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The Trouble with Devotions - Part 1

For almost 60 years, I have struggled with the idea of Christ followers having what has been labeled “devotions.” I’m not a morning person. Anyone who has been a Christian for very long will know what I mean when I say that in relation to “devotions.”

The problem with this fabricated noun is that it appears to be for many, one of the last hold-outs of legalism. It has piety written all over it so to suggest that it may not be as honorable as it seems may feel like anathema to some. But let me ask you a few questions. Have you ever felt guilty that you’ve missed devotions for a day or two? Have you ever felt like something bad might happen to you because you deliberately put off reading your Bible verses for the day? How often have you been reminded that Jesus, very early in the morning, when it was still dark, went off by himself to a solitary place to pray? How many times does the Bible refer to Jesus doing this as a daily practice? When I answer these questions, I get a clearer picture of just how subtly the Satan can use something which is intended for good, in a perverted and evil way. Here’s why I believe the practice of devotions, for many Christians, may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

1. If you miss them you’re doomed. If you feel guilty or condemned for missing “devotions” you may have missed the tremendous depth of Jesus’ love for you and bowed instead to the idol of religious practice. The devil condemns. The Holy Spirit convicts. There’s a difference.

2. When you’re done, you’re done. Having finished “devotions” for the day may lead you to believe you’ve given God his allotted time (similar to paying your tithe) and now you can go on your merry way, getting done all the things that are pressing for your time and energy because God has been satisfied through your discipline of devotions.

3. Reading more into the text than what is there. Only Mark 1:35 tells us explicitly that Jesus got up early in the morning and went out to pray in a solitary place. We have no evidence that this was a daily practice for Jesus or that he made a point to do so. To use this verse as a universal standard for Christian behavior is like using 1 Corinthians 14:34 to keep women from spiritual authority and leadership. It is reading something into the text that simply isn’t there.

4. It’s a privilege not an imperative. Many times in scripture, we are told Jesus withdrew to pray, or he went to a solitary place, but we must not confuse the need for solitude before or after a busy ministry experience as something it is not. Jesus valued solitude. Jesus valued prayer (having a chat with his Father). But nowhere in scripture is there evidence that Jesus made a ritual out of spending a certain amount of time, at a certain time of the day, to spend with his Father. It was, I believe, more of a spontaneous eruption of an inherent need to be in communion with the Father, so Jesus disappeared for a while. He went away. He got alone with God. And he did it frequently.

So go, have devotions, but don’t let them give you any trouble!

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