Rev. Kleyn is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Edgerton, Minnesota

The one aspect of our spiritual life which we most frequently neglect in any given day, it seems, is the time we should spend alone reading the Scriptures and praying to God. We skip right over this. At the most we perhaps utter a quick, short prayer — if we remember. And sometimes we begin and end the day without spending a single moment alone with God. This can only mean that we think it is possible for us to survive spiritually without God. The Bible at our bedside falls into disuse and collects dust. And worse still, our souls languish. Our spiritual life suffers. While God never forgets us, we constantly forget Him.

The excuse we usually have is that we are way too busy. Perhaps we find enough time for regular family devotions. (I certainly hope we do, and especially that fathers see to it that this is done. For even this, it seems, is being lost.) But what about regular private devotions? Do we take the time each day for them? Or do we satisfy ourselves with the idea that the reading of Scripture and prayer as a family will suffice? Do we allow family devotions to be a substitute for daily private devotions?

To say that we are too busy is a sad excuse — and wrong too. For the fact of the matter is that it is exactly because we are so busy that we need, more than ever, to have private devotions.

It is certainly true that our lives in this world are busy, often very busy. And it is also true that much of our busyness is legitimate, such as daily work outside the home as husbands and fathers, and daily work in the home as wives and mothers. In addition to that, there is the extra work done by men who are on consistory, by men who are on school boards, by women involved in ladies’ circles, and so on. But from all this busyness we need a rest. For this reason we take a day or two off work, we take a vacation, we participate in recreational activities.

What we forget, however, is the kind of rest that we really need, and that we need every day — spiritual rest. This is the rest that gives us the strength and courage to go on in life. This is the rest that helps us have the proper perspective and obedience to God in all our work. Without that, all our work is in vain. This is the rest, in other words, that enables us to continue in our pilgrimage through this life with our heavenly Father at our side.

When we speak of personal or private devotions we are referring to the time that the child of God takes privately to read and study the Scriptures, and privately to pray. He or she does this in addition to the time that the family, as a family, spends doing it. He or she does this in addition to the time spent preparing for Bible Study. A child or teenager does this in addition to the time spent preparing for Catechism lessons. A minister of the gospel does this in addition to the time he spends studying the Scriptures in preparation for preaching, for visiting, for counseling, for catechism teaching, and for Bible studies.

Personal devotions are worship. Consciously we enter the presence of Jehovah to listen to Him speak to us through His Word. And consciously we speak to Him through our prayers. Such devotions are therefore covenant fellowship with our God.

The necessity of regular personal devotions can be demonstrated by a comparison to the need of regularly eating food. One who neglects prayer and the study of Scripture is like the person who fails to eat. Such a person does not receive the necessary nourishment for his physical body. Very soon he becomes weak and sickly and loses the ability to live a normal, healthy life. He will not survive very long at all. He will die.

That applies to us spiritually. The Word of God and prayer are food for our souls. The Scriptures themselves indicate this (I Cor. 3, I Pet. 2). To neglect the spiritual food which God provides is to starve our souls. What we need to do is to be just as regular with the reading of Scripture and with prayer as we are with eating food. David was, for he confessed in Psalm 55:17: “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray.” Daniel also was, for of him we read that “he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God” (Dan. 6:10). These were not cases of family devotions, but personal. And each of these men did it three times a day!

Perhaps we feel that it isn’t so necessary to have private devotions because really we obtain enough spiritual nourishment by hearing two sermons each Sunday. We convince ourselves that that will be sufficient to uphold us spiritually throughout the week. But does that really work? Is it possible for a person to survive physically by eating food on only one day of the week? Is it any different spiritually? It isn’t! We need regular spiritual food. Our attitude should even be that we desire this more than we do our daily food. Job did. He said: “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).

Personal devotions are necessary because of the unique life each of us lives in this world. Each of us, on account of his unique character, his unique calling, and his unique circumstances in life, has unique personal needs and struggles. There are the needs that arise because of temptation and sin. Some are tempted to be covetous. Some are tempted by drunkenness. Some are tempted to hate a fellow saint. And then there are other struggles in life. Some struggle against depression. Some struggle because of loneliness or sickness. Some struggle because of troubles in their families. Each of us knows his own needs and struggles.

Some of these unique needs and struggles are known only to God. That is exactly why we need to commune privately with Him. He is our covenant Friend to whom we bring all our burdens.

In private prayer we are able to be very specific about our needs and struggles. We can also be specific about the needs and struggles that we know others in the church and in our families have. And not only are we able to be specific with regard to our needs, we can be specific also with regard to our thanks to our Father for His grace and help. This applies just as well to our reading and study of the Scriptures. We are able to read and meditate on these things privately in a way we cannot do publicly.

