I dislike “legalese” in any context, but for this review a disclaimer is in order. I have served with Jason Jason for over five years on the staff of South Sheridan Baptist, now Red Rocks Baptist. When I first volunteered to review his book, Alone With God, I realized there could be some discomfort if I had to make negative comments. But I also knew that was a remote possibility since Jason and I had co-authored a discipleship manual, God And My Life. I recognized then his quality of thought, breadth of reading, and an ability to express himself well. I found this book no different, but now to the review.
I recall an experience related by Dr. Howard Hendricks in a Dallas Seminary class regarding his first experience at a devotional life. A brand-new believer, he had heard that we should read the Bible regularly, but he had no guidance. He did begin a reading program but let his personal like for knowing the end of the story first direct him. Turning to the end, he wasn’t far into Revelation before he realized he must have missed something along the way. So he turned to the middle and landed in the early chapters of Ezekiel. After several paragraphs of “sci-fi” multi-faced creatures, whirling windstorms, and a man eating his own writings, he decided the Bible was not understandable, at least for him. He put it down and did not pick it up again for over three years. Desire wasn’t the issue; not having a helpful plan was.
Alone With God endeavors to overcome that barrier along with others that might block a believer’s path to meaningful personal devotions. Without guidance there probably will be no progress. But why another book on the devotional life? Isn’t Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, or Our Daily Bread enough? Jason noted in his perusal of available resources a lack of practicality, although there were some that adequately addressed Bible study and a passionate walk with God. The deficiencies seemed more in areas of prayer and a meditation emphasis. So the author did not start out to write a book; rather, it grew out of a perceived need in youth he ministered to and questions raised in classes at various colleges and camps.
The book is generally divided into three major areas: the philosophy of a devotional life, a suggested structure for a devotional life, and the effects of a devotional life. Particularly in the area of structure and a plan, Jason emphasizes several times in the book that following a formula isn’t necessarily the answer; however, developing a relationship is. It isn’t a plan; it is a Person. It is not a formula but fellowship. The plan is merely a guide to those ends, not the end in itself.
Chapter one addresses the need for some type of structure. Chapter two highlights key components of an adequate plan with an illustration from the life of George Mueller. In chapter three, needs addressed by a well-thought-out plan are discussed. Twelve myths often brought up by people who have struggled and failed to maintain consistency constitute chapter four. Chapter five is the meat of the book and thoroughly lays out a suggested plan including activities and suggested time periods for each. Chapter six is a lengthy consideration of friendship from two perspectives (another person and God) and the importance of it in a devotional life. Meditation and reflection, for many a new experience, are discussed in chapter seven. In Janz’s view, these form a major part of good devotions by retaining for the future what has been meaningful in any particular day’s time with God. Experiences from the life of John Paton, one of the author’s missionary heroes, form the basis for the last chapter. The extended result of a worthwhile devotional life will be its effect on others. When we spend time with God, others will want to spend time with us and benefit from it.
The appendices are most helpful. They include sample journal pages (a separate, related journal is available); a list of the many names of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit for help in adoration; and a list of Bible promises to assist with the prayer-communication step. The most helpful for me was the list of sins to consider in the confession process. When I get to this part of my devotions (this is a confession about confession), I have a tendency to see a field from which the large boulders have been cleared, but I know there are unseen rocks under the surface. Glancing over the 114 sins listed (not all personal), I’m sure I have something else I need to think about. And I’m probably not alone.
After reading the book, one will gain an appreciation for the author’s ability to illustrate his points from sometimes “homey” anecdotes arising out of personal experience. What does announcing at football games have to do with the “milk-meat” mentioned in Scripture? See pages 40-41. Other authors quoted include both historic and contemporary. The Puritans are mentioned frequently, with high appreciation for their contributions to encouraging a close walk with God.
One small typo was noted on page 48 where “to” was omitted from the Truth statement. The price ($14.95) seems a little steep for a paperback of 186 pages, but that seems to be the trend. The author is not to be faulted for either of these.
As a concluding comment, I would take issue with Janz’s suggestion concerning guidelines for a place to have devotions. He failed to include the necessity of a ready source of caffeine within fifty feet. Can the Holy Spirit minister without a latte in hand? Perhaps God is behind the proliferation of Starbucks locations!
Jerry Hamilton is assistant pastor at Red Rocks Baptist Church (Lakewood, CO). His responsibilities include adult education, facilities and transportation management, and men’s ministries. He has been married to Karen for 43 years, and God has blessed the Hamiltons with four children. Jerry is a graduate of Baptist Bible College (Clarks Summit) and Bob Jones University. He is pursuing a D.Min. degree from Northland Baptist Bible College. Outside interests include flyfishing and following the open road on a Harley Sportster.