Does this ever happen to you? You sit down for your quiet time (yes, you’ve managed to hit the snooze button only once, got up before everyone else, you have your crispy new journal and your gel pens, and a warm cuppa – so you basically just hit a perfect mommy trifecta) and your mind does one of 2 things:
It either goes blank. Completely blank. Like the look your 9 year old give you when you ask him why he can’t just remember to put the toilet seat up.
Your mind goes in 50 different directions at once. Now, I am an expert juggler. For example, I am constantly juggling my out of control love for my children with how much they sometimes annoy me (oh please, I know I’m not the only mom who thinks that but never says it!). But juggling 20 thoughts at once does not a productive quiet time make. And if I just sit down and close my eyes and start “trying” to “focus”, my thoughts just run amuck. No matter how hard I try, I am making a grocery list, a to do list, a list of deadlines or dinner dates or a don’t forget list from the minute I sit down.
The other challenge is that in our content driven, content crazy, content overload world, it’s not only hard to switch off to the many distractions but it’s also hard to actually select and stay on a focussed path of spiritual progress. The constant beeping of your phone and the million options of blogs, books, bible-studies, devotions, podcasts can leave you overwhelmed and spiritually rudderless.
Sometimes the fact is that we are so overwhelmed by content and choice, that our quiet time struggle has more to do with a lack of focus than a lack of time.
I have struggled with all of the above as a confessed information junky with a minuscule attention span, and so I wanted to share with you today the super simple structure I stick to to stay focussed during those precious meeting times with God.
Find the right spot: build an altar, the place where you praise, worship, remember, give thanks, receive. Clear a space for your body and your mind. I know you are always last on the list Mom, but be unapologestic about this!
Get in the zone: I light a scented candle, take 5 deep breaths while pressing hard on my fingertips or squeezing a stress ball (don’t judge ok this works for me), and then start off with a prayer of adoration. I often find that my spirit is sluggish to start with, regardless of the time of day that I meet with God, so I write out scriptures and psalms of adoration in a prayer book to lead me into God’s presence and centre me in His will. I have it ready as I sit down to start and I read those prayers, out loud if I can.
Adoration reminds my soul who I am about to sit down with and breathes expectation into my spirit.
Eliminate (mental and physical) noise: My phone used to be the first thing I reached for when I woke up in the morning. Before sitting down to read my bible I would already know how many emails I had to respond to later that day. Not good for focus or motivation. I found that keeping it off until after my quiet time helps me to bring my thoughts in line with the priorities of God’s Kingdom, instead of the priorities of my own. I also have one of those handy little mini note paper stacks. The moment a thought/ to do/ person that I have to call’s name pops into my head I quickly write it down and set it aside so it doesn’t completely derail me.
Have a plan: If you are into devotionals, have that at the ready. If you’ve started off the year with different areas of your faith that you want to study and grow in (think grace, forgiveness, faith, contentment), take out your concordance as a starting point. Maybe you’ve chosen a book of the bible to do. That’s what I prefer. But the best thing is to know what works for you but whatever you do, make sure that God’s word is at the centre of it. Go for quality and not quantity.
Set yourself up to crave the word. Whatever you are reading during your personal devotions must be taking you deeper into being able to hear God’s voice in His word for yourself.
Have a back up plan: because: life. And because: snoozebutton. If I oversleep or had very little sleep the previous night, if I’m feeling particularly mentally overwhelmed or even if I know I only have 20 minutes instead of the hour and twenty I was hoping to spend, I reach for a Psalm. Every year, I pick 2 Psalms as my “go to Psalms”for that year. Yes, only 2. Some days truth be told a couple of bites of a Psalm is all I can handle. There! That’s my real sometimes Mommas! And I am ok with that. And you know what, I think God is too. Having a plan AND a back up plan means I never sit down and hit a blank during my quiet times.
Make it plain: As in, make your plan something you can see. This is probably the thing that has helped me stay on track the most. Think of it as the agenda for the meeting you are about to have with God. I use one of those weekly planner pads with the tear off sheets so I can update it when I need to (subscribe to the blog this week to recieve a handy personal devotional schedule printable for your desk!)). This goes onto a whiteboard in front of me. On here I record what I am focussing on or reading at the moment, as well as who I am praying for each day.
Mondays I pray for my husband and sons and our housekeeper
Tuesdays the people I mentor/ disciple and my close friends and their families
Wednesday is my extended family
Thursday I have the privelage to pray for family and friends who don’t yet walk with Jesus. I also pray for all the missionaries I know on Thursdays
Fridays are for my kids’ school, my church and my country. On Fridays I pray longer, hiehie!
Saturdays are for my personal prayers, plans and goals, my writing and work.
Having this list up means that when I have promised to pray about someone or something, I can easily add it to the right place on the list. I can stay on track during my prayer time as I know every day of the week who I am praying for and it helps me pray with purpose. I also record here what I’m reading, what my memory verse is that week (which I also put on Q cards and stick all over the house) and I also keep a “spill over” list if I already know what devotional or word study or book of the bible I want to do when I am done with the current one.
Record and engage: Maybe you journal. Maybe you don’t. But when I study the bible, I make notes. It helps with focus because it’s an activity that I am physically engaged in, as in I am not just sitting there, I am doing something. And in the front of my journal are the 4 things I look for each time I sit down to read the Bible, and this is what I write down. This is something my mom taught me to do when I was still very young. So, I look for
- Confirmations, commands, corrections and/ or promises from God
- Keywords (you know, those ones that just “jump out”
- Who is God (what elements of His character are evident in this scripture, what can I praise Him for?)
- Who am I (what does this passage highlight about me, things I must repent of or see about myself?)
This is also a handy rubric that our church distributes to assist people during their queit times (get the explanation here). Whatever “method” you choose, make sure it engages you mentally, spiritually and physically and helps you to develop a pattern of discipline during this precious time of devotion. As I engage with the content, I pray, I confess, I plead, and what I studied then forms the jump off point for a time of prayer, confession and supplication.
If the God of the universe tells you something, you should write it down – Henry Blackaby
Go forth and share: Telling someone what you have gained from your time with God is a great way of internalising that knowledge. What do you talk about with your girlfriends Momma? With my closest buddies we can go from talking about the latest and best liquid blusher (my latest obsession!) to what God is speaking to us about right now in the space of a 10 minute conversation. I pray that you are as immensely privelaged as I am to have such an inner circle of women!
Your intentional engagemet with God and His word will reap a harvest, not just for yourself but also for the people God has placed in your path.
February is looming and I am sure you , like me, had lots of ideas about staying on track spiritually this year. I hope that these inputs will help you, and please share in the comments other tips and tricks that you find valuable in keeping your focus during your time with God! If you are in that babies and toddlers lifestage and a set time of personal devotion seems about as out of reach for your as 12 hours of uninterupted sleep, I have hope and encouragement for you to, read here! And remember:
God delights in you and is more interested in you showing up to spend time with Him than in what you accomplish in your quiet time. Eventhough in the world our measurement is achievement (think before and after photos, activity trackers, reading the bible in one year, and to do lists) what God honors and has always honoured is discipline. Your relationship with Jesus is the light that will shine out of your life, pointing others home, pointing you home.
The amount of time we spend with Jesus, meditating on His Word and His majesty, seeking His face, establishes our fruitfulness in the Kingdom – Charles Stanley