I grew up in a Christian family where every morning after breakfast we would gather as a family for “devotions.” In my teenage years this turned into personal devotions. Although these daily personal devotions have remained a strong pattern in my own life, devotions as a family was a far more challenging and erratic pattern than my family of origin. However, in our latter years Beth and I have managed to develop a fairly regular pattern of devotions for us as a couple.
What are devotions? Devotions is simply a time “devoted” to being in the presence of God by listening to the Word of God and responding to God’s Word in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
A devoted time. The word “devotions” assumes a disciplined, devoted time to be in the presence of God through His Word. The exact time is not commanded (e.g Sunday at 10:30 am), but the Bible notes times devoted to God (Leviticus 23:1–44; Acts 2:42-47; Acts 20:7) for worship. The Church very early on established Sunday as the primary day of worship and went so far as to develop a discipline of daily prayers. What is important though? Devoting time to gather with other Christians for weekly corporate worship of God is the “BIG” devotion that should be the staple of every Christian’s life (Hebrews 10:24-25). At the same time, devoting time on other days of the week for personal, family or couple devotions, ought to be the daily food of Christians who hunger for the Word of life. Many people find the morning to be the best time simply because it sets the compass for the day ahead and ensures other activities do not bump it, but having a designated time is most important, whether early or late.
Being in the presence of God. Some people argue that they can be in the presence of God wherever and whenever. Although this argument is often used to justify not being present in worship, it is true that one of God’s attributes is to be present everywhere at the same time. However, accessing that presence is not simply done by being in some meditative pose out in nature. God’s presence is not the only “presence” at work in our lives and these other presences are not there for our good. So how does one know when God is present? Well, I know my wife is present because I see her and hear her voice. Likewise, God has given us His Word and Sacraments so that we may hear His voice and receive His presence in water, bread and wine. To be in worship and in daily devotions centered on the Word of God in Holy Scripture is to be assured that we are in God’s presence. Thus the Word of God is central to devotions.
Listening. Perhaps like many of you I’m not a very good listener when it comes to either my fellow humans beings or to God. More often I want to do the talking or just get going. However, as someone once said, “There’s a reason why God gave us two ears and only one mouth.” Listening to God’s Word in preaching, teaching or reading the Bible is an act of humbly receiving all that God gifts us with in both God’s Law and Gospel. Through the Law the Holy Spirit seeks to put to death all that keeps us from the life God desires for us in Christ and through the Gospel the Holy Spirit brings us the healing of Christ’s forgiveness, life and salvation. Listening to God’s Word is the first devotional act of worship initiated by God speaking.
Responding. It is only after we have listened to God’s Word that we can respond back to God. This response may take the form of confessing our sin or our faith, singing hymns and spiritual songs, prayer, opening our hands and mouths to the Lord’s body and blood in Holy Communion or in offering our time, talents and treasures in service to God’s mission of witness and service to our neighbours. The important understanding here is that our response is to God’s Word. We are speaking back to God what God has first said to us, kind of like a mirror reflecting back the light of the sun.
Devotional Resources. The most important devotional resource is the Bible and the weekly preaching of the Word which Christ did (Matthew 4:17) and called His Church to continue (Mark 16:15). There are also many daily devotional resources that guide the Christian in reading the Bible and listening to God’s Word. Mostly though, these resources make Christians lazy listeners and dependent upon someone else to listen to God’s Word and tell them what they should be hearing. Some of these resources ares better and many are worse for their interpretation. If one is to use such resources I would recommend the following:
- Recommended: Daily Devotions by Lutheran Hour Ministries – online – free
- Daily Devotions by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod – online – free
- Portals of Prayer – Concordia Publishing House – online and print – cost: $20/30 per year
- My Devotions – Concordia Publishing House — for families – cost: $10
Best Practice. Every Christian needs what God offers in weekly worship, namely the preaching of the Word and the gift of the Lord’s supper by which Christ calls sinners to repentance and faith in what Christ has done for them in His life, death and resurrection. However, Christians also need to feed on the Word of Christ every day.
I will be posting at least two more articles on “Devotions for Beginners” and “Best Practices for Devotions.”