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During my college years, I took a year off to travel. During that year, I took a trip that changed my life. My best friend and I planned a three-month missionary trip to Africa. We spent six weeks in the jungles of the Congo and six weeks in Kenya, a more modern African country. Plans developed smoothly until departure; there was a problem. I had fallen madly in love with a girl named Jennifer. She was a southern belle with a charm and character that wrapped me around her little finger.
I knew that I wanted to marry her; I even knew when. I was going to propose on Christmas day of that year, about seven days after my return from Africa. Before I left, I told her for the first time that I loved her. My friend Will and I boarded a plane to a land about which we know nothing. We landed in the center of the continent and headed upstream for five days. Our journey upstream was on a speedboat the missionary had just purchased. For six weeks, we took jungle trips by bicycle, Land Rover, and motorbike. What an experience! All I had to remind me of Jennifer was a gold-framed picture in my suitcase and memories. We left the Congo after six weeks of no contact with America. We flew to Nairobi, Kenya, and went to the home of the missionary with whom we would be staying.
When I arrived in my living quarters, there on the pillow of my bed was a stack of letters from Jennifer. Wow! Nothing mattered. I hadn’t had a piece of chocolate in six weeks, and the missionary had loads of it. I didn’t care; I wanted to read those letters. The letters had a soothing effect on my soul. Miraculously enough, the letters seemed to portray that she still loved me. The missionary had hooked up his computer, so this new thing called an e-mail letter could be sent via computer to anyone else who had a computer with Internet access. I was able to find out Jen’s address at the college she was attending, and I sent her an e-mail. Sure enough, the next day, I received an e-mail from her. There was one problem. E-mail was in its infancy, and mine was garbled. Words were out of place and scrambled. Strings of letters that made no sense were between her real words. However, if I took my time, I could figure out what she was trying to say. It was like trying to decipher code. But you know what? It didn’t matter. Words from her were what I wanted. The cryptic search actually made the experience more enjoyable. I still have those letters, and they are the mile markers on the road of our relationship. All I wanted was a relationship with the girl I loved. Deciphering her letters wasn’t a chore; it was a fruit of a good relationship. Now, after marriage, several children, and years of spending every day together, it’s nice to look back and remember. As I read over those old e-mails, it is obvious to me how our relationship has matured over the years. The depth of communication cannot be compared to the level enjoyed as a result of a healthy, 10-year marriage.
This is a book about a relationship: not a relationship with a friend or a lover or a coworker but a relationship with God—the God of the universe. He created you to have a relationship with Him. Many times when individuals think about their deepest relationships, they think of a spouse or a best friend. In reality, one should think of God and feel closer to God than to any human. When individuals begin to develop relationships, they want to spend time with those people to learn more about them and vice versa. The difference between that type of relationship and a relationship with God is that God already knows everything about your past, present, and future. The only one who needs to grow in the relationship is you. You need to learn everything you can about God—His past, His present, and His future. To learn more about His past, present, and future will be accomplished only by spending time with Him. Yet many believers seem to struggle through “deciphering the words” of the Bible because it seems difficult to understand. At first glance, God seems difficult to understand. We naturally run from things we do not understand.
John 15 explains that God desires to have you graduate in your relationship to a higher level. Many believers see themselves as servants of God, and the Bible gives us many admonitions to serve others. However, according to John 15:15, there is a deeper, more meaningful relationship than being a servant. You can be God’s friend. The Bible says the servant does not know what his master does, but Christ says you are His friend because He has made everything God has communicated to Him known to you. God desires for you to graduate from a servant mentality to a friend mentality. This book is written to help you do that. When it’s all said and done, the depth of your relationship with God is what is going to matter. When you are in love with someone, struggling through understanding his words and feelings of distance at times will seem like small obstacles in comparison to your desire for a strong relationship.
The Status of the Relationship
George Barna, a Christian pollster, says that seven out of ten Americans (Christian and non-Christian) say that having a close, personal relationship with God is a top priority in their lives. However, all you have to do is look around, and you will be able to see that the desires and the actions of the average American do not match. According to one survey, the average American prays less than five minutes a day, and the average Bible reader spends less than eight minutes a day in the Word of God —hardly stuff to write home about. Worse yet, only 18 percent of born-again Christians read the Bible every day, and 23 percent never read the Bible at all.  So there is a major disconnect between what people want and what people do. What’s new? The same condition exists in people’s exercise programs, diet plans, career paths, and family time. The good news is that most believers don’t want their relationship with God to be this way—stagnant. They are dissatisfied with their spiritual walk; they have a strong desire to make changes, but they are discouraged by their lack of success.
