I am in the book of Revelation in my devotions this morning, reading the message of Jesus to the church in Ephesus. Jesus praises the Ephesians for their passionate and diligent pursuit of truth. However, he also warns them they were in danger of losing their place because "You have forsaken the love you had at first." (Rev. 2:4, ESV). This first love seems to be tied to the good deeds they did at the beginning of the church's ministry. Because of this, commentators see the first love to refer both to the love of Jesus and their love for one another.
All Christians need to cultivate and nurture their love of Christ and for others. The first and best discipline to do this is during your daily devotions. As an apologist, my devotion time is critical, as it would be easy to slip into a habit of faith-defending without love. However, a few years ago, I noticed that even my devotions started to become a rote exercise. My prayer time would be dominated by my requests and my reading was all about quickly finishing the chapter so I could move onto something else.
In order to break out of this habit, I decided to be more deliberate in approaching my prayer time. I liked the ACTS outline of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) but needed a grid in which to place it. So, I came up with the following outline that I keep in my Bible and update monthly. I've created a downloadable template for you to save and use for your own devotion times. You can grab either the PDF or the editable Word version. Fill it in, print it out and keep a folded paper copy in your Bible to use each morning. Then, update it each month.
Here's my approach:
1. Contemplating the Nature of God through the Names of GodIn God's word, God reveals different aspects of who he is through the various names he uses for himself. So I took eleven different names of God and laid them out in a two-week grid — one for each weekday and a dual-meaning name for Saturday and Sunday. I then contemplate in my prayers the different ways God fulfills the attributes of the "name of the day."
For example, if I am thinking about "Jehovah Sabbaoth - The Lord of Hosts," I contemplate how my holy God s the God over the armies. He can command legions of angels. He is the one who nothing or no one can overwhelm. I let me mind work on that aspect o God's character and I see if I can find new ways of understanding God as the Lord of hosts. Because this is a two-week cycle, it keeps my thoughts about God fresh and my desire to more keenly understand him.
2. Contemplate the Cross and the Sacrifice of SalvationComing to the Cross is hugely important. I think about Jesus and what it meant for him to give his back to the torturers. I think about his taking my sin upon himself. I think as a father with children about the sacrifice the Father made as he gave his beloved son to die so that I may live.
3. Ask for forgiveness of sins.This is the place where I review and confesses my sins. It may be something big or small, but even a sin of hubris or not trusting should be honestly offered here. Make sure you use the Christian's bar of soap (1 John 1:9)!
4. Give thanks for blessings.We all have more to be thankful for than what we can imagine. I normally open my eyes during this part of my devotional time, so I can be reminded of the many blessings I do have. When I do devotions outside, this drives me to be thankful for God's creation and the oxygen in my lungs.
5. Pray for self.Here's where I begin the Supplication area. First, I pray I would reflect Jesus in what I say and what I do and what I think. I want to see others the way Jesus would see them. I then pray of my responsibility as a father, as a Christian witness, and any immediate needs I have.
6. Pray for family membersNext, I list out each immediate family member and pray for then. Usually, I pick four or five areas that I pray for. I always try to make sure I think about how can God change/use myself to be more effective in helping them as opposed to "change this thing I don't like" kinds of prayers. Also, because I update this list monthly, it is god practice to come up to your spouse and your children and ask them "What can pray for for you this month?" This ai a great way to stay in touch with your kids and hear what's critical in their, lives.
7. Pray for ministry/job/household finances, etc.After I've prayed for people, I thin pray for my job or ministry, any financial issues, any difficulties our family may be facing, and other issues affecting us.
8. Weekly rotating prayer for communityLastly, I use a one week rotation of specific, focused prayer for the larger community. The breakdown is below and also on the template:
- Mon - Church
- Tues - Martyrs & those suffering
- Wed - Government and elected officials
- Thurs - Apologetics ministries
- Fri - Educational institutions
- Sat/Sun — special requests