by Dr Gavin D Williams

The spiritual giants of Christian history have one thing in common: they knew the importance of time alone with God. Read their life stories and you will discover they had learned that a disciplined devotional and prayer journey provides the key to a life of effectiveness in God's service.

Through many years of Christian ministry, I too have discovered the importance of a disciplined devotional life. In the early years I neglected my devotional journey. The resulting spiritual and emotional burnout almost brought my ministry to a close. I am very grateful that the Lord healed my heart before it was too late. In a very memorable way He challenged me to make prayer the priority of my life. For many years now I have had a regular 'appointment with Jesus' at 7.00am each morning. I have learned that when my devotional journey is disciplined and regular, so many other dimensions of my life flow much more effectively and my resistance to the attacks of the enemy is much stronger.

Several years ago as the Lord and I talked about this issue, He spoke an incredible word into my heart. I have never forgotten what He said. His words have become one of guiding principles of my personal life and ministry. Let me share it with you:

The disciplined life in the secret place sets the foundation for
effective ministry in the public place.

This paper is an introduction to the principles and practicalities of the personal devotional journey. We will begin by considering some of the key parts of the above statement. Then we will look to the Scripture to draw some examples of the principle. Finally we will consider some of the elements of an effective devotional life.

The Statement:

Look again at the statement above. There are four key elements in this sentence.

The disciplined life: The word 'discipline' speaks of order and commitment. A disciplined soldier is committed in obedience to his commander. The word 'disciple' comes from the same source. A disciplined life is well ordered. Such a person honours their commitments and keeps their word.

The secret place: This is an attitude of heart more than a physical place. It speaks of our desire to be alone with the Lord Jesus and to share intimate fellowship with Him. In that secret place we share with Him the realities of our lives. We listen as He speaks into those situations through His written Word or His spoken word to our hearts. In the secret place the Holy Spirit can work upon our lives to shape us more into the likeness of Jesus.

The foundation: My pre-ministry training was in the field of architecture. Early in my training I learned that a good foundation is the most important part of any structure. With a good foundation a building will stand strong and true. Neglect the foundation and the structure will fail. The same is true in Christian life and ministry. Our spiritual life begins in a personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. We grow in the things of the Spirit as we feed upon the Word of God and prayer in the 'secret place'. That time alone with Jesus is the foundation upon which all else depends.

Effective ministry in the public place: What is effective ministry? Here are a series of questions we may ask when seeking to determine if any ministry is truly spiritually effective.

Is Christ being proclaimed and glorified?
Is the Word of God being honoured and rightly used?
Are people being drawn to Christ and being challenged to grow in Him?
Is there evidence of increased Fruit of the Spirit as lives are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit?
bullet Does the person exercising ministry demonstrate the qualities of true and godly servant leadership?
Perhaps I could put our statement in another way. When the servant of God gives priority to sitting in the presence of Jesus in the Word and prayer, godly fruit will be clearly seen in their own life and the lives of those to whom they minister.

Examples from Scripture

Moses and the Tent of Meeting

In Exodus 33:7-11 we read of Moses' secret place. It was called 'the tent of meeting'. Not long after Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt , the demands of leadership began to weigh heavily on his heart. He knew he needed a place to get alone with God. So he erected a tent outside the edge of the camp. It was Moses' habit to go out to that tent and be alone with God. Look at the following verses and see how God responded to his servant's actions:

"As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. ... The Lord would speak with Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend." (Exodus 33:9 & 11 NIV)

I have often thought about what Moses must have experienced while alone with God in that tent of meeting. Then I remember the things I find when I am alone with God in my secret place: assurance, wisdom, courage, guidance, peace, strength to carry on, the sense of His affirmation and friendship and so much more. When Moses emerged from the tent of meeting, he was ready to step back into the demands of leadership.

The truth is that every believer needs to meet the Lord in the secret place. This is especially so for those who are called to Christian leadership. There is no substitute for time alone with God. Every Christian leader needs to seek the face of God and hear the voice of God if we are to lead His people effectively.

The Lord Jesus Christ.

The Gospels give a clear record of the priority Jesus gave to prayer and being alone with His Father. The verses below are just a few:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35 (NIV)

After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Mark 6:46 (NIV)

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. Luke 6:12 (NIV)

Think about this. Luke, the writer of the third Gospel, was not one of the Disciples. There is no evidence he ever met Jesus. He was probably converted during one of Paul's missionary journeys years after Jesus' death. He learned all he knew about Jesus from the Disciples and other eye witnesses. As he listened to them speak about their Lord and Master, one simple truth came through to his heart and mind: But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.[Luke 5:16 (NIV)]

If the Lord Jesus, He who was one with the Father, needed such time alone with God in intimate communion, surely we need it more. Only in the place of stillness before God will we find the spiritual and physical resources we need for our own Christian life and our ministry of leadership.