On the Road to Spiritual Fitness
Why is it that our culture is so concerned with the outside and not the inside? Why does the body get so much attention and not the spirit? We are conditioned to pay so much attention to what people see and so little attention to what God sees. Clement of Alexandria, an early church father, said, “Those who adorn only the exterior, but neglect the inner man, are like the Egyptian temples, which present every kind of decoration upon the outside, but contain within, in place of a deity, a cat, a crocodile, or some other vile animal.” Could it be that we spend so little time with our God that for all practical purposes we can say that our view of God is simply of a being who has the power of a cat or a crocodile?
The Bible says in Jeremiah 9:23 and 24, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me.” A higher goal than physical fitness or earthly wealth is to know God. My mind began to churn as my experiences in college and my most recent experiences began to meld. Was it possible to make spiritual fitness a priority in my life? Can a plan be developed that would make it simple for me to have a transforming relationship with God?
I decided I needed a plan to get me going. The methods I had used before led me to frustration, boredom, and eventually despair. Every New Year, I resolved to get up earlier to spend more quality time with God. I had purchased the Bible memory packets that were supposed to revolutionize me. I had experimented with various Bible reading plans. I even tried to salve my conscience by listening to Christian radio or tapes on the way to work if I slept too late. The truth of the matter is that I was in as bad shape spiritually as I was physically.
I was motivated beyond thinking about it, and I went to the drawing board. I felt I needed a Bible-centered approach centered on developing a relationship with God. I began to experiment with a plan for myself. I went back and looked at how I planned my workout every day and incorporated some of the same concepts into my personal “spiritual fitness plan.” Wow! What a difference! I began to experience a regular, fulfilling, refreshing time with God. Over the next months, I began to share my thoughts with close friends and family. I mentioned it when I taught classes to high school and college learners. Without exception, people asked me for more details on the plan. I began to see that the hunger for a tangible, devotional plan was immense.
The Hunger for a Relationship
Over the last several years, I have come to believe that the average American believer does not lack the desire for a stronger relationship with God but does lack the motivation, the know-how, and the structure to help along the way. We know believers who seem to have tremendous walks with God: we desire it and thirst for it. J. Oswald Sanders says, “It is an incontrovertible fact that some Christians seem to experience a much closer intimacy with God than others. They appear to enjoy a reverent familiarity with Him that is foreign to us.” For example,
- Enoch walked with God so intensely that God did not let him see death; He took him straight to Heaven (Genesis 5:24).
- Abraham was called the Friend of God (James 2:23).
- Christ recognized Mary as having her relationship with God as her spiritual priority (Luke 10:42).
- Moses was so close to God that God spoke to him face to face as a man speaks unto his friend (Exodus 33:11).
- David was known as a man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14).
- John was the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:7).
I have yet to meet a Spirit-filled believer who would not love to have this type of relationship with the God of the universe. Yet we should not look at these believers with a dreamy-eyed, I-could-never-do-that mentality. Every believer has the same capacity to know our great God as these Bible heroes did.
What’s Out There?
Because of this great hunger, I followed my curiosity to the local Christian bookstore to peruse resources available to help individuals develop this relationship. On one end, I found books written about the philosophy of Christian growth, how to study the Bible, the pattern of discipleship, the need for a passionate walk with God, and the need for a God-centered life. These books seemed to be strong on philosophy but short on practicality. On the other end, I found daily devotionals that endeavored to make the Bible simple to understand. However, these devotionals not only interpreted and applied the Bible passage but also left the individual with no need to open the Bible. I also noticed that prayer was missing as an integral part of these plans. A short, written prayer was included at the bottom of the devotional for the reader to recite.
My greatest concern about these plans was the lack of an emphasis on Biblical meditation and the character of God. It seemed there was more meditation upon a short illustration or a cute story than on the passage of Scripture. The trend seems to be moving toward letting gifted authors think for you. Their efforts are well-intentioned: to help people walk with God daily. However, something was missing.
