Seven days of devotions to build hope in the valley

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Day One

How to spend time with God

“O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You.” Psalm  63:1 (NKJV)

Consistency trumps methods all day long when you’re connecting with God. You can have the greatest plan to connect with Him, but if you do not seek God often, then you will not grow spiritually. With that being said, it is good to have some practical tips on how you can spend your time with God. The ideas below are not to be followed religiously but used as a guide until you find your own stride in your relationship with Christ.

Prioritize a specific time
The best intentions without prioritization are dreams never realized. Put a specific time on your calendar as God Time, even if it is only 10 minutes. Many people find that early in the morning is best. Seeking God early can set your day focused on the right things.

Eliminate distractions
A person you’re spending quality time with wouldn’t like your face to be buried in a screen while trying to have a conversation, and quality time with God does not happen when you’re distracted. Turn off your phone, email alerts and the TV, and hear the voice of God.

Start out in prayer by being grateful to God and humbling your life to God. Getting your heart right is vital. Playing a worship song as you pray can also get your heart in position to receive from God.

Pick a chapter or two and let it all sink in. The goal is not to check something off a list but rather to hear from God. Great reading plans are available through the Bible app or you can go to Bible.com. These plans can be a great way to keep you focused. Also, the book of John in the New Testament is a great place to start. And a great devotional book, like My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers, is a great supplement (not replacement) to the Bible.

As you read the Bible, underline things you can apply to your life. The goal of reading is to draw close to God, and as you do so, He will make you more into His image, changing things in your life that do not reflect His character. Don’t fight change, embrace it.

Close your time with God by committing to put into action the things you read and honor Him throughout your day. The goal is not to instruct God on your needs; it is to hear from and obey Him. He wants you to bring your needs to Him, but don’t make that the focus. Drawing near to Him and becoming like Christ is the goal.
Action Steps
  • Read: Matthew 6:5-15; 6:25-34
  • Answer: What is your biggest obstacle to spending time with God? What can you do today to begin overcoming that obstacle?
Day Two

Food for your soul

“People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4

The illustration from this verse shatters the spiritual norms. Jesus is saying that as much as we need food, we need the Word of God. We cannot live long physically without food, and we cannot stay passionate for God when we don’t eat spiritually.

How do you view the Bible? Is it a collection of some good sayings? Is it a book you read to clear your conscience? Or is the Bible as valuable as food, the very thing by which you live your life and the oxygen to your soul? When the Word of God becomes that important to you, it will change your life and fill your spirit.

My wife cooks a great, well-balanced meal plan. Some meals take 30 minutes, some take two hours, and on some occasions we will heat up leftovers. I think when it comes to reading the Bible, we think unless we have the time to cook up a spiritual filet mignon, then we don’t stop to eat. Our Bible sits and collects dust on the shelf because we don’t think we have the time to do it justice.

Just like in our lives, sometimes we sit down for a long meal, and sometimes we grab grub on the fly. The point is: It’s vital that we eat!

God knows what you need spiritually. If you commit to connecting with God consistently, then He will give you the spiritual food you need. Consistency is the key to going to the next level in your relationship with God.

Do not neglect the Bible, for it is the exact thing that will sustain you spiritually.

Action Steps
  • Read: Hebrews 4:12-16
  • Answer: How much do you value the Word of God? Have you let the Bible change your life and fill your spirit?
Day Three

Apply just one thing to your life

“The one thing I ask of the Lord the thing I seek most  is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” -Psalm 27:4

When I was in Bible college, I had a plan to be a great golfer in my future church. I thought all great pastors must be good at golf, so I took a PE elective in Golfing 101. Yet, I quickly realized I was horrible, and I was not getting better. As much as I wanted to hit that little white ball effectively, I just couldn’t.

I learned that one of the challenges for a beginner golfer is that they are trying to implement the 25 things the instructor just told them in a 1.5-second golf swing. I had a golf pro coach me once and he told me to think about just one thing as I am swinging. Once I got that one thing down, I could move on to the next thing. This made a tremendous difference.

When we are reading the Bible, we may come across several things: a promise from God to hold onto, a character issue to work on or a spiritual principle we never knew about. In our desire to do everything God wants us to do, we never really focus on making anything that we just read a part of our lives. We could read as many as 10 chapters and not take away any one thing.

As you are connecting with God, I want to encourage you to pick one of the things God is bringing to the surface and focus on applying it to your life. Write down that one thing and put it in a place where you will see it. Every time you spend time with God, come away with that one thing.

Over time, you will look back and be astounded by your progress.

Action Steps
  • Read: 2 Peter 1:3-11
  • Answer: What is one thing God is asking you to apply to your life today?
Day Four

It's quality over quantity

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” Matthew 6:7

More is not always better. We know this – we can go to an all-you-can-eat buffet and have all the food we want, yet not be overly impressed with any of it. Sometimes less is more. The most expensive restaurants are the ones that oftentimes serve the least amount of food on the plate.

