide you to reading more scripture or focusing on biblical principles. What I’ve found with many of them, however, is that while it can be helpful to hear another person’s thoughts on scripture, spending time reading scripture for yourself provides something much different, and often more meaningful.
Every morning with the CBR journal isn’t earth-shattering. There are days when I don’t want to do it. Or when I forget to do it. Or when I don’t fully understand what I’ve read. Or when I feel like my prayers are repetitive. I’m most certainly on a journey with lots more space to grow and far, far from having arrived. But the value lies in the consistency and starting point it provides when I’m prone to rationalize how my long to-do list is more important than nurturing my relationship with God.
So… interested to know how this whole thing works? Below are the steps that the CBR journal takes me though, which you can consider incorporating into your own quiet time.
1. Surrender through prayer.
This is the place where I try to spend a few minutes in silence and make space for me to receive something from the text I’m about to read or even from God in prayer. Once I’ve taken that time, I’ll write down my hopes for the time:
“God, give me a heart that can perceive you.”
—2. Listen to the scriptures.
Here’s where I spend time reading at least one chapter of scripture. I try to take my time and let it wash over me. I know lots of people follow devotionals that highlight one verse of scripture and then provide a meditation or thought. I find reading a chapter in its entirety is a much more rich experience because of the fuller context it provides.
For the purpose of this example, let’s say the chapter for the day is 1 Corinthians 13 (a passage of scripture many of us know as a popular favorite at weddings)…
If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, 5 is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. 6 Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.
—3. Pray through your pen.
The journal walks me through what’s known as the ACTS model of prayer, which is an acronym for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. While my journal has labeled boxes for each movement to guide my written prayers, anyone can easily follow this same model in a blank journal or verbally in prayer, without writing at all. But I will say that I’ve found writing my prayers has been a way to make my devotional time more focused and meaningful. It’s harder for my mind to wander off to thinking about the day’s to-do list when I’m praying through my pen.
So here’s an actual excerpt from my CBR journal to give you an idea of what praying through the ACTS model looks like…
(What does this passage tell me about God’s attributes and actions?)
“Father, you’re the author of love. You see the whole picture, while we see just a fraction. You value faith, hope, and love above all things. You call us to love others.”
(Acknowledge how I fall short in light of what I’ve read or a recent experience)
“God, my concept of love is so very limited. I keep records of wrongs. I seek accolades for the things I do. I don’t always give from a selfless place. I can be impatient, irritable and rude.”
(What aspects of Jesus and his salvation — past, present, or future — am I grateful for?)
“Jesus, you are the perfect example of love. Thank you for coming to earth to model it for us. Thank you for being more concerned with the content of our hearts than with our deeds. Thank you for seeing all of my imperfections and still loving me with a love that never ends.”
(How would I like God to transform me in specific ways?)
“God, create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me. Help me to fully receive your love and to be a reflection of your love. Help me to be more patient, selfless, and kind.”
—4. How has God impacted you most through today’s passage?
Here’s where I write a quick summary note, which is often something I can carry with me and reflect on throughout the day. For this passage, I simply wrote:
“Love is primary.”
Hopefully you noticed that my thoughts/prayers were fairly brief. Altogether, this exercise usually takes about 15 minutes to complete. But I get up from the time with a lot to reflect on and certainly feeling re-centered.
What has been helpful for you in developing your spiritual practices? A book, a tool, a group? I’d love to hear.