January 09, 2019
One conversation I had with a student made me realize that whenever we talk about devotions, we usually pertain to Bible reading and prayer life (a.k.a. quiet time). While these are crucial to our devotion, I found out that these aren’t all devotion is.
For years I’ve struggled with “doing my devotions” because I saw it as simply a part of my to-do list.
When I get to read the Bible and pray, I feel good about myself. When I don’t, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I somehow let God down.
Then a few years ago, a book about spiritual disciplines radically changed my outlook. It struck me because the author talked about how our Bible reading is made more meaningful in our interactions with God and with others.
Considering what Adam went through to appreciate Eve to the utmost, I wondered how beautiful it is that you and I were created to need each other. The romantic need is just the beginning, because we need our families and we need our friends.
In this way, we are made in God’s image. Certainly God does not need people in the way you and I do, but He feels a joy at being loved, and He feels a joy at delivering love. It is a stinking thought to realize that, in paradise, a human is incomplete without a host of other people. We are relational indeed.
And the Bible, with all its understanding of the relational needs of humans, was becoming more meaningful to me as I turned the pages. God made me, He knows me, He understands me, and He wants community.
—Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What
So I began to ask: what should my devotions look like?
According to Acts 2:42, this is what the early Christians’ daily lives looked like: they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
This means our relationships with the people God put in our lives is as much a part of our devotions as our time with God. And all these work together so we may become more like Christ.
When we think that doing our devotions is simply about reading the Bible and praying, we are in danger of being apathetic or self-righteous.
When I thought doing my devotions was just a daily checklist of things to do, I felt satisfied with myself every time I read my Bible and prayed, thinking that this is what following Jesus meant.
I had a list of how a Christian should act and I expected others to abide by the list as I made. I was disappointed when I or others did not meet my expectations.
I ended up being burned out.
I was trying to excel at work (I was a college professor), in the ministry, in my master’s education, in pursuing God. Everything was dependent on me.
To my horror, I failed.
My students found me unapproachable. The women I led felt too much pressure from me to adhere to the “standards” I set. I was having a hard time loving my courses. My times with God were dry. I felt incapable of love, and I felt unloved.
It was then that I discovered that my time with God was not simply an activity.
My time with God was meant for me to know Him more, to be secured by His unconditional love, and to be humbled by His grace.
And it is when I experience this truth and grace daily that I am able to respond properly to others in a way that helps them grow.
But I found out that I also need to spend time with people, because it is in listening to the pain of the world that I can truly love others the way God loves me—with a love that allows me to die to myself.
On the other hand, if we spend too much time with people without strengthening our spiritual disciplines, we are in danger of becoming either liberal or legalistic.
We become liberal when we do not know what the Word of God really says because we haven’t taken the time to read, study, and meditate on it.
Instead, our minds become filled with worldly views from the songs, movies, memes, quotes, or whatever we choose to spend our time on.
In turn, we get our “nuggets of wisdom” from these when our friends come to us for help. And because these things do not have the power to renew our minds like the Bible does, we have not really helped them.
We become legalistic when we have not trained our ears to hear from and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as we pray.
Because of this, we miss His cues when we counsel someone, choosing instead to trust in formulaic solutions or our previous experience, rather than on His leading.
This makes our ministry powerless and we waste the opportunity to help our friends encounter God.
When we discipline ourselves to read and meditate on God’s Word, as well as to hear from the Holy Spirit in our prayer time, we find that our wisdom and our compassion for others grow.
We start to recognize His still, small voice when we minister to others. We get reminded of the truth of God’s Word, which was deposited in us when we read our Bible.
We then become more effective in leading others to Christ and in spurring each other to love and good deeds, because we no longer move in our own strength but rely on His power.
Compassion starts when we experience God in our time with Him, but it grows as we share life with others.
As you reflect on your devotional life, ask yourself:
1. Is my quiet time changing the way I interact with others?
2. Does my interaction with others make me realize my need to deepen my intimacy with God?
3. What is one thing I can do starting now to impact others for the better?