The Bible itself demonstrates how important the Word of God is for us. First of all, there is the well-known comparison of the Word of God to a lamp and a light (Ps. 119:105). As those who live in the darkness of sin and of this wicked world, we need this lamp to guide our feet. Without it we will surely stumble and fall.

The beauty of having the Word as our lamp and light is that, as we walk through this darkness, the Word sheds light on a different pathway, a new and a better pathway. Though all around us is darkness, the pathway on which we walk as guided by the Word of God is the pathway that leads to eternal life and glory.

The Scriptures are also compared to a weapon in warfare, namely a sword (Eph. 6:17). The implication, of course, is that we are soldiers in the battle of faith. We are fighting a spiritual warfare against great spiritual forces. We therefore need armor, both defensive and offensive. We are given one piece of offensive armor to fight that good fight of faith. It is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. But it is not enough for us simply to have in our possession the Bible as our sword. We must use it in battle. That is exactly why we need to study it and meditate upon it, so that we are ready and equipped to use it when the time for combat arises throughout the day.

The proper way of using the Bible in our personal devotions is not simply that we rapidly read a passage and then utter a quick prayer. One who does this is like the man who comes to the meal table and merely looks at the food. Without taking a single bite, he leaves the table imagining that he is full. That simply does not work — not with regard to physical food, nor with regard to spiritual food. After reading a passage of Scripture we need to study it in order to understand what it means. Only in this way does that Word become food for our souls.

Once we understand the meaning of the passage, we must also meditate on it. Such meditation on God’s Word includes many things. It is that part of our devotions which is a contemplation on the wonders of God as He reveals Himself to us in His Word. We consider the greatness of God Himself. We think on the marvelous works of God. We contemplate especially the depths of God’s work of grace toward us in and through Jesus Christ.

As part of meditation we make application of God’s Word to our own lives. We ask ourselves: “What is it that God teaches me in this passage concerning Himself and the blessed gospel of salvation in Christ? And how shall I, this day, praise my God for this? How shall I express thanks to Jehovah for the works of His grace in me?”

Finally, memorization can also be a very profitable tool in our meditation on the Word of God. Then we are able, throughout the day, to remind ourselves of what God says to us.

In connection with our study of God’s Word, we must also pray. Prayer is crucial to our spiritual welfare. Through it we have the privilege of speaking directly to our heavenly Father. We bring before Him all our needs and give thanks to Him for all His blessings. When we do this the Lord is pleased to give us what we need for our spiritual life.

The reading and study of the Word of God gives us, first of all, content for our prayers. However, the Scriptures also instruct us concerning the blessedness and necessity of prayer. Philippians 4:6, 7, for example, tell us that prayer is the solution for worry. Instead of worrying, we should pray. Instead of attempting to bear all our burdens on our own, we are to cast our cares upon Jehovah. If our lives are characterized by worry, the reason is that we have not prayed — or at least that we have not prayed sincerely and as we ought. Through prayer, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Much more could be said about how necessary prayer is for our spiritual welfare. Let us remember, at least, the following. Again and again in the Gospel accounts we read that our Lord Jesus Christ prayed. Sometimes He did so for hours on end. If He the eternal, sinless Son of God in our flesh needed to do so and did so, how much more ought not we?

By God’s grace, the child of God does not consider prayer and the reading of Scripture a mere duty. Amazingly, he desires to do this. He desires to be nourished by the Spirit of God through the Scriptures. He desires to express in prayer his thanks to God and to cast all his burdens on Jehovah. He desires to express through his study of the Scriptures and his prayers to God his dependence upon his heavenly Father. He seeks from God, through His Word, the blessing and leading that he knows he needs in his daily life. He begins every day by seeking that blessing. During the day he stops frequently from the busyness of life and again expresses his thanks and seeks the Lord’s guidance. And he ends the day in heartfelt thanksgiving to God for keeping him and guiding him through yet another day on his earthly pilgrimage.

He who regularly does this is one who, like Enoch and like Moses, walks with God. He realizes that he cannot walk alone in this dark world of sin and spiritual death. He needs the lamp of the Scriptures to guide him. He needs his God to lead and uphold him. He is conscious always of his need of Jehovah. And he depends constantly on Him.

As children of God we cannot afford not to set aside time every day for private devotions. It is our life. Regularity is the key. If we do not set aside a certain time each day, more than likely we will not do it. And it is good to remember, parents, that you have a responsibility with regard to your children in this. Not only must you instruct them concerning their personal devotions, but you should also be examples to them.

Is all of this difficult? Yes. It requires much work and effort. But through this means, God graciously and abundantly blesses. So read the Scriptures. Meditate on them. And pray!