I’m on a mission to help people slow down and to carve out space to simply ‘be’ in a world that pulls us into constant distraction, busyness and the pursuit of elusive forms of success that involve constantly moving and chasing the things that are always just out of reach. To get there I’m a big fan of helping people to discover practices like silence, meditation, mindfulness, and for those who align with the Christian faith, a regular space that we often call devotional time – dedicated individual time in prayer and scripture reading. It’s that last one that I want to focus on in this article.
Us Christians verbalise values around time spent in scripture and prayer yet often experience a sense of guilt because we feel like we’re not measuring up to some sort of saintly pursuit of these things. It can be a trap to look at pillars of the faith like John Wesley (where my own faith tradition stems from) who got up at stupid o’clock to spend hours of devotional time in prayer (I admire Wesley and his devotion to prayer immensely. His discipline to get up at the hour he did was phenomenal) and scripture reading and to then not bother because that mountain seems too big to climb.
Or maybe we’ve picked up an impression somewhere that our devotional time is supposed to open up experiences of warm fuzzies, angelic choirs, and heavenly light accompanying the occassional deep, ethereal voice imparting eternal wisdom to our inner soul… yet our real experience has been mundane and full of distraction.
Well, allow me to be a hopeful realist. If you dedicate yourself to a regular rhythm of devotional time it is going to, by and large be mundane, boring, and may very well seem like a complete waste most of the time. Of course you may experience something deeper, but many won’t. That said, it is my sincere (this is where the hopeful bit of my realism comes out) belief that over time, if the devotional space is done well you’ll look back over the slow, meandering path where you engaged in one disciplined step after another to move along the path, and you’ll see a strand of change. Maybe it will be an adjusted outlook on life, maybe a change in your mood responses, maybe you’ll see others slightly differently or maybe it’ll just be the development of a consistent discipline that could only take place if you regularly said yes to doing it yet again.
I regularly get asked how to start a rhythm of devotional time. Often I’ll spend a bit of time getting a sense for what sort of time/space a person has available and what their inclinations are before making recommendations, but there are some things I find myself consistently recommending now because time and again, when asked about devotional time, I’m encountering busy, distracted people.
So if you’re looking to creating a regular rhythm of devotional time in prayer and scripture, here are a couple of ‘tools’ I would recommend that will only require 20-25 minutes (combined) of your day.
1. PAYG (PRAY AS YOU GO)
PAYG is a website/app created and maintained by Jesuit Ministries in Britain. Via the website or one of the available apps, it offers a short (10-15 minute) guided devotional time working through music, scripture, thought promptings and prayer. It is steeped in Ignatian spirituality and follows the Catholic liturgical calendar, which largely aligns with the Revised Common Lectionary that we follow for scripture readings and determining the time of the Christian festivals at Commoners (the local church I am part of). It offers other guided devotional times, but its daily offering is as simple as opening the website or app, hitting play on the day’s offering, and allowing yourself to be guided through it. Setting aside a specific time each day (the morning is great as it can set the tone for your day) to sit quietly with this, is a great way to begin engaging in a regular practice of devotional time.
Headspace is not specifically Christian (Andy Puddiccombe, the man behind Headspace, is a Tibetan Buddhist) but I believe that your mind is a gift and of significant importance in cultivating a healthy spiritual life (Romans 12:2) and I’m therefore convinced of the value of something like Headspace within that journey.
We live in a world that can create a lot of stress on our mind through constant noise and distraction. Learning to still ourselves, bring ourselves into the moment and become comfortable with silence is not only healthy, but critical in learning to get the best from a devotional time. For this reason I often recommend the free guided 10 minute offerings within Headspace as something to couple with your use of PAYG or anything else.
The rest of Headspace’s material requires a subscription, but as part of a devotional time the free 10 minute guided times of mindfulness are all that is needed.
If you struggle to carve out 20 – 25 minutes a day, consider getting up a little earlier each day. It may require also going to bed a little earlier. If that’s not practical then it might be worthwhile splitting the use of these two apps to different times of the day. So you may wish to have a devotional time with PAYG at the start of the day and use Headspace later.
If you use them together, see what works for you. Stilling yourself with Headspace may be good before using PAYG, or it may work best for you the other way around. Go with whatever works and is easiest to get that daily rhythm started. Something is better than nothing.
There are plenty of books that offer daily devotional times – offices – and the development of spiritual rhythms. Many are very complicated. There are 2 that I would recommend if simplicity is the key for you getting started. Seeking God’s Face (I use Seeking God’s Face daily, and we also use it as a family in the evening after dinner) and The Hare and the Tortoise (less a daily devotional and more a guided 12 month journey into developing spiritual rhythms). Either of those will set you on the path of a regular rhythm.
Of course, there are plenty of other options out there for developing a regular daily devotional time (journaling and colouring can be great additions), these are just some that I recommend regularly. Whatever you choose, stick at it. If you miss it from time to time, don’t beat yourself up. It’s not a test. This is a whole of life thing.
If you keep going with it you’ll feel good about being disciplined. Over time if it’s done well, I’m sure you’ll see some changes in yourself even if it feels like a waste of time in the moment. You don’t have to be a spiritual giant getting up at silly times of the morning and spending hours on your knees in order to have a meaningful and rich spiritual life regularly spent in scripture, prayer and silence.
If there are other guided devotional times you would recommend, feel free to leave a comment.