For anyone outside of the Church community who’s not fluent in “Christianese,” the word devotion has a pretty simple meaning: dedication, consecration, and love. But to Christians, the word has mysteriously been translated to mean that special time you put aside each day to read your Bible and pray. And sadly, the two definitions don’t always mesh.
Growing up in a Bible-reading, church-attending family, I learned the latter definition of devotion early on. Every morning before school, my dad would faithfully gather his reluctant kids in the living room, where we’d take turns reading that day’s passage in a daily Bible. The New Testament portions weren’t bad, but I mostly remember the Old Testament passages. I can still feel that 7:00 a.m. grogginess as I read aloud about how Seth begat Enos, and Enos begat Cainan, and Cainan begat Mahalaleel, and Mahalaleel begat… well, you catch my drift. (You can imagine the giggle fest between my siblings as we each tried to pronounce old school names like Mahalaleel.)
For the junior-high version of me, these morning readings became a chore. They were boring. They were forced and tedious. But it wasn’t until I was older that I realized the wisdom behind my dad’s insistence. Unfortunately, this realization didn’t come until I was, as I said, older.
Even after high school, I struggled with the practice of holding daily devotional time with God. If I’m being honest, there are times I still struggle today. Maybe you struggle, too. Putting aside the time is often hard with busy work schedules, family and church commitments, and social calendars. And even when the time is put aside, often my mind doesn’t cooperate, drifting off on its own to think about other stuff. What will I blog about today? What flavor Pop Tart do I want for breakfast? How old is too old to be getting a pimple on my nose?
This struggle leaves me feeling guilty and asking questions. If I truly love Jesus, why is it so hard for me to spend time with Him? Why can’t I combine the generic definition of devotion – dedication, consecration, love – with my daily devotional life? The guilt is also caused by my seemingly effortless devotion to other things: a boyfriend, my job, eating several times a day, hitting the gym, watching television, catching up with friends on the phone. Hours and hours of my life are dedicated to these professed “second priorities,” without thought, without worry, without much struggle.
I fear what Jesus would say to me if He walked into my living room right now. Would it be a repeat of that fateful night in the garden? “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).
But I know that Jesus, whose love and mercy led him to a cruel cross for you and me, doesn’t want us to live under guilt. He died to free us from shame, to free us from the shackles of the law. So when I wake up and turn on The Today Show, but then feel guilty when I catch a glimpse of my Bible on the coffee table, is that what Jesus wants?
I believe that the Jesus I know simply wants to spend time with us, His children. He wants us to know Him. He wants to reveal Himself to us – to show us what true life in Him is all about. And only when we dive into his word, rest in his promises, and live by his wisdom will we experience that in its truest form.
And in case you’re still wondering, he didn’t slack in leaving us reminders of why prayer and study are so important.
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105)
“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11)
And then there’s this one: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4)
Did you catch that? Through endurance. It’s not something that comes easily. It’s not something that is natural to do. The truth is it’s hard and we have to fight through. Even Jesus, in his earthly, carnal body, understood this – telling his disciples in the garden, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
It couldn’t have been easy for my dad to wrangle my siblings and me up in the wee hours of the morning, especially when my mom had to wake us up 3 or 4 times and we’d barely make it to the bus stop on time. But he knew the importance of this discipline. And I’m thankful for that, because the discipline I did learn. The devotion, however, took time.
Now some 20 years later, the older version of me understands the power of devotional time. The older version of me gets excited to pray, to read, to spend time in God’s presence. But, the older version of me still struggles to fit it in and to not be driven by guilt. It’s comforting to know that Jesus understood that struggle between the spirit and the flesh. After all, He once stood where I stand.
And the great part is, I’m not alone in this. I can talk to Him about it anytime I want.
*Photo credit: RykNeethling