In all the books I’ve read, I’ve come to learn that the effort of reading an entire book is often rewarded with a single profound sentence. In a book made up of thousands of words, just one sentence has the power to transform us. I remember one such sentence in a book I read early on as a Christian on the subject of godliness. I do not remember much of its content or even its title. But I do remember one line, which was the main point of the book: Character is who you are when no one is looking. The author was saying that your truest self is the one that comes out when no one else is around, when you are outside the watchful eyes of your parents, your children, your wife, your friends, and your pastors. When you can do whatever you want to do, when you can say whatever you want to say, when you can look at whatever you want to look at and probably get away with it—this is who you really are. This simple sentence challenged me deeply and continues to do so today. It alone made the book worth reading.
As we strive to be men who “Run to Win!” we have to consider many contexts in which our behavior is seen and known by the public. But we also have to consider a few in which we are outside the view of anyone else. One of the things we do (or perhaps don’t do) when no one is looking is private worship or personal devotions. Men, If you are going to run to win, you need to practice your devotion.
When No One Is Looking
Who are you when no one else is around? How does that compare to who you are when people are looking? Many men face the temptation to gain a reputation for their attendance and participation in public worship while remaining almost completely absent from private worship. When they attend church services they stand where they are seen, they sing loudly, they listen attentively, they give generously. Well and good. Yet from Monday to Saturday they may rarely open their Bible and rarely close their eyes to pray. Publicly they are strong and engaged; privately they are weak and distant. Could that be true of you?
While the Bible commends public worship and demands that you prioritize attendance and participation at your local church, it also commends personal devotion. From its opening pages to its conclusion, we find God’s people voluntarily relating to God as part of their private life. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the garden; Isaac went out in the fields to quietly meditate; David rose early to consider God’s law and to pour out his praise; even Jesus was careful to carve out times of solitude in which he could commune with his Father. Who were these people when no one was looking? The same people they were in public: worshippers. Their public reputation of godliness was rooted in a private devotion to God.
A Real Relationship
When you came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, your sins were forgiven and you were given the sure promise of eternal life. But, amazingly, God gave you even more than that. He also gave you himself so that you entered into relationship with the living God. What is true of every relationship is true of this one—if it is to be healthy, it requires communication.
A few years ago, I read a news story about a woman who determined that her husband had insulted her one time too many. She decided to get her revenge by giving him the ultimate silent treatment, and for several years she did not utter a single word in his presence. Obviously, this was devastating to their marriage. It is impossible to sustain any relationship, especially an intimate one like that of a husband and wife, without communication. It is communication that allows a relationship to begin and then to thrive. A genuine, healthy relationship depends upon speaking and listening. In fact, the health of a relationship can be measured by the willingness, the frequency, and the depth of the speaking and listening between the two people. The healthiest relationships are those in which each person speaks frequently, freely, and intimately while the other listens attentively.
On that basis, how is your relationship with God? One of the great joys of being a Christian is that you have entered into a genuine relationship with God. Our God is not merely an idea to study or a force to experience or an object to observe. God is a being to know—three persons who are together God. This God has existed eternally in that perfect relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and, through salvation, has invited you to enter in so you can know and be known by Father, Son, and Spirit. You can speak with confidence that God will hear; you can listen with confidence that God will speak. You can pour out your heart to him even as he pours out his heart to you. What a joy! What a privilege! Do you take advantage of that privilege?
God speaks today through the Bible. Its words are his words, its message his message, its power his power. Every Word of the Bible is inspired and inerrant, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). You simply cannot be a mature Christian without hearing God speak through the Bible. You cannot run well without his instruction.
We speak to God through prayer. Our words do not ascend to an empty sky but reach the ear of God, warm the heart of God, and bring about the will of God. It is God’s good plan not to operate apart from prayers but through prayers since, as he promises, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). The Bible knows nothing of a Christian who does not or will not pray. You cannot run well without telling him how you are running, admitting to him when you have stumbled, and asking him for strength to run better still.
In a normal conversation, speaking and listening go together, and the same is true when conversing with God. As you read God’s Word you respond in prayer—prayers of confession when he reveals sin, prayers of gratitude when you encounter his mercy, prayers of supplication when you understand how much you need his grace. And as you pray, God often brings Scripture to mind and deepens your understanding of it. Just as conversations with friends involve an organic back and forth, a mutual exchange of information and ideas, so does your communication with God. As time goes on and as you grow in your relationship, you find that God is not just your Creator and your Father, but he is also your Friend.
Men, your church, your wife, and your children need more than a man who dutifully shows up on Sunday. They need a man who knows God. They need a man who makes time to meet with God in his Word each day. And what your church, your wife, and your family need from you is exactly what God desires for you. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me” (Jeremiah 9:23).
Do It Now
The time to start practicing your devotion is now. Run to win! If the practice of meeting with God every day is new to you, here are a few ways to get started:
- Resolve to make private devotion a priority in your life. If it is a priority, you will make time for it. Resolve that the best thing—meeting with God—will come before other good things.
- Make a plan. Set a time when you will meet with God each day and decide where you are going to do it. In general, the things you don’t plan are the things you don’t do.
- Find a Bible reading plan. There are dozens—perhaps hundreds—of Bible reading plans on the internet. Because you want to get a grasp of the full counsel of God, I would recommend finding a plan that goes through the whole Bible, book by book.
- Organize your prayers. Often the greatest difficulty to consistent, sustained prayer is simply our inability to recall what we need to pray for. I’ve found the PrayerMate app a helpful way to remember what you need to pray for each day.
- Start small. As you begin practicing your devotion, go for short and consistent rather than long and erratic. If you’ve never read the Bible daily, don’t start by reading five chapters a day! If you’ve never prayed consistently in private, don’t start by trying to pray for an hour! By God’s grace, you can work up to broader reading and more extended time in prayer. But you need to start by building the habit of devotion and then you can work your way up to strengthening the habit.
- Persevere. Don’t be discouraged when you miss a day or even a week. Pick right back up and build the habit. Over time what seems difficult to remember and do will become as natural as breathing.
Run to Win!
There are a million things competing for your time and attention, and many of these are very good things. But none are more important than your relationship with God. I trust you are involved in a local church and committed to the weekly worship services. But I hope this is not the sum of your worship, a complete accounting of your speaking to God and hearing from God. God gives you the ability to have a genuine relationship with him. He invites you to listen as he speaks and promises that as you speak he will listen to your every word. Why would you deny yourself such a privilege? If you are going to run to win, you must practice your devotion.