My desire was to bridge the gap between philosophy and practicality. I wanted to create something grounded in truth, yet as practical as a recipe for making macaroni and cheese. Lest I am misunderstood, I have not tried to create a “formula approach” to the Christian life or tried to provide the “missing link” to all spiritual problems—this is not a happy pill. I see this book as a key to help individuals unlock the door to a room full of the vast riches of a dynamic relationship with God. My goal is to make it simple for believers who hunger for God to take steps to become a stronger and more mature believer. One could say this is a manual designed to help you fall in love with God.
The core heartbeat of this book is to motivate you to deepen your relationship with God. The method that explains this is an eight-step, self-guided process to help you deepen your relationship with God. My heartbeat is to give you tools to worship God in your own way.
A good spiritual fitness program will have extraordinary results. The Bible promises those who spend time getting to know God will be strong and take action (Daniel 11:32). Hearing the stories of those who have entered this type of satisfying relationship has filled my heart with great joy. I trust your journey will be worthwhile and fulfilling and that you will experience a relationship with the God of the universe unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
Chapter 1 – It’s All About a Relationship
(The above article is an excerpt from Chapter 1.)
Chapter 2 - The Foundation
This chapter lays out the prerequisites to having a relationship for life. Every learner needs a trust in the Bible, a hunger for God, and a desire to change.
Chapter 3 - The Need
This chapter outlines the needs a devotional plan must meet if it is going to be fulfilling. Several needs are listed such as inner renewal, satisfaction in God, a Word-based approach, focused prayer, quality time, etc.
Chapter 4 - The Myths
This chapter exposes popular myths about daily devotions. Some myths are the following:
- I am the only one who struggles with daily devotions.
- The Bible is hard to understand.
- I should read through the Bible every year.
- Worship is what I do at church.
- Daily quiet time with God is boring.
Chapter 5 – Nuts and Bolts
This chapter explains the eight-step plan. Practical sheets are provided for the reader.
Chapter 6 – The Secret
This chapter explains biblical meditation. It explains how the mind processes information and relates it to Bible reading. The reader is encouraged not just to read the Bible but to meditate on it.
Chapter 7 – A Covenant Friend
This chapter encourages the reader to find an accountability partner to help him on his journey to a relationship for life.
Special features and benefits
Simple to understand and use
The book is meant to be read in one sitting. The format is simple, yet motivational. The goal is to get the reader to put down the book and to start the method the following day. All the journaling pages are included to allow the reader to get started on the first seven days of his devotions.
Charts and illustrations
Several charts are provided to visualize the author’s ideas. Some examples are the following:
- Care-casting prayer—This chart shows how to relieve stress by casting our cares upon God.
- The meditation process—This chart de-mystifies meditation and makes it simple to understand.
Several helps are given in the appendix. Some examples are the following:
- 100 favorite Bible promises—Lists the favorite promises of the Bible, arranged by topic
- Names of God—Lists all the names of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This list is used during the praise and thanksgiving portion of the eight-step plan.
- Prayer Journal—This journal has a daily list (things to pray for every day) and then seven weekly lists (things to pray for once a week). The reader is encouraged to have a topic assigned to each day on the weekly lists, such as extended family, missionaries, church, etc.
- Division of the Bible into easy, moderate, and hard books—This is designed so the new Bible reader can navigate initially through the books that are easier to understand.
How this devotional method is different than other devotionals
Alone With God is different because of several key principles:
- It incorporates prayer, Bible study, and worship through music in its plan.
- It is based on the belief that the average believer can understand the Bible. If he needs help, commentaries are recommended. Believers are encouraged to get their daily food first-hand rather than from some author.
- It is a free-form program. Readers can create devotions that suit their personality, tastes, and desires.
1. Barna, George. (2000). Barna by topic, Goals and Priorities. Retrieved May 1, 2004 from http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=23.
2. Barna, George. (1997) Barna by topic, The Bible. Retrieved May 1, 2004 from http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=7.
3. Bookstore Journal, as quoted in Discipleship Journal, issue 52, p. 10.
4. Bonar, Horatius, Words Old and New (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1866), p. 8.
5. Sanders, J. Oswald, Enjoying Intimacy With God (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1980), p. 11.