Guidelines For Strengthening My Spiritual Walk
by Jeff Watkins
Eldersburg, MD
These five guidelines have remained etched in my mind since I first heard them on the radio nearly a decade ago on the way to a business meeting. At the time, I had no intention of remembering them; evidently, the Holy Spirit had other plans because they've played an integral role in my spiritual development. They've helped to strengthen my spiritual walk, and they may help others in their ongoing spiritual journey and sanctification.

I find that the quietest part of my day is in the morning while I'm getting ready for work and while I'm traveling to work. This is time that I spend in prayer with God, confessing my many shortcomings from the previous day & seeking His forgiveness, and outlining what the day ahead looks like. But most importantly, it affords me the opportunity to listen for His guidance and direction. I cannot tell you how often during these morning devotionals that the Lord has given me comfort and led me to understand the particular path I need to take with regard to a specific problem or concern.
Whenever I neglect to take the time to "pray my way through the day", inevitably things go wrong. It's hard to put into words, but my fellowship with God suffers. The relationship remains the same: God is still my Heavenly Father and I, His child. I suppose it's not unlike when spouses fight and one doesn't speak to the other for a time. You're still married - your relationship is unaffected; but the fellowship shared between the two of you most definitely is affected.
That's the best way to summarize what happens when I neglect to give God the first hour of every day. My fellowship with Him is affected. But when I do give Him the first hour of every day, my fellowship is strengthened and I feel empowered to face the day ahead with confidence and security.
And I don't mean the few hours spent in church on Sunday mornings. For me, I've come to believe that my observance of the Sabbath shouldn't end the moment I walk out of church. I'm sorry to say too often I’ve spent more time watching sports on Sunday than observing the Sabbath.
For a long time that never bothered me. Frankly, I never gave it much thought. But God slowly convicted me that I was not spending my Sunday's — correction, His Sunday's – the way He wanted me to. And it was through my morning devotionals that I first came to sense this. Once again the work of the Holy Spirit was present in these early morning devotionals leading me in the path I should go.

But how should I observe the Sabbath? Do I need to immerse myself in Bible study all day long? That would be good, but there are many other activities I can be engaged in that exalt God. And I believe that's the bottom line when it comes to observing the Sabbath: however we choose to spend the Lord's day, we ought to ask ourselves whether we are exalting the name of Jesus Christ or satisfying our own selfish desires. For me, spending the entire day watching auto racing or football games wasn’t glorifying my Savior.
Too often people wait until there's an emergency before they seek God's counsel in their lives. Not until there's a problem with their medical test; an anomaly in the sonogram; an accident; a death. Hopefully, this isn't the case with those who are truly God's children. We all should recognize the importance, the necessity, of always seeking His guidance and direction in our lives no matter how important or seemingly trivial the decision.
The Bible teaches us that God desires to be involved in all our activities and consulted in all our decisions. That means going to Him in prayer for His counsel on decisions we face in business — before we hire anyone and definitely before we fire anyone; on decisions we face in our family — from life changing ones such as taking that promotion and moving to another state to seemingly mundane ones like where to spend summer vacation.
In my own life I can honestly say that I've never regretted any decision made after first consulting the Lord and following His counsel. Now, that doesn't mean every decision has had the outcome I desired. But it does mean they've had the outcome God desired. And that's what matters.
One other fact I've become convinced of is this: if we earnestly seek God's advice on a given subject, and then diligently seek to be obedient to His leading and do what He wants us to do, then God will also provide the necessary resources to accomplish that task.
This truth is part and parcel of the Christmas story but we often overlook it. When Herod sought to murder Christ, God came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take his family immediately to Egypt and to stay there indefinitely until He told them to return. Have you ever wondered how this dirt-poor family could afford to make such a long journey? God told them to go, but did He also provide the wherewithal to accomplish the journey? You bet He did! Because He had sent the Magi bearing the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and this allowed Joseph and his family to make that trip down to Egypt.

For many years I would "pay myself first" and then give God whatever was left over. God was getting my dregs rather than my first fruits. I had let others convince me that spending our income on ourselves preparing for our future retirement years was the prudent thing to do. And fiscally speaking, it was; but, spiritually speaking, it was not. It's been said that one's checkbook says much about where one's priorities are. When I examined our checkbook and looked where our money was going, I received a loud wake-up call. Our priorities were entirely centered on our family and us when instead they should have been focused first on the Lord and His work. After all, if the truth be known, if it weren't for God's grace and mercy in the first place, we wouldn't have any of the things we do.
Once again thanks to His abiding presence in those morning devotionals, He caused me to radically change my selfish way of thinking and get my priorities in a better order. God has brought us now to the point where we look for ways to increase our giving. At long last, He is finally getting our first fruits.
When I put God first, He has never forsaken me — there's always been enough. Interesting fact: we’re now a one-income family with my wife staying home full-time with our daughters and by God’s grace we’re able to give more to the Lord now than ever before. God is ever faithful in providing the necessary resources.

The motivation for doing any of these things should be to give glory and honor to Christ; not to make us look holier-than-thou before others, as the Pharisees did. Christ ought to be number one in our hearts, even before our families. That was difficult for me at first, but He's helped me to see the proper ordering of my priorities:
We should be moved by an earnest desire to obey Christ in all situations — and not so we can earn a spot in Heaven, but out of love for Jesus for the sacrifice He made on the cross becoming sin for us. And how do we know what it is that Christ would have us do? Where can we find out what paths we should take? The Bible! The more time I spend reading and studying the scriptures, the more blessings God seems to shower upon me and the easier it becomes for me to know what path God wants me to take in a given situation.
† † †
These five guidelines have made an important difference in my spiritual walk and maturity. I wouldn't be honest if I said I keep them all the time. But one thing is certain: whenever I have failed to start my day off in prayer and communion with God, whenever I put sports or other selfish things ahead of God, whenever I fail to solicit His guidance first and follow through with His leading, whenever I selfishly give myself the first fruits and give God whatever's left over, whenever I put my own desires first in my heart and relegate Christ to the background — things go terribly wrong. My fellowship with Christ is affected.

It amazes me how much my Lord and Savior really cares about me, about every aspect of my life. That wintry morning nearly a decade ago while I was on my way to a business meeting, I had no intention of remembering those five guidelines I heard on the radio. But thank God that He had other ideas. Those guidelines have both blessed me and served me well, and perhaps they will for you too.