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05 September 2017

“Devotions”: Times we especially focus on God.

And hopefully pray. Don’t forget to pray!

DEVOTIONS /di'voʊ.ʃənz/ n. Prayers, religious observances, or worship.
[Devotional /di'voʊ.ʃən.əl/ adj.]

It’s a really good idea for Christians to block off several minutes of time, every single day, solely for the purpose of connecting with God. A little bible, a little prayer, a little meditation or contemplation. Something which helps us focus our lives on God.

’Cause life is busy. Or it’s not really, but we just suck at time management, so we never make the time for God. You know how there are certain friends and family members you just never hear from?—they’re either way too busy, or time with you frankly isn’t one of their priorities? Well, for a lot of Christians, we’re in danger of having that kind of relationship with God. One where we sorta take him for granted in our lives, but when’s the last time we really sat down with him and talked?

So, devotional time.

Part of your average Christian’s struggle with devotions, comes from the fact they really don’t know what to do with themselves during this time. What should we pray? What should we read, and meditate on?

That was my struggle as a teenager and young adult: Nobody had properly taught me how to have my own devotional time. They talked about having one. “I sit down with my coffee and my bible, and read, and pray, and have my quiet time.” Okay; what d’you read? How many chapters?—or do you read a paragraph and spend the rest of the time meditating on it? What d’you pray?—and how do you pray for 15-minute stretches when you only have two minutes’ worth of material?

Whenever I was at youth functions, the youth pastors would lead the devotional times. But I’m gonna be blunt: Those weren’t proper devotional times. Those were mini-lectures disguised as worship. Pastor’d discuss the dumb things we kids did, or might do, and how we oughta think about such things, and lead us to pray, “Lord Jesus, help me behave like the pastor was talking about,” even if deep down we didn’t really care.

Some of the adults I knew were dependent on devotional books and magazines. (“Devotionals,” for short.) One of the more popular devotional magazines at my church was Our Daily Bread. I still know plenty of folks who make a point of reading through Oswald Chambers’ 365-day devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, every year. I own a few devotional books: Brief writings by clever Christian authors, arranged in 365 clips for my convenience, with a bible passage to read for edification, and a brief prayer in case I can’t think of anything to tell God.

I get why people use the canned material: They don’t know where to start. The problem? That’s not your relationship with God. That’s you reading about Oswald Chambers’s relationship with God; or about the relationship of whoever wrote the devotional you’re using this year. Praying their prayers instead of your own. Meditating on their ideas instead of the scriptures. Yeah, some of ’em have good ideas, but still: Ever call up a friend on the phone, then read somebody else’s letters to them? It’s kinda like that.

No, I’m not saying ditch the devotional books. Keep ’em if you like ’em. But don’t confuse them for proper devotions. It’s gotta consist of you and the Holy Spirit. Any facilitators have gotta be temporary, there till you get the hang of doing this on your own.

Making the time.

Most of the people whose lives are way too busy for devotions, really aren’t. Like I said, it’s a time-management thing. We have the time, but don’t know how to put a rope around it, refuse all interruptions, and devote it to God. Takes willpower. Especially if you live in a house full of pagans who can’t understand why you can’t be interrupted.

Y’might notice a lot of the folks who plead they’re short on time, somehow find the time for the stuff they really wanna do. Like watch certain TV shows, attend certain functions, or have hour-long lunch breaks. If they “haven’t the time” for God, it’s because they haven’t the desire for God. All they want out of him is an escape from hell. Love? Relationship? Meh.

And yeah, there are those harried people who are truly certain they don’t have the time. The work schedule’s crazy, the commute schedule’s nuts, there’s never enough time for the kids, they’re short on sleep… If you suggested they clip 15 minutes off their sleep time to spend on God, they’d think you’re nuts, ’cause they sleep 4 hours at most! But even in their situations, it’s a time-management thing. They do longer believe they can seize hold of the chaos, but of course they can.

If time management is the true issue, step one is to work on managing your time. This is not the website for teaching you to do that; there are other, better ones. They’ll advise you to more or less create a time budget—a schedule—and learn to stick to it, and stop not when the project’s done (especially when some of ’em will never be done), but when the time’s up. Focus on time management for a few weeks before you create a space for God in your schedule. Otherwise you’re gonna feel super guilty about missing your devotions, and it’s wholly unnecessary guilt. God understands. You’re working on self-control. He’s all for that. It’s one of the Spirit’s fruit, y’know.

Once you have the hang of sticking to your schedule, take the things on it that are your least necessary expenditure of time—especially if they’re things you make a priority of doing—trim 15 minutes off them, and use that time every day for a devotional time. Turn God into your priority. He’ll reward you for it.

Try not to multitask your devotional time. Don’t do it while you’re doing chores, or watching something else, or texting, or driving, or working on some other activity. You know how your friends don’t appreciate it when they’re trying to talk to you, but you’re too busy with, or constantly being interrupted by, something else? Same deal with God. He wants some face-to-face time. He doesn’t want to only take up a fraction of your consciousness either.

I know; I’ve heard the argument, “Isn’t God multitasking? How do I have his undivided attention, considering the 2 billion other Christians on the planet?” Well, since God isn’t limited by time, we do have his undivided attention. He can listen to every individual follower, and he won’t overlook things nor make mistakes. Whereas we slip up all the time, even when we are fully listening. And really, it’s for our own benefit that we pay attention to God without distraction.

Now what do we do with this time?

Our devotional time must be spent getting closer to God. For most Christians, that means devotions has to consist of the following:

  • Reading about God.
  • Thinking about God.
  • Talking with God.

Thus far I’ve been advising you to block out 15 minutes for devotions. If you were wondering, “How am I possibly gonna fill 15 minutes?” it’s rather easy: Read for about 10 minutes, think on it for about three, pray for two. If you wanna pray or think longer, read less. If you can’t think or pray that long, read more.

What should you read? I recommend bible. You need to get familiar with your bible anyway. Get familiar with its stories about how God has worked with and through people. Get familiar with what God sounds like, as he spoke through his prophets and in Jesus. Get familiar with solid info about God.

True, there are plenty of other devotional books out there. Some of ’em are useful, ’cause they bring up bits of your bible you might’ve skimmed over. Others of ’em aren’t useful at all, ’cause they’re the author’s thoughts, and not so much God’s. We’re trying to get to know God better, not these authors. Ideally a devotional book will prod you into reading your bible as well, or reading it more often. Use your commonsense: If a book isn’t helping, don’t use it.

There are plenty of Christians who spend way more than 15 minutes on devotions. Some of us spend an hour or two. That doesn’t mean we spend the entire time praying and meditating—though some of us do. Usually we spend most of that time reading. I myself read a lot.

And if you’re not much of a reader, don’t forget audio bibles. Or devotional podcasts. Or sermons. You’re hardly limited to the written word.

Obviously the length of time we spend on devotions has nothing to do with how advanced we are as Christians. Some Christians have crazy amounts of free time, and spend all of it in devotional activities. Doesn’t make ’em mature. Fruit makes us mature. Devotional time can be spent in developing fruit… but of course, it can also be turned into just another form of personal entertainment, where we read a lot of interesting Christian books, but we never take any of them to heart, and our lives never change.

So don’t waste that time. As you read, meditate, and pray, ask yourself whether you’ve learned anything you can put into practice. Ask God too. Ask him what sort of fruit you can develop, thanks to what you’ve just learned. Does it help you get closer to God? Does it help you love your neighbors? Does it help you get better at following Jesus? How does it improve you? Or does it?

When in doubt, ask God, and fellow Christians, for help.