Jason Janz. Alone with God: A Practical Plan for Dynamic Devotions. JourneyForth, 2006. 156 pp.
One regular frustration that believers have is the inconsistency of their walk with God. There are times when the Word drips like honey into their mouths, when time seems to stand still as they enjoy the presence of God. And there are times–many times–when the Word is dry and prayer is shallow and their minds are clouded. Worse yet, even the desire to spend time with God seems to be nearly evaporated. The up-and-down nature of their walk with God often leaves believers confused, distressed, and dissatisfied.
It is to this frustration that Jason Janz has directed his book, Alone with God. In the opening chapter, “It’s All About a Relationship,” Janz lays out the purpose for one’s daily devotional time: to grow one’s relationship with God through the Word. “[God] created you to have a relationship with Him. . . . When individuals begin to develop a relationship, they want to spend time with those people to learn more about them and vice versa. The difference between that type of relationship and 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” (2). Janz points out in the next chapter that the Gospel not only restores the relationship between God and the believer; it creates within the believer a desire to know God better. “This does not necessarily mean that at 6:00 a.m. when the alarm goes off, every believer automatically jumps out of bed, excited to open the Bible. However, it does mean that God has planted the desire and the ability within believers to have a close relationship with Him” (11). The goal of this book, then, is “to motivate you to deepen your relationship with God” (8).
After identifying eleven needs that the believer has in chapter three, Janz tackles twelve popular myths concerning the believer’s walk with God. These include such things as “You should read through your Bible every year” (42), “You should spend thirty minutes with God every day” (43), and “If you start again, you’ll fall again” (52). The author responds to these thoughts with theologically and relationally driven remedies. Readers who struggle with myths like these will find Janz’s work encouraging and helpful.
The core of the book is chapter five, “The Nuts and Bolts,” in which that Janz lays out “The Eight-Step Alone with God Devotional Method” (56). Early in the book, he discusses how the Body for Life eating and exercise plan made a tremendous difference in his physical fitness. “As a pastor, I thought, What is the greatest need of people today? The answer rang loud and clear in my mind: spiritual fitness” (5). So Janz began to wonder, “Could a plan be developed that would facilitate the development of a transforming relationship with God?” (ibid.). His answer: Yes. The author introduces his plan in chapter five. It includes eight steps to be repeated daily (preparation, confession, revelation, adoration, transformation, communication, meditation, and application), and Janz offers both a 30-minute and a 20-minute plan, each of which breaks down the eight steps into smaller blocks of time (60). Readers may purchase the companion volume, Alone with God Daily Journal, to keep track of their devotional time.
The final three chapters of Alone with God discuss the need for accountability (“The Covenant Friend”), the practice of meditation (“The Secret”), and the opportunity for influence (“The Life That Touches Lives”). The appendix includes sample pages from the Daily Journal, space to jot down the titles of songs that may aid the reader in personal worship, various helps for six of the eight steps, and a brief essay by George Mueller entitled “Soul Nourishment First.”
Janz’s emphasis on relationship above duty is a welcome relief from the kind of devotional legalism expressed in the children’s song, “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.” His refutation of certain myths concerning one’s walk with the Lord will prove to be helpful for many whose background reflects legalism. His chapter on meditation offers some good, practical advice for a generation that spends too little time thinking. For these reasons, this is a helpful work.
My greatest concern is that his emphasis on the plan obscures his emphasis on the relationship. From the beginning of the book–and to his credit–Janz seeks to allay the reader’s concern on this score. “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” (7). When he introduces his chapter that develops the plan, he writes, “There is nothing sacred about the order and this is not a magic formula. God is interested in fellowship, not formulas” (54). Nevertheless, particularly in chapter five, this reader gets the impression that the plan is so important as the means to the end of a growing relationship with God that the means actually becomes more important than the end. Perhaps my impression is jaundiced by the countless devotional plans that I have heard of through the years. And perhaps my impression should be colored more by Janz’s comments about the place of his plan. But even with those thoughts in mind, my concerns still stands. I fear that a young believer will try the Eight-Step Alone with God Devotional Plan as just another method for “good devotions” and miss the big picture. And that would be unfortunate.
Alone with God is a welcome addition to the books dealing with one’s walk with God. New believers will find that its emphasis on relationship and its addressing of practical matters to be helpful–as long as they see the plan itself as a tool (at best) and not the goal. May God be pleased to use Janz’s work to grow a hunger and thirst for him in the coming generation.