The Needful Closet

Are personal devotions really necessary? The Bible is full of passages that call us to seek God regularly (1 Chron. 16:11), to meditate on him continually (Ps. 119:97), and to pray often (1 Thess. 5:17). The regular practice of personal devotions is one of the best ways to do these things. Jesus teaches the importance of communing with him in the familiar story of Mary and Martha where Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is not helping her. Here is his response in Luke 10:41 and 42: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” The good part that Mary had chosen was to sit and commune with her Lord. Jesus calls this the one thing needful. He goes on to say that this “good part” would stay with her, meaning that her soul would be nourished and grow because of this time spent with him.
Let’s look at Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. Here he speaks of prayer, but I believe we can apply it to scripture reading as well. In Matthew 6:6 Jesus says, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Notice that Jesus says when not if. Notice also that Jesus instructs the believer to “enter into thy closet.” This implies personal prayer; not just corporate or family prayer. These words are written with the assumption that the reader prays personally. The phrase “shut the door” calls us to put away every distraction and give all our attention to communing with him. And finally, see that Jesus promises here too that this time spent with him will be rewarded. These rewards are said to be public. Others will know that you have been with God.
Recently, I made a list of the rewards we can experience through regular personal devotions. The list was long. I will share a few. Holiness. The psalmist tells us the best way to keep sin out is to fill our hearts with his word. Knowledge of God. To know God is to have life. How alive do you want to be? Confidence. Not the loud and proud kind foolishly found in ourselves, but the quiet confidence that comes from constantly being reminded that the King of kings loves you. Strength. Just as physical strength wanes when we lack food, so spiritual strength wanes when we neglect to feed our souls. Beauty. Have you noticed the effect the state of the soul has on the face? Psalm 43:5 calls God the “health of my countenance.”
Most of the list of rewards was about spiritual growth. Others will notice these attributes in us because we have spent time with God. This glorifies God. But because God’s glory should be the first aim in everything we do, our first and main purpose for having personal devotions has to be his glory. Simply the fact that we make time to commune with him each day brings glory to his name, regardless of whether or not we gain spiritually. To clarify my point, let me quote one of John Piper’s favorite sayings. “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” How many of us can sincerely say with the psalmist “The Lord is my portion,” meaning the Lord is all I need or want? Spending time listening to God speak to us in his word and speaking to him alone in prayer develops and proves a satisfaction and a delight in him.
C.S. Lewis writes about this delight in God that overflows into praise in his book Reflections on the Psalms. He tells of how he was first repulsed by a God that was continually calling his people to praise him. He saw God as vain and puffed up. But one day he realized that he was always hearing people praise things (flowers, food, books, etc.) and this was because they enjoyed the things they praised. Suddenly he understood why God’s people were often being called to praise him and that being called to praise him was actually an act of love because he was calling his people to share in the greatest joy in the universe—his glory. God gives and reveals himself to us to be enjoyed, compelling us to praise him. When you come to know God through your personal devotions, you will see that he truly is the one highest and supreme good! Your delight in him grows, and you are thankful that you are called to glorify him in all things because you are brought to the greatest pleasure of knowing him! How much I need this “closet” of communing with him!
By God’s grace, from my experience in personal devotions, I have found that the “closet” has become not only increasingly needful but increasingly delightful. It wasn’t that way at first—I had to fight to remain diligent, and I didn’t always (and sometimes still don’t) feel “magically” transformed. I continue to fight laziness and distractions at times. But I think you will find, as you make time to commune with God, your appetite for him will grow, and you will desire that time with him more. In your prayers, ask God to help you remain diligent, to teach you how to pray, and to open your heart to what you are reading. Then trust God to reward that time as he has promised. In time, I think you will find that when you look back on the days past, you will see a correlation between the days you began with that needful time in your closet and the state of your soul that day.
In the next two articles, we will look at the two parts of personal devotions: scripture reading and prayer.