My Times with the Lord Through the Years
Steve Hogan, a pastor, husband, and father, wrote to Desert Road Ministries about his times with God over the years and how this attention to his spiritual health has encouraged him over decades of service to the Lord.
I was 18 and a freshman in college when God saved my soul from sin and death, and gave me eternal life, the best thing that’s ever happened to me. That was 51 years ago, February of 1972. It was in August of 1961, about ten years before this, when I was only 7, that my father passed away. But now I had another Father and for this, I was extremely thankful, for He was my heavenly Father, perfect in every way, and One who would never leave me.
Not long after I was saved, my Father helped me form the best habit of my life, having a regular, morning time with Him, one that has typically lasted about 30-60 minutes. “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Luke 5:16). It was special, something I really looked forward to, for I was getting personal time with my Father, my Creator, Lord, Savior, and Friend. And why wouldn’t I want to be with Him? Without a doubt, it’s been the most important time of my day, a time to sit at God’s feet, a time to read His word and get to know Him, a time to praise Him and pray to Him. How blessed I have been to regularly be with the One who loves me so much, who truly cares for me, who meets all my needs, who gets me through the tough times, who picks me up when I’m down, who has kept me going through all the years.
So what do I do in my morning time with the Lord? I read an Old Testament and a New Testament portion of His word. And my reading is never fast or forced, and never on a schedule. Personally, I don’t use any read-the-Bible-in-a year plans. I want to be led by the Spirit, not by a reading schedule. I want to feel free to skip around, to go slow or fast as I want, or if I feel like it, to be able to reread a passage the next day.
I also read the Psalms every day, and I mean every day. I love the Psalms, and have loved them through all the years, and now in 2023, they are as fresh and refreshing as ever. You see, the Psalms talk extensively about my relationship with God, which is the most important thing in my life. The Bible is God’s love letter to me, and Psalms is the best part of that letter. In fact, I begin my reading time with an 8-verse section of Psalm 119, which is truly my favorite chapter in the Bible. Like nothing else, it motivates me to read God’s word, and instructs me how to apply it to my life. “O how I love Your law.” Psalm 119:97
Sometime in 1980, about a year after I was recognized as an elder, God got me started on another extremely important habit, an extended time alone with Him. It was my roommate’s example that got me thinking about this. He went to our church building with his Bible and a sleeping bag for 3 days, and came back very encouraged. It seemed to be a good thing to do, and so I, taking my Bible, paper, a sleeping bag, and a hymnbook, did the same thing.
So for the past 41 years, I’ve been getting this extended alone time with God. In those first years I wasn’t as consistent, but nevertheless, I kept going away with God, knowing that these times with Him were one of the best things I could do. I was single until 1986, and then got married and had four children, but all the while kept slipping away to get alone with God. It first happened in Iowa, then it was Maryland, and for the past 24 years it’s been Florida. And wherever I’ve lived, there’s been a Bible camp, a retreat center, a cabin in the woods, or as a last resort, a hotel. I wanted a place that was lonely, quiet, rural if possible, and for sure a place where there weren’t many people.
The best “place” has been Florida. Soon after I arrived, a friend told me about a Baptist camp only 5 miles from my home. I was so excited to know I had a place where I could go be with the Lord, and it was so close. Initially the price was $32 / night, but after a while it dropped to only $20 / night, which was a great deal. The camp had 6 motel rooms, each with a bed, desk, bathroom, and AC – quite modest, but all I needed. So most every month for the past 24 years, I’ve gone to this Baptist camp where I have my own little room, usually room “F”, and I spend time seeking the Lord, loving Him, learning from Him, getting to know Him, and getting rest, both spiritual and physical. “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31
So what do I do? Every month, usually the 2nd Tuesday, I go to the camp. I used to do overnighters, two or three days at a time, but now it’s just a day trip, from morning ‘til night. I take my Bible, a hymnal, Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening”, a Spurgeon book of prayer, a book on God’s attributes, another book I’m reading, pen and paper, but no food. When I had longer extended times I’d take my computer and work a little on my Sunday message or something church related, but I don’t do that anymore. My time is shorter and I want to focus on being with my heavenly Father and that’s it – I don’t want anything else to do. And my phone is turned off and put in one of the drawers.
