a guest post by Mary Elizabeth Smith – http://loveandliterature.tumblr.com

When I began my freshman year at the University of Georgia, I received a special word from God, calling me to discipleship and intimacy with Him:

Spend an intentional hour with Me every day.

Up until that point, my “time alone with God” was sporadic at best and consisted of something like reading a Psalm or Parable before bed… and then just praying until my mind wandered off to other things…

At first, I spent the hour simply trying to fill the time. I’d read some Scripture, read from a devotional …pray some …journal a bit…  I actually began verse memorization primarily for the purpose of using up the time!

Eventually, I began to look forward to this hour; it steadily began to change my day-to-day.  There were days where it felt like a chore; there were days when I didn’t “feel” God with me – or that the hour was fruitful – but I still knew God was establishing a lifelong habit in me, and that He was really effecting the change in my heart that I wanted!

While I lived in the dorm during my freshman year, I did this in the dorm kitchen (no one ever used it) or the lobby (I’m exceptionally good at tuning out ambient noises …and it had exceptionally comfortable armchairs!).

By my second year, however, I had moved my time with God to coffee shops. There was something truly holy to me in this ritual; if you had asked me, I would have told you in all earnestness that God created coffee for the specific purpose of having coffee dates with me!

I can’t say that I was always consistent in this habit throughout my college years; I went through periods (weeks and even certain months) where I completely neglected my time with God. However, God even used these unfaithful periods to show me His faithfulness: when I repented and returned to His presence, He always met me there.

Even now, I don’t always spend exactly one hour – and these times do not always necessarily occur at a coffee shop – but the routine that I established during those college years continues to structure my time alone with God today.

So, practically speaking, what do my “Coffee Dates with God” look like? There’s nothing “holy” about this particular formula – it’s just what I’ve found to be the rhythm that works best for me:

1-I read my Bible.

  • This is the non-negotiable. (I may or may not additionally read a devotional text.)
  • Usually, I read a Psalm first. I read through the Psalms continuously, so once I finish the book, I just start all over. (Thus, if you read one Psalm every day, you would read the Psalms almost two and a half times in the course of one year!)
  • I read a chapter from the Old Testament. (When I began this habit in college, I read through the OT in order from Genesis to Malachi. Now I just pick a book and read through it.)
  • I read a chapter from the New Testament.

2-I write down my thoughts.

  • I have a notebook in which I write down the things that come to mind while I read.
  • If a verse sticks out to me, I write it down.
  • If my mind makes a connection to something I’ve read previously, sparks a question, or inspires a thought, I write it down.
  • Yes, I even draw pictures sometimes!
  • Mostly, this notebook is to keep my mind focused on what I’m reading.  It helps me to engage with the text, and to not daydream too too much :-).

3-I journal my prayers.

  • Writing is my habitual mode of expressing myself, so this is how I communicate with God.
  • I suppose some people would call this a “prayer journal,” but personally I don’t regularly write down my prayer “requests”, as such (things like confessions or intercessions).
  • I think of this more as a “me talking to God” journal – just whatever is on my mind (which might be a prayer for someone else), whatever I’m struggling with most at the time (which may take the form of a confession), whatever I’m especially thankful for, whatever is hurting my heart – I just “talk” to God about it in writing.

Have you established a routine for spending time with God?  Is there a certain time of day or location that you’ve set aside as “holy” for Him?  What things help you to focus your heart and mind on God and His Word?