Strange word. I couldn’t find it in my dictionary the way that many Christians use the word – doing spiritual activities regularly.
One idea behind the concept of doing devotions is that of showing your devotion to God. In essence, it’s about your own efforts and proving yourself to God.
I have good news for you.
You don’t need to prove your devotion. God’s not interested. The only devotion he is interested in is the devotion that Jesus showed. All he wants from us is to trust in Jesus’ devotion. Don’t be devoted to your devotions. Be devoted to what Jesus accomplished and resting in his finished work.
The other idea behind devotions is setting apart time for God. Spending time with God is great. But this concept of setting that time apart from all your other time begs the question – is the rest of the time spent apart from God? Most would respond “of course not,” but that is certainly the implication of such a practice. And if it’s not true, why set apart time?
Ultimately, it boils down to separating God from the rest of your life and acting like some activities are more “holy” than others.
I love what Brother Lawrence said regarding this topic: “I quit all forms of devotion.” Monasteries like the one Bother Lawrence was in required its members to daily set apart time for things like prayer, reading, meditation, etc. It was said of Brother Lawrence that “set times of prayer were not different from other times: that he retired to pray, according to the directions of his Superior, but that he did not want such retirement, nor ask for it, because his greatest business did not divert him from GOD.” In other words, Brother Lawrence felt no need to set apart special times for special activities because he chose to commune with God continuously. (You can download his book for free here.)
There are also things called devotionals. These are usually a short daily teaching or something to think about or meditate on. These are made by people who know nothing about you and your specific life circumstances.
When you think about it, it’s kinda weird that people use devotional books to do devotions. In essence they are hoping to be spoken to by God through the book, audio message, or whatever. Sadly, many of these people never expect to hear from God directly. Some man-made medium is relied upon instead as a hit or miss tactic.
But I have a devotional guide that speaks in all of my life’s circumstances.
It’s a person, and his name is Jesus.
We enjoy talking with each other. He always knows what’s going on with me and always has good advice. He’s also very encouraging and never runs out of positive things to say about me. His Spirit guides me into all truth. And it’s all free! I encourage you to get this devotional guide too. Oh, that’s right, you already have him 🙂
How about spiritual disciplines; what’s the deal with those?
Me and some friends used to keep each other accountable to do spiritual disciplines. I never stopped to consider that if I had to discipline myself to spend time with Jesus, then I probably didn’t have a very good relationship with him and didn’t truly think he was good. I had yet to find out that my time with God could be motivated by pleasure and my living could be guided by righteous desires.
You won’t find the modern notion of spiritual disciplines in the New Covenant (although you can find plenty in the Old Covenant). You will read about things that people in modern times have turned into disciplines (e.g. prayer, fasting, meditation, bible reading, etc.), but that’s not how they were understood back in the day.
For example, Paul taught people to pray, but he never names prayer as a discipline, nor does he talk about setting aside time for it. Instead, he instructs people to pray continually, which is only possible if you are not setting aside time for prayer! Jesus went off by himself to pray sometimes, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t communicating with Daddy during the rest of his day.
If it helps you to set apart time, go for it. But don’t make a work out of it. If you like reading devotionals, cool. But don’t look to it for God to speak to you; look to God himself living in you. If you enjoy a disciplined lifestyle, great. But don’t let those activities be the foundation of your relationship with Jesus.
I used to do my share of spiritual disciplines and devotional activity. I specifically dedicated parts of my day to journaling, bible reading, prayer, worship, etc. Sometimes I enjoyed doing these things. Other times I disciplined myself to do them even though I didn’t want to. Overall, I was unknowingly frustrating myself by creating a need to get away from everything and everyone around me in order to hang out with Jesus.
Then one day I realized that I didn’t really have a living breathing relationship with Jesus. My “relationship” with him was burried in my own ritualistic practices that blinded me from interacting with the person. I began to grow more conscious of how Jesus was with me all the time, which in turn enabled me to experience relationship with him no matter what I was doing. Like Brother Lawrence, I began to realize that my set times of prayer were no different from other times.
Eventually, I quit all of my devotions and disciplines because I found them to be wholly unnecessary.
And I never picked them back up.
I still do all the things I used to do. It’s just that I don’t have to discipline myself to do them. I do them when I want to, and I don’t feel guilty for not doing something. And it has helped me tremendously in experiencing natural intimacy with Jesus.
Enjoy the freedom of not having to maintain your own spirituality!