Practicalities of a disciplined 'Secret Place'

To develop your own truly satisfying 'secret place' with God, there are number of practical considerations.

A place to meet. Your relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in your life. You will need to make some provision for a regular place in which to meet with him. In my home I have an office and a comfortable chair. This is my 'tent of meeting'. Find a place where you can give uninterrupted time to your relationship with Jesus.
A Time. Every important relationship needs time. When will you have your appointment with Jesus? For me it is 7.00am each morning. I allocate 90minutes at the start of each day to sitting in His presence, feeding upon His Word and prayer. The specific part of the day is not the key issues but giving to Him first priority of your time.
Resources. Once you have your place and time, assemble your resources: your Bible, a notebook or journal, devotional notes or Bible reading guide, a pen, some coloured pencils to mark your Bible and a simple note pad on which to write down those things which come to mind and need to be attended to later.
Regularity. Our aim should be to have time alone with the Lord each morning. We all know that life presents us with many challenges. The enemy will do everything possible to distract us. My desire is to meet with Jesus every morning (7x7). Some have found five times per week (5x7) a more realistic goal. My own target is (6x7). Remember this: You are better to give a more limited time each day than one longer period on one day each week.
Elements of the Secret Place

Much could be written here. Godly people have found many fruitful ways to enter into communion with their Lord and Master. My purpose is simply to highlight some of the more important elements of the devotional journey. I hope this will encourage those who are just beginning.

Praise and Worship: In Psalm 100:4 we read these words, "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name." There is no doubt that praise opens our way into the presence of God. Such praise is not restricted to public assemblies. Today we have an abundance of wonderful worship music on tape and CD. It is my practice to play some praise and worship music and join with the musicians in offering my praise and adoration to the Lord. If that resource is not available, I offer my own song to Him.

Another way to enter into praise and worship is through the Psalms. The Psalms were the praise book of Israel. Read a psalm and allow it's thoughts and ideas to become your words of praise and adoration. Allow the words of the psalm to inspire your own words of praise and adoration. Offer up to Him a heart of worship.
Reflection: What is happening in your life? Are you rejoicing or struggling? Why? Do you understand the issues you are facing right now? Is there sin which needs to be confronted and confessed? Are there parts of your own personality which you and Jesus need to be working on together? Are you seeking answers in regard to future life direction, relationships or other matters? So many questions and issues to be faced. What better than to face them with the Lord.

Let me share with you how I process these issues. I keep a note book which I call my 'spiritual journal'. In that book I write my questions, identify my struggles and honestly confront my sinfulness. I express my fears, uncertainties and confusion. I rejoice over victories and weep over defeats. Here I tell the Lord of my love for Him and my desire to be His faithful servant. Much of my journal is written prayers – my communion with God. I record verses of Scripture which specifically speak to me or insights from the Word that touch my heart. And when I am conscious of the Lord specifically speaking to me, I write what I believe He is saying so that I have a record for future reference. My journal is a treasured record of my journey with Jesus.
The Word of God. Time in the Scriptures is the great essential of our time in the 'secret place' with Jesus. Reading and thinking on the Word of God feeds our soul. The living and abiding Word of God will touch those places in our lives where the Lord needs to do His work of grace within us.

There are many approaches to reading the Word of God in our devotional journey. I find two approaches to be helpful to me personally. Firstly, I like to read a small passage on which to think and meditate. If the Lord particularly ministers to something in my spirit out of this passage, I make appropriate notes in my spiritual journal. Secondly, I like to read a chapter or two specifically for the benefit of feeding the Word of God into my life. Both aspects of reading the Word are important to me.
Prayer and Intercession. Although much of our time in 'the secret place' can be called prayer, petition for our own needs and intercession for the needs of others are important dimensions of our devotional time. Writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul said this, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone ..." 1 Timothy 2:1 (NIV)

One of the great challenges many people face in prayer is keeping their mind focussed and remembering those situations for which we want to pray. I have found it helpful to keep a series of lists to remind me of those people and situations about which I want to pray. I have also found it helpful to keep records of answers to prayer. It is very encouraging to celebrate the faithfulness of God.

I want to go back to our starting point. The disciplined life in the secret place sets the foundation for
effective ministry in the public place. Through out the years of ministry I have found this to be so very true. In the secret place I find the joy, satisfaction, authority and anointing that make Christian ministry so worthwhile. But for me it is far more than issues of ministry. I love being in the presence of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. To know his closeness; to hear his voice and sense His smile, these are the big things for me. I think I am beginning to understand the significance of Exodus 33:11. But then I know there is still so much more to learn.


Prepared by Rev Dr Gavin D Williams

Copyright: August 2003

A revised and expanded version of this article is to be found in the first section of Dr Williams' book Appointment with Jesus.