Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Are you devoted? Who/what are you devoted to? What does it even mean to be devoted??
I haven’t often stopped to examine this word or idea, but that’s exactly what Pastor Jonathan and I were invited to do at a recent Theological Symposium. You’ll see in his article that we were given an enlightening definition of the word devotion: A deep reverence for a particular teaching of the faith that manifests itself in contemplative and active practices in the world. Contemplative and active…
The most obvious type of “devotion” seems to be personal devotions—I picture a quiet morning with a cup of coffee on the kitchen table with the sun’s rays gently illuminating the pages of an open Bible. I confess to you: I have NEVER experienced this setting, and I don’t think I ever will! Firstly, I don’t like coffee. Secondly, I don’t particularly like mornings! That’s right, your DCE–one of your spiritual leaders–doesn’t start her mornings with quiet time pouring over her Bible. Before you contact our District President to explain why I should be removed from my position immediately, please humor me and continue reading.
I am not proud of this. I have spent a lot of time feeling guilty that I don’t find joy in early morning studies. One of the speakers at the symposium shared something that really resonated with me, though. He said something along the lines of “Many Christians doubt their devotional life, or wish that it was better.” My first thought was “Yeah! That’s me!”. My second thought was “EVERYONE could have a better devotional life – even if we feel like we are doing a pretty decent job!” He went on to say that we tend to have a very narrow view of devotion (flashback to the coffee and Bible on the kitchen table). We often only consider individual meditative study as ‘proper’ devotional activity. This view does not encompass what the church has considered ‘devotion’ for centuries!
A life of devotion shows itself in many other ways, including but not limited to service, acts of charity, worship, mission, praising through songs, being in fellowship and community with believers, and so much more.
Having a late-night conversation with a friend digging through what Scripture teaches us about dealing with life’s situations is living a life of devotion. Having a late-night conversation about how our feelings drive our actions, not as much.
Treating our teammates and opponents on the soccer field with respect and concern because you recognize them as God’s beloved children created in His image is living a life of devotion. Routinely choosing sports over worship because you’re focused on improving your skills or reputation among the other athletes, not as much.
Working diligently in your career because you recognize that God is using your gifts to serve His children in necessary ways is living a life of devotion. Becoming a work-a-holic for the sake of money or stature and forsaking time with your brothers and sisters in Christ, not as much.
This life of devotion is not possible when we separate ourselves from scripture–when we do not hold God’s word sacred and gladly hear and learn it (from Luther’s explanation of the Third Commandment). John 15:1-11 describes us as branches, with Christ being the vine. We connect to