A second theme that surfaces when people tell their faith stories revolves around the development of a private devotional life. Somewhere along the way, Christians begin to pray. Alone. They begin exploring the Bible on their own. They memorize their first Scripture verse. It’s not uncommon to hear people speak of getting up a little earlier in the morning to spend time with God. Personal spiritual disciplines introduce a sense of intimacy and accountability to our faith walks. Private spiritual disciplines tune our hearts to the heart of God and underscore personal accountability to our heavenly Father.
There is a direct correlation between a person’s private devotional life and his or her personal faith. And regardless of how long you’ve been in ministry, this is something you can’t afford to lose sight of. When God speaks to us personally through his Word or answers a specific prayer, our faith is strengthened. This is why private disciplines is a faith catalyst. One of the most impactful things I heard my dad say growing up was, “The most important thing in your life is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” That’s direct. And I have found it to be absolutely correct. As my personal devotional life goes, so goes my faith, my confidence in God. And I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but as my confidence in God goes, so goes my personal confidence.
When it came to maintaining a private devotional life, first-century Jews were at somewhat of a disadvantage. They didn’t have copies of the Old Testament they could cart around in their backpacks and purses. So that element of their devotional lives was limited to prayer and recitation. But during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus threw in a couple of additional components: giving and fasting. These “acts of righteousness,” as he refers to them, were to be done in secret. They comprised the private, intimate side of faith for first-century Jews. Jesus underscores that idea when he states:
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret …”
Don’t run by that too quickly. Jesus says your heavenly Father sees what is done in secret. I’ve been a Christian since I was six, and that’s still a pretty staggering thought. God sees me pray, give, and fast. But Jesus doesn’t stop there.
“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
God responds to our private acts of righteousness. Jesus uses the term reward to describe his response. Ever had an answer to prayer? What happened to your faith? Remember the last time someone in your church or student ministry rushed up to you and poured out a story of answered prayer? That peron’s faith got bigger, didn’t it?
The same thing transpires when individuals begin giving for the first time. Percentage giving is an invitation for God to get involved in our personal finances. The percentage isn’t the issue. I tell new believers to pick a percentage and start there. The point is to learn to trust God financially. When people experience God’s faithfulness in the realm of their personal finances, their faith expands. Money loses its grip. They are no longer possessed by their possessions.
Stanley, A. (2012). Deep and wide: creating churches unchurched people love to attend. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.