We often think that if we just read enough of the Bible we will grow spiritually. This is not necessarily true because we can read something without letting it sink into our heart. When we spend time with God, the goal is not how much or how long but rather how effectively we are letting it sink in and change us. The Old Testament talks about seeking God’s face. This is indicating a heartfelt pursuit, not a stale obligation.

The Bible, as talked about in Ephesians 6, is known as an offensive weapon in our arsenal. It has the power to encourage, lift up, change mindsets, provoke us to forgive, empower us to turn away from sin, strengthen us to live with purity and help us stand for integrity.

However, if we are allowing our eyes to glance across the pages without the words penetrating our soul, we are just performing another religious activity. I would rather see someone seek God for 10 minutes with all of their heart than one hour with a sidetracked mind.

When you seek God, make it count!

Action Steps
  • Read: Ephesians 6
  • Answer: Whether it’s 10 minutes or one hour, what is the best part of your day that you can dedicate to God?
Day Five

Worship the One who won it all

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name.” -Psalm 100:4

Can you imagine what it would be like to be at the Super Bowl, your favorite team is playing, and after the game-winning touchdown, none of the fans cheered? That is inconceivable! The inward joy from your team winning the greatest prize would cause you to erupt with external expression.

This is an illustration of how simple it is to sing worship songs to God. It is not complicated. When you are grateful for God paying the price for your ultimate prize – salvation – you can’t help but do something. True worship always starts with your heart. Because of the internal gratitude, external expression is automatic.

It is always comical to me how we can cheer, clap and lift our hands so quickly over sports, but when it comes to the worship portion of a church service or our personal time with God at home, it seems more like a funeral.

My goal is not to get people to act crazy; rather, it is for them to see how simplistic worship is. You are happy for what He has done, so you react with praise. Next time you’re singing songs to God, think about what He did for you. It will cause you to forget who is around and focus on Him.

Worship is a critical part of our lives, both in our personal time with God and at church. We must get our eyes off of our circumstances, successes and failures, and fix them on God. It’s when we begin to look up in worship that the shackles and weights that hold us back in life begin to fall off.

If you have not made worship a part of your Monday-through- Saturday routine, then put on some worship music and sing to God with a grateful heart. Next time you’re in church, fix your eyes on the One who won it all for you. Singing songs at church is not intended for you to pass time or look religious; it is to give you an opportunity to connect with God in a profound way.

Singing worship songs to God is simple: He won for us, so we celebrate Him.

Action Steps
  • Read: Psalm 95
  • Answer: How can you make worship a part of your everyday routine and not just something you do on Sundays at church?
Day Six

Hope comes from Him

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” Proverbs 13:12

Hope is a powerful force. With it, we are on top of the world. Without it, we are down and discouraged.

I have heard it said that hope is the favorable expectation of something good. One principle we must grab a hold of, if we want to stay stable and faith-filled, is that our hope operates independently from our circumstances. If we are only filled with hope and joy when things are going well, then we will be riding a horrible rollercoaster.

Where does true hope come from? Psalm 62:1-2 says, “I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.”

Our hope must be anchored in God. He is our victory. We win in the end. Heaven is our destination. Anything we face now is only temporary compared to an eternity with God.

When our hope is rooted in the Fortress that will never be shaken, we can face life’s ups and downs with constant confidence. This is not a fake or manufactured joy. We may not be happy with everything that happens in life, but that will not steal our hope on the inside.

We must make a choice to place our hope in Christ alone, instead of the fickle circumstances and feelings we all have. Make the decision today to place your hope in Him alone.

Action Steps
  • Read: Romans 15:1-13
  • Answer: Do you truly place your hope in God even when the circumstances surrounding you are not good? If not, how can you do so today?
Day Seven

Look up and you can get up

“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” -Colossians 3:2

There is an old proverb that tells the story of a mule that fell into a dried-up well. The farmer didn’t see much worth in either, so he gathered some neighbors to help bury the mule.

To everyone’s amazement, with each shovel full of dirt thrown on the mule, he shook it off and took a step up. Eventually, the mule climbed right out of the hole because he didn’t let the dirt stay on him. He used it to take a step each time.

In life, we will face things that have the potential to keep us down, but we need to fight back with the Word of God. The passage above has helped me for years to not focus on the discouragement and disappointment that was flung my way but rather see the great things that God has for me. When we watch the news, get a bad report, have relational conflict or struggle financially, it is easy to get down. But when we look up, we can get up.

In Genesis 15:5, God tried to encourage Abram: “Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, ‘Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!'” God had to get Abram out of his tent, his negative mindset and his discouraged place to see what God saw.

I want to encourage you to set your mind on things above. Set your mind on being forgiven, restored, given a new beginning, bursting with a thriving relationship with God, and filled with peace. God has great things in store for you, but we can forfeit His favor when all we focus on is the dirt being flung on top of us.

It is all about what you make bigger in your life. Is your problem bigger than your God? Decide today to make God big.

Today is the day to look up and it won’t be long before you get up.

Action Steps
  • Read: Philippians 4:4-19
  • Answer: How do you think your attitude would change if you began each day by thinking about anything that is excellent or praiseworthy?
Finding hope through the valley