This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Devotional Drags and Snags: Part 1

While most Christians are aware that reading the Bible regularly, (often referred to as daily devotions), is a good idea, many believers are frustrated in their attempts. Others fail to appreciate the potential of such a routine.

Some common thoughts lead to these devotional drags and snags. As I provide sample statements to represent these weaknesses, I fully realize that they can contain a measure of truth and can be meant differently by various people. My intent is not to criticize or condemn, but rather to clarify or adjust the thinking in order to provide better understanding and prompt greater profit.

1) "I didn't have my devotions yesterday, so I had a terrible day."
People who think this way often reflect a similar thinking about God in other areas. They see God primarily as a disciplinarian, perhaps impatient, ready to punish them for every offense. They know that God loves them, but His love is viewed as more intellectual and dutiful than personal.

The truth is that God has a very personal, intimate, and tender love for each of His children. He wants His best for them, and He wants to bless them. He is ready to prosper their struggling attempts and is quick to forgive. The statement above (and the thinking that goes with it) would be much more applicable to ancient deities or animistic religions than of the true God.

God is not magical or mystical. He is not capricious or vindictive. He will not make someone's entire day fall apart or his life be beset with tragedies because he missed reading His Word that morning. Having devotions is not a good luck charm. Someone who thinks this way (or the opposite - "I read my Bible, so I'll have a great day") is placing too much emphasis on his own efforts and merits. The truth is that God will give to each day what He deems best for that day; His decisions are based on His great wisdom, not on one's failure to have devotions.

Obviously, someone could carry this clarification too far in the other direction, asserting that it matters not at all whether he reads his Bible. That is, of course, false. Reading the Bible does matter. The reason that the above quotation sounds legitimate is that regularly reading the Bible helps a believer to learn more about God and helps to direct his thoughts God-ward. It helps him to have a godly and biblical mindset as he goes throughout his day.

Just like conversation or interaction with any special person, such as a spouse or friend, interaction with God has a positive and beneficial effect. It can be a helpful and encouraging opener to the day. It can help a Christian to start off on the right foot, so to speak, but failure to read the Bible will not inevitably or mysteriously ruin his day. A more precise statement could be, "I didn't give any thought to God yesterday, and that oversight affected my ability to handle my day properly and with a biblical mindset."

This truth can encourage someone who for whatever reason misses his devotions on a particular day. He may not have the opportunity to sit and read his Bible during the course of work, school, or activities, but he can still direct his thoughts to God. The day is not hopeless, and the opportunity to properly channel his thinking is not lost.

2) "I have to read the Bible to get a verse to help me today."
This sounds like a wonderful thought. The person verbalizing it realizes that he needs help and that the Bible is the place to find that help. To that extent, it is good thinking. It is short-sighted, however, and comes from someone focused on the immediate. This Christian is probably in a constantly overwhelmed state by whatever challenge happens to dominate that particular day.

First, he faces a challenge in successfully finding his daily verse. Unless he limits himself to the Psalms or a few choice verses, he will have a hard time effectively locating an applicable verse for his current state. The Psalms are wonderful, but there is much more to the Bible, so, secondly, this believer is likely to have a shallow and unbalanced knowledge of the Bible.

Third, this type of person can be frustrated, thinking that the Bible doesn't apply very well to his life. He might view the Bible as old-fashioned and impractical, not lining up with his life circumstances. Fourth, skimming or scouring the Bible for a verse to meet a particular need or a specifically-focused trouble can easily lead to misinterpretation. The reader filters everything he reads through his current problem and can construe verses to mean what they do not.

Fifth, and perhaps most significant, this reader is likely to have limited profit from the Bible. When he finds a verse to apply to his immediate need for the day, he stops looking. His searching of the Word ends too soon, and he misses the grand purpose of the Bible. Instead of looking for help for himself for the day, he should be looking for God and His truth. Ironically, it is in knowing God through a thorough knowledge of the entire Bible that the reader will find the most meaningful help for each day. With a strong foundation, a Christian has spiritual stability and is not nearly so desperate for the daily "perfect" verse. Changing daily challenges are less capable of throwing him into desperation, and he will be more likely to know where to go for help in specific challenges.

There are days and even seasons of life in which a person might need to dwell in a certain part of the Bible, a particular truth, or a special verse. There are days when the proper statement is "I especially need God's help today," but a better habitual statement would be "I need to progress deeper into God's truth."

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