It is a Friday morning; I am kneeling by my bed. My Bible is to my right and my to do list is on my left. I really feel the need to have a long season of prayer, heart-to-heart talk with Jesus about my troubles, my family, my life and probably ten other important matters. Instead, I am asking Him if I can have a raincheck till later (whenever that is). I am telling him about all the details of everything I have to do that day and I have to do it all before sunset. This was supposed to be my light week. Why am I always so busy?
There has to be some way to maintain a strong devotional life and be busy at the same time. If it were not possible, many biblical personalities would not have made it into the Bible. Joseph was second-in-command in Egypt; he had to lead a busy life (Genesis 41:43). Daniel was a statesman in Babylon and Medo-Persia and he still managed to have prayer three times a day (Daniel 6:10). David was the king of Israel and still found time to author 75 Psalms. And of course there is Jesus. I can probably think of ten other people who had a strong devotional life and lived very busy lives. In fact, I think I would have a harder time coming up with a list of people who had a strong relationship with God and were not very busy! After some Bible study, prayer and much guidance from the Holy Spirit I came up with some answers on how to have a strong devotional life while coping with our dreaded to do lists.
What is the Danger in Excessive Busyness?
It is so easy to fall enslaved to the to do list. It is so easy to say, “I have a busy day. I will take care of what I have to do today and I will have my devotional time later tonight. If I cannot have devotions tonight I will double the time tomorrow.” The problem is that catching up on devotional time is similar to catching up on sleep; you never really catch up, you just catch up enough to make you functional again. Then there are the times when we have a busy week, which sometimes turns into a busy month, which may turn into a busy year. It is easy to say “Once I get over this rough patch I will recommit myself to God,” but the problem is the more success I have in accomplishing things the more things I have to accomplish in the future.
The devotional life can become one of peaks and valleys where some periods of time consist of a strong connection to God and other time periods consist of no connection to God. It is dangerous to live like this spiritually. Reading the Bible is just as important as eating (Matthew 4:4). The Bible says a Christian should pray all the time (1 Thessalonians 5:17, Luke 18:1). In fact, your devotional life is a major factor of your success in accomplishing all the things on your to do list (Psalm 1:1-3, Joshua 1:8). With this in mind it is easy to see why taking a day off from one’s devotions could be detrimental to spiritual growth.
Jesus said our spiritual lives could become totally unfruitful if we focus too much on the cares of this world. in other words our to do lists(Matthew 13:22). It is one of Satan’s traps to keep us from being connected with God. Furthermore, God makes it clear that he is not okay with being put on the backburner while we pursue other interests, ambitions, and projects in life (Haggai 1:5-9). But what are we supposed to do, nothing except have devotions? Many of the things that keep us busy are good things such as work, school, ministry at church, and raising our kids. How do we excel at both, to have a vibrant devotional life as well as take care of the everyday duties of life?
Tips for Controlling the To Do List
I have noticed that what tempts me to put my to do list before God is not the list itself but how the list makes me feel. I feel that everything on the list is important. I feel like all these things should be done today. I feel like I do not have any time for anything else. I may even feel that I have already taken too much time to write articles like this one. The Bible encourages us to cast all of our cares on Jesus in prayer (1 Peter 5:7). Our level of prayer about our to do list should correspond to our level of worry. Protestant Reformer Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “I have so much to do I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” This is difficult because it is the complete opposite of my natural inclination. We must recognize that we have no power of ourselves and everything we have comes from God (1 Chronicles 29:14-15). Therefore we should pray until we have peace about the day (Philippians 4:6-7).
2. Being Wise With Your Time
I know we all have busy schedules but I think if we really did an inventory of how we use our time we will all find some time where we are doing things that are not urgent and are not relevant to our success in life. Whether it is playing a game on our cell phone, looking at someone’s profile on social media, or spending time in unproductive conversation we can all find a few extra moments in the day to spend some meaningful time with God. Making time for God could be as easy as not making time for other things. If planned correctly, time with God can be spent while doing everyday things such as sitting in traffic. The Bible says that we should be careful how we live, and we should understand God’s will for our lives (Ephesians 5:15-17). If we heed this advice when it comes to devotional time God will show us when he wants us to spend time with Him.
Even after careful planning there may not be a “convenient” time to do our daily devotion. This does not mean it should be neglected. We have many responsibilities in life but our relationship with God should not suffer because of them (Luke 10:38-42). In Mark 1 Jesus spent all night in Capernaum healing people with different ailments. Early the next morning he got up before everyone else and went to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:32-35). Jesus sacrificed sleep to communicate with God. In Matthew 14 he did the same thing after feeding +5,000 people. That time he went to a mountainside to pray alone (Matthew 14:22-23). Jesus was perhaps the busiest man in Scripture (John 21:25) but he always found one-on-one time with the Father. He had a priority list and the Father was always at the top. We must follow Jesus’ example even if it means getting up early or staying up late.
4. Taking Advantage of the Sabbath
The Sabbath is great when it comes to renewing our devotional life because it is our twenty-four hour date with God. It is one day out the week where our to do list should have no power. Sabbath is a time for rest, but is it also a time for connecting with God. Sabbath can be tricky because if one is not careful it could become the busiest day of the week. It can become cluttered with church activities, potlucks, family time, and napping. These are all great things to do on the Sabbath but these things could take away from our one-on-one time with Jesus. It is important to seek God’s will during this time and be wise about how we spend these precious hours. Sabbath is an excellent opportunity to spend an adequate amount of one on one time with Jesus. Jesus invites us to do this and to rest in Him. (Matthew 11:28-30)
5. Trusting God with your schedule
Sometimes no matter how hard we plan and calculate there really is not enough time in the day. There is so much to do and it is so urgent that we feel trapped by our schedule. We simply do not have time for ourselves and we do not have time for God. What do we do then? My advice would be to give God your time anyway. Many things in the Christian life are rooted in faith. We give back to God 10% of our money because we believe that he can do more with 90% of our money than we can do with 100% of our money. We obey God by resting one day a week because we believe that he can help us accomplish more in six days than we can accomplish in seven days by ourselves.
The same thing is true with our devotional lives. At the end of the day we have to believe God when he says that time with Him is more important than anything else we do during the day. We also have to believe that he is bigger than our to do list, bigger than our deadlines, and bigger than whatever else is keeping us from spending time with Him. Jesus promises that if we seek Him everything else will fall into place (Matthew 6:33). Jesus told us not to worry about the future either (Matthew 6:34). Sometimes everything we do today is so that we can be okay tomorrow. The irony is tomorrow is not promised to us. Perhaps the busiest people in the Bible had the best relationships with God because they understood that the more things they had to do, the more they needed God’s help to handle those things. Maybe we should adopt this same attitude.
In conclusion, these tips have been helpful for me in my own personal life and I hope all learn to nurture a thriving devotional life. Remember, control your to do list; never let it control you.
Acknowledgments to Ingram London, Isaiah Williams, and Thomas Kelly for spiritual guidance as it relates to this article.