8 things I’ve learned about personal devotions

1. There is no “one size fits all” devotional plan.

As much as I’d like this one to be true it’s simply not that simple. Every year, around New Years, the internet is replete with lists of Bible reading plans to get you through the Bible in a year (most of them basically the same). One of the amazing things about Christianity is that it is about unity, not uniformity. Jesus brings unity in diversity. We’re all different; we think differently, we enjoy certain things more than others, we have different gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12). So it makes sense that one way of reading the Bible won’t work for all of us, and it shouldn’t (how boring would that be?). What this means is that God is endlessly creative in how he made each of us in the way we function and we should thank God for that and prayerfully work out how we can best spend time with him in his Word and in prayer. One size does not fit all. Praise God.

2. I shouldn’t divorce the emotional from the intellectual.

Image by Sias van Schalkwyk
Image by Sias van Schalkwyk

For a long time my personal devotions were nothing more than me reading a study Bible: one chapter from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, along with the corresponding study notes at the bottom of the page. Truthfully, I really enjoyed this and I learned a lot but there is more to spending time with God than just learning some facts about him. I find it very easy to enjoy learning about God without enjoying God himself; there is a difference. There is an experiential joy when we see God in his Word as the Holy Spirit opens our hearts, not just our minds, to comprehend on an emotional level who God is for us as well as who he is to us.

3. I shouldn’t divorce the intellectual from the emotional.

Some years after this I sort of went through the opposite. I’m a thinker so it’s difficult for me to shut that down altogether but at this time I was not in an emotionally good place and all I wanted, all I needed, was to experience God and to have him satisfy me emotionally. Being an idiot, and in a bad place, I had stopped reading the Bible (there were a number of reasons, such as 1. above). However, what I found in the darkest times was that actually spending time with God in his Word brought me the solace I sought. Sometimes the best remedy for emotional problems includes an intellectual stepping back from our problems to see who God is to us as he has revealed himself in his Word. For another perspective on this idea check out what Don Carson has said in The Scholar as Pastor, specific quote here.

4. Prayer is an admission of weakness and I’m not good at it.

This is really more of a confession than anything else. Paul describes the upside-down economy of God’s Kingdom best when he says, “But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

5. Personal devotions are not about ticking something off my sanctification list but spending quality time with God.

I have wrestled with this issue for years, and still do. For a long time I felt like God’s favour towards me was dependent on my devotional time with him: If I had a good devotional time then God was going to bless me that day and if not I could expect a pretty lousy day. Grace is so foreign to our relationships. Most of them are dependent (or feel like they are) on how well we do in different areas of our lives but this isn’t how our relationship with God works. Our relationship with God is founded, sustained and carried forward on his grace toward us in Jesus. God wants to spend time with us because we are his adopted children. He sent his Son to die so we could come to know him personally while we were still his enemies (Romans 5:10) That is life changing (see 7. below).

6. The whole Bible is ultimately about Jesus, not me.

When I read the Bible I want to know how it connects to Jesus, who he is and all he has done, whether I’m in Leviticus or Obadiah because in looking to Jesus, trusting in him, I find that the Bible is for me but it’s not about me because Jesus is all I need. For more on this check out the Christ-Centred section of our Theological Vision.

7. Jesus had the perfect devotional life because I can’t and his righteousness is credited to me on that account too.

A friend recently asked me, “Since Jesus was God, and He and the Father were one, why did Jesus need to spend time away from the crowds?” In response I sent this short answer:

Jesus is 100% God AND 100% human therefore he, like us, needed to spend time alone with God. As the perfect human being he also needed time alone to recharge, just as we often do, not just for his own personal benefit but also as an example to us.
In doing this in his life he fulfilled “all righteousness” for us because we often fall short in our private communion with God so when we trust in him and repent of our sin his perfect righteousness is imputed to us so we can stand before God as perfectly righteousness in Christ because he was perfectly righteous in our place for our sake.
In those times when private devotion and communion is difficult we can look to (trust in) Jesus who, through the Holy Spirit, gives us the power to seek God in his Word and in prayer.

8. God loves me.

This one seems obvious but I know that I often forget it or fail to believe it. It’s almost as though we’ve heard it so often that we’ve become inoculated to its truth. As we spend time with God, in his Word and in prayer, looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), who he is to and for us and all he has done for us (in love!), the Holy Spirit pours out God’s love into our hearts and we receive a fresh experience and knowledge of God’s deep, abiding love for us in Christ.

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