In the series just concluded we’ve seen the importance the Scripture places on its own role in a successful life with Christ. If a believer’s life is all about walking with God and serving as his ambassador (2Co 5.20), and if God reveals his personality and his ways and wishes in the Word, both living (Jn 1.1ff) and written (2Ti 2.15; 3.15-16), then we need to know what the Scripture says. And the only effective way to do that is to read and study it.
That obvious truth has led to the common practice among Christians of “having devotions”: spending time, usually daily, reading the Bible and praying. The practice has different names; some call it “personal Bible study”; a camp I know of calls it “God and I Time.” I like the term “devotions” because it’s concise and simple; because it enfolds multiple practices, beyond just Bible reading; and because it points to the primary purpose of the exercise.
I’d like to share some thoughts and experiences about the practice, both to motivate my fellow believers and to stimulate creativity in their choices.
I think it’s important to start by casting down some idols.
Most Christians have difficulty distinguishing their religious heritage from biblical command. By that I mean that if we’ve practiced our Christianity in certain ways for a long time, we’re prone to think of that practice as a biblical requirement. It may be, but not necessarily.
For example, the Bible does clearly command obedience and the knowledge of the Scripture that informs that obedience. There are many self-described Christians today who don’t know what the Bible says and don’t seem to feel any compulsion to evaluate their thoughts and actions by any sort of direct biblical standard.
On the other hand, there are common devotional practices that are well and good, and appropriate for many Christians—that’s why they’ve become common practices—that the Bible doesn’t specifically command. And we shouldn’t burden believers with unbiblical yokes (Ac 15.10). God doesn’t like it when we say he commanded things that he didn’t (Mt 15.9; Ti 1.14; Rev 22.18), even if we have the best of intentions.
Over the years I’ve heard “commandments of men” such as these:
- You have to have devotions every day.
Granted, knowing what the Bible says, and integrating it into your life, and applying it every day, is going to take some time and effort, and daily interaction with the Word is a great way to do that. Excellent practice. But your life circumstances may not allow that—I’m thinking of the mother of newborn quintuplets—and nothing in the Scripture suggests that missing a day is going to bring God’s judgment by way of bad Christian “luck” today.
- You have to have devotions in the morning.
It’s true that David often had prayer time in the morning (Ps 5.3)—in fact, he sometimes had it three times a day (Ps 55.17)—but the fact that a person in the Bible did something a certain way doesn’t necessarily constitute a biblical command for all believers. It certainly makes sense to start your day—every day—in the Word, but some people just don’t function well in the morning, and God knows that (Ps 103.14). I suspect he’d prefer to spend time with us when we’re functional. (Similarly, I’ve heard it taught that “you ought to give God the best time of your day”—again, excellent advice, but not biblical mandate. In fact, you ought to give God your whole day, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
- You should do devotions the way this really spiritual person does.
It is a biblical mandate to encourage one another to love and good works (Heb 10.24), and Paul does tell the Corinthians to follow his example (1Co 11.1), and mutual encouragement within the body is a thing (Eph 4.29). But the Bible also says that God has made us all different—the first thing the Bible tells us about God is that he’s creative (Gen 1.1)—and gifted us individually in different ways (Rom 12.4-8; 1Co 12.4-31). It’s also true that your walk with God needs to be personal to you and not just corporate, though there is certainly a corporate aspect—the church—to our relationship with God. I’d suggest that the way you do devotions might be unique to you, though you might well profit from the examples of others in various respects.
We’ll continue these thoughts next time.