The Trouble with Devotions - Part 2
The Facebook post said, “This is THE most important part of my day.” The attached picture showed an open Bible, coffee, notebook and another book laying on a table. The person who made the post went on to ask what others were studying during their “time with God.”
While I agree that spending time with God is important, and in fact for some people may become THE most important part of their day, I do not feel shamed or guilt-ridden if I do not have a dedicated “time with God” on a particular day, just as I do not feel shamed or guilt-ridden if I do not manage to have a dedicated time with my spouse before I fall into bed at night after a particularly busy day.
While daily devotions are an excellent spiritual discipline and often include very sacred moments, they are not sacred in the same sense that baptism or communion are sacred. Jesus never commanded us to have “daily devotions” although we are told on one occasion at least, he rose very early, before dawn, and went to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35). We are also told that Jesus went frequently to the wilderness to pray (Luke 5:16). So we do know that spending time alone with God, at least frequently, is to follow Jesus’ example.
But the idea of devotions is a slippery slope that can, not always, but can lead one to assume that ritual satisfies the heart-longing of our heavenly Father. It does not. To feel guilty for not setting a prescribed time of every day to “be with” Jesus is nothing short of the devil’s work of bondage from which we who love Jesus must be set free. In Mark 1:35, Jesus had been dealing with demons. It may not be too much of a stretch to suggest that he, in his humanness, woke early that particular morning because the day before was weighing heavily on his heart. Has that ever happened to you? You awaken wide awake at 5 a.m. with an unsettled sense in your heart that leaves you burdened. This is the time to go away, by yourself, to a solitary place and pray. No guilt. No ritualistic practice. Just the heavy heart of a child of God hearing the voice of God saying, “Come away with me for a while, and unburden yourself. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
Inherent in the idea of devotions, and perhaps any spiritual discipline, is their vulnerability to be used as a source of guilt and even shame. Songs like, “I Miss My Time with You” and the question asked by the facebook post, engrain in us the notion that a specific practice is biblical and therefore, holy. Years ago I was counseling a young woman who was anxious. Based on our discussion, I suggested she take a day away from her “daily devotions” and use that time to go for a walk down a nearby trail, take in every aspect of the trail with all of its beauty and listen for God’s voice. Later, she told me she was unable to skip her daily devotions. She said, “I just couldn’t do it!”
There are basically two reasons for not being able to “skip” our daily devotions: fear and fear.
The first fear is the one that draws us gently into the awesome presence of God that makes us long so much to be there that we’d do anything in our power not to miss it for the world. It’s the kind of presence that goes with us, stays with us, and which we revisit again and again many times throughout the day. It’s the kind of presence that is uninhibited, like dancing in the rain, or catching falling snowflakes with your tongue! It allows us to pray without ceasing and have a song in our heart in the night. It brings Jesus into daily conversations as a simple matter of fact, not forced or coerced. God is always right there, with us, whether through prayer, music, quiet reflection, happy socializing, or sitting quietly beside someone who is grieving. And the constant joy of that presence is palpable.
The other fear is the one that makes us scared that if we miss our “time with God” we will have a bad day, or not please the Father, or maybe even make him mad at us. We feel guilty if we deliberately give “time with God” a miss today. We feel like we don’t measure up to the most godly of our friends. This kind of daily devotions becomes something we check off our list and many people, not all, often leave God behind for the rest of the day because their duty is done. God’s requirements have been met. But this “requirement” has been imposed, not by God or scripture, but by well-meaning practices that have become engrained as sacred tradition which evokes fear if not followed precisely.
The first fear is freedom. The second fear is bondage.
And Jesus came to set us free!
So rather than ask you if you’ve had your “time with God” today, I would like to know if your “time with God” is freedom. The kind of freedom that dances in the rain regardless of who is watching!