So what is my time like? I read, I pray, I rest. Similar to my daily time with the Lord, I read Psalm 119, the Psalms, the Old Testament and New Testament, but much more than my morning times. Instead of a half a chapter or so in each area, I read 2 to 3 to 4 chapters. And I sing from the hymnal, read devotionals, read the attribute book, etc. But there’s also my 10-page verse sheet that I bring along – it has many classic verses and most of my favorite verses. I slowly read through a page of these verses at a time, knowing that only God’s word can really transform my heart and life. It is God’s word that is true, right, good, loving, powerful, instructive, corrective, promising, predictive, encouraging, eternal, positive, comforting, and strengthening. “Strengthen me according to Your word.” Psalm 119:28
As a pastor, I need times like these to strengthen myself in the Lord. Doing His work, teaching, praying, counseling, fighting spiritual battles, persevering, and being a good husband and father, and just living in this increasingly evil world is extremely difficult. Spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically, it’s hard, it’s a struggle, it’s tiring, and I need God and His Word to strengthen me. I don’t know what I’d do without Him and His Word. “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” (Ps. 119:92-93). I need God to recharge and refresh my soul, and for me that means getting these longer times where I can seek Him, see Him, pour out my heart, and ask Him for help. Getting strength from God is a huge subject in the Bible. “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Ps. 18:1). “Praise be to the Lord, for He has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in Him and I am helped” (Ps. 28:6-7). “David was greatly distressed… but David found strength in the Lord His God.” 1 Samuel 30:6
What I said about being strengthened in the Lord also means spending a good deal of time in prayer. During these alone times with God, I pray a lot more, and for most everything and everyone that comes to mind. And I cry out, I raise my voice, I get desperate. “I cry out to God Most High” (Ps. 57:3). I ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking. Sometimes my prayers are focused on a particular need or person, sometimes it relates to something I just read in God’s word, and it also relates to the plans and direction that God has for my own life.
My time alone with God is fluid and flexible. That is, I don’t read the first half of the day and then pray the second half of the day. I read God’s word and pray. Or I read a devotional, pray, review some verses, and pray. And if a thought or idea suddenly comes to mind, whether it’s something God is teaching me or something I need to do, I write it down. Getting things on paper gets it off my mind and enables me to stay focused with reading and praying. “We will… give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4
Getting time with the Lord is not usually what I would call a relaxing time. That is, I am not being lazy, and my mind is not drifting and daydreaming. I am focused, diligent, desperate, and in battle mode. I only have so many hours with the Lord, and I want to make the most of the time. I am reading, praying, and thinking. And yes, there are times when I get tired, and so I lay down and take a nap, usually for 30 to 60 minutes.
Another blessing is that this camp has 80 acres, and so in the afternoon, I usually walk around, praying and reflecting in God’s creation. There’s a small lake, and interestingly, it’s named Lake Magdalene. I go there and sit on the bench and look out at the water and up in the sky. This is when I remember the past, thinking back over my life, and being thankful for the 69 years God has given me (Ps. 77:10-14). And that 1 Sam. 7:12 verse always come to mind, “Thus far has the Lord helped me.” I’m so thankful for what God has done, but I know He’s not done with me, for “to live is Christ” – I need to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward.” (Phil. 1:21, 3:14). Then back to my room I go and again read the Bible, devotions, verses, etc., and pray some more.
My time with the Lord can be the highest high, the most heavenly experience imaginable. Or it can be the lowest low, for there’s a struggle against the flesh and sin (Ps. 40:12), and often a confession of sin, and a desire and a striving to be more holy. There’s also the fight against the devil (Eph. 6:10-13), and with that, a fresh putting on of the armor of God. In all this, I know the Lord is with me, that He protects me and leads me in my time alone with Him, and I need to keep trusting Him, and keep reading, praying, and singing. But at the end of my time, I’m always encouraged, refreshed, and glad that I carved out the time to be with my Father – and I don’t want to leave. Yet I know I will continue to have my daily morning times with my Father and, in another month, be back to room “F”.
Here are some concluding thoughts and verses.
1. Plan ahead. Get your time with the Lord on your calendar and be looking forward to it.
2. Have a few friends pray for your time with the Lord. It’s helpful having others pray for you and spiritually speaking, be lifting your hands. Exodus 17:10-13
3. Get some good sleep the night before – you want to be awake and alert in your special time with your Father.
4. Remember, it’s about you and the Lord. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to seek Him in His temple” (Ps. 27:4). “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek You… My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods, with singing lips my mouth will praise You” (Ps. 63:1-5). “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26). “I love the Lord because He hears my voice” (Ps. 116:1) “The Lord is my portion.” (Ps. 119:57). “I love those who love Me, and those who seek Me find Me” (Prov. 8:17). “She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to Him… but Martha was distracted… only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42.
5. Might God help you get regular and extended times with Him. “As the deep pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” Psalm 42:1-2
Pastor Steve Hogan was born and raised in a big family in Iowa. He became a believer in Jesus during his freshman year of college. He has served in ministry in Iowa, Maryland, and in 1999, moved to Florida to serve as a pastor at Hope Bible Church. He has a heart for teaching the Word, loving people, and leading the church. He and his wife, Marsha, live in Tampa and have four grown children.