The importance of a daily time alone with God
By Martin Holdt
Is there a Biblical basis for private devotions? Is it not enough to be fed with truth from a sound pulpit ministry? If there is public praying, does there need to be private praying?
The Biblical basis
In the life of the first Adam, there was interpersonal communication between Adam and his Creator. It was a two-way conversation with God. If prayer is talking with God, then Adam did exactly that. Before there was ever such a thing as a church, there was interpersonal fellowship between God and man. Take note of the fact that God spoke to Adam, Adam heard and understood, and must have responded. Genesis 2v16, 3v8-9. Personal private communion with God, inclusive of prayer, is a feature in the lives of people in the Old Testament. The patriarchs experienced these personal dealings between God and them. Moses did, and spent more time alone with God than most, if not all, the prophets of the Old Testament. David encouraged himself in the Lord on a regular basis and even spoke of praising God seven times a day. Daniel maintained his close walk with God by making it a habit three times a day to commune with his Lord. Daniel 6v10 “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chambers open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” God’s people who lived before Christ experienced what it was to have God talk with them and for them to talk back to God.
Then came the second Adam. His name was Jesus Christ. With an enormously busy program, note the significance of Mark 1v35 “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” This verse seen in its context, clearly shows that Jesus was in constant demand as crowds sought his attention. He was the busiest man on earth then and the busiest person who has ever lived in this world. Yet, He deemed privacy with his Father in prayer so important that when one might well think he ought to be sleeping, he got up to be alone with his Father. Surely we are to follow in His steps. How?
The Discipline of Time
It is important that we should realize that while there is such a thing as too little sleep, there is also the danger of oversleep. Proverbs 24v30-34 reads as follows: “I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” God is telling us not to oversleep. An old booklet on the quiet time has the following to say: “Go to bed in time! Late nights are the relentless enemy of the Quiet Time. It is physically impossible habitually to sit up to the small hours of the morning talking with one’s friends and then to get up each morning fit for a proper Quiet Time. The devil will fight a man here. He must be fought back. Here lies the initial victory. Pray the night before about your getting up. As for getting up, Dr Holden used to stress the fact that all that is required is a ‘momentary act of the will”. Once the bedclothes are off it is scarcely worth going back to bed again. The battle is lost or won during the few seconds which elapse between waking and a purposeful movement of hand or foot. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said the following: “Certainly our Lord Jesus Christ rose up early and went alone in the dark to pray, because he loved to put prayer first of all. He would go nowhere till He had prayed. He would attempt nothing till he had prayed. He would not cast out a devil, he would not preach a sermon, he would work no cure, however necessary, however profitable, until first of all he had drawn near to God. Take good heed unto yourself, my brother, that you follow the same rule. Look no man in the face till you have seen the face of God. Speak with none till you has had speech with the Most High. Go not to your labour with your loins ungirded with the girdle of devotion, lest you fail therein. Take not yourself to running till you have in prayer laid aside every weight, lest you lose the race. We cannot, we must not, think of entering upon a day, or upon an enterprise, without first saying, “Bring here the ephod: let us ask counsel of the Lord!” We can do nothing without our God; let us attempt nothing without Him. So the Saviour rose a great while before day, and got alone with his God, that for Him prayer might perfume the morning’s dew, and sweeten the first breath of the dawn.
Will this not make us tired? Will we cope with the demands of the day? God has promised to those who wait on Him and look to Him that He will give them strength when the threat of exhaustion is there. Isaiah 40v29-31 “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 50v4b “Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”
The importance of method
Many people do not enjoy a good quiet time because they do not have a constructive method which stimulates thought and enables an enjoyable time of communion with God. The famous George Müller read the Scriptures consecutively and would only pray when he had had a time of rich study in God’s Word. One well-known preacher uses the book “Search the Scriptures” which covers the Bible in three years by giving a passage for study each day. Using this with a notebook can be extremely helpful. The famous American evangelist DL Moody studied the Scriptures topically as with the help of a concordance. He would look up all the verses relating to a subject whether that subject was love, faith, patience, world, or any theme of importance. Dr Stephen Olford highly recommended a passage of 10-15 verses a day, read three times followed by personal reflections in a notebook with a heading “Lord Jesus, you have said to me.” Whichever method is used, it is important that having read the Scriptures each day, we should know what God is saying to us and that the Scriptures are warming our hearts. Beware of using only devotional books which often have one single verse with a comment and nothing more. While there are many valuable devotional books, they are not enough. Discover a method that most suits you and that gives you the greatest delight in the Word of God. If you read the Scriptures consecutively, reading four chapters a day will take you through the Bible in less than a year. Using a pen and ruler to underline words and verses that strike you will help to keep your attention. I testify to the enormous benefits of this method!
Having read the Scriptures, it is important that you should respond to what you have read as you will worship God for things that have been revealed to you about His person, respond to verses which have brought you under conviction of the sins of omission and commission, plead with God to enable you to do those things which in your reading amount to God’s commands to you, and then to thank God for the richness of the Scriptures. Having done this, pray objectively. Jesus did. He knew what He wanted the Father to do, and when, for example, you look at John 17 which is the high priestly prayer of Jesus, you will realise that the content teaches that Jesus knew exactly what He wanted the Father to cause to happen.
The apostle Paul did that, as he could tell each church to whom he wrote that he was praying for them and how he was doing it. While some dismiss this as ‘shopping list praying’, it at least gives objectivity to prayers. I use a small notebook and work through it each morning. It has the names of all the members and adherents of our church; it has the record of a few missionaries and ministers as well as my family and other matters for which I believe I need to pray every day. It includes personal pleas for the fullness and anointing of the Holy Spirit over my life, for deliverance from evil and for a divine enablement to do the will of God. It even has the names of some people who may not have been very kind to me, but for whom I am duty-bound to pray, which we learn from Job 42v10 “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
When possible, it is important to pray aloud. Jesus must have been overheard for his prayers to have been recorded, when the Holy Spirit brought these to the attention of the apostles who in later years wrote the Scriptures. Charles Haddon Spurgeon had something to say about praying aloud: “I suppose, too, that our Lord loved to be alone that He might pray aloud. It is not necessary to pray with the voice: it is sometimes highly undesirable that you should pray aloud: but yet, as a rule, you will find it greatly advantageous to yourself to use your voice as well as your mind in prayer.
I speak what I have often proved. I am accustomed to pray without uttering a single sound; but I find a relief and a stimulus in occasionally ‘crying aloud’. In a lone spot where I shall not be heard, I find it an intense delight to pour out my heart aloud, using words and exclamations whereby the spirit expresses itself with freedom and force. I think that the Saviour, who was intensely human, felt much rest in the unrestrained pouring out of his heart and soul before his Father. He was supremely human as he was certainly divine; and I do not doubt that it was a comfort to Him to arouse the hills with His praises, startle the glens with His groans, and put a tongue into every bush and tuft by His strong cryings and tears. All nature was akin to Him, and the desert places were meet chambers for His great soul, wherein as in His own house ‘the holy child Jesus’ might speak with the Father face to face. I recommend to you who would attain to high communion with the Eternal that, as often as you can, you get so far afield as to be able to pray aloud, and use the unrestrained voice in prayer. ‘My voice shall You hear in the morning, o God’, David continually speaks of crying with his voice unto God. It is not essential, but it is often helpful.
Prayer must always end with thanksgiving. Note Philippians 4v6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God.” For all our complaints, there is so much to be thankful for. For every setback, there are a thousand blessings from God. How frequently do we thank Him for it?
Pray regularly. Daniel did, three times a day, when all alone with God he poured out his heart. David did this seven times a day. H.T. de Villiers was a great and godly man and preacher. Yet, he was not in the full time ministry! He was a very busy teacher, but he would rise at 03:00, early in the morning, to study the Scriptures and to pray. He was in demand as a preacher throughout South Africa, and his preaching was stunningly powerful and arresting. Why? Principally, because he knew what it meant to be alone with God. He was the epitome of what Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “It is the praying man that is the right preaching man, and if any of you long to do good to your fellowmen, you must begin on your knees. You cannot have power with man for God, until first you have power with God for man. Solitary prayer was the equipment for the Prince of Preachers when he came forth among the crowds; it is the best equipment for you also.
When you pray, always pray with a view to God’s glory. “Hallowed be your Name”, should govern all our praying. It is significant that when God threatened to bring deserved judgement upon the Israelites, Moses interceded and pleaded for God to relent on the grounds of God’s glory and reputation amongst the inhabitants of the world. This is so clearly taught in Exodus 32v9-12. In John 16v23 Jesus taught that answers to prayer are on the grounds of God being glorified in the Son. That motive should govern all our praying.
To conclude, take note of the following:
Make time to be alone with God, and ensure that it is the best time of your day.
Always begin with Scripture. Follow that up with prayer.
Spend ten minutes reading from a good Christian book or commentary. It is amazing what you can do in a matter of weeks and months even with such a small amount of reading Christian literature.
When you pray, write down the things you want to bring to God. It is said of Andrew Murray that he would never pray before he carefully thought about what he wanted to say to God.
Never end your personal praying without a hearty time of thanksgiving to God.
As an optional extra, sing a hymn or a Psalm.
It is man’s chief end to glorify God and to enjoy Him. It is inconceivable that anyone can enjoy God if that person is not frequently in fellowship with God.
Listen also to this sermon of Martin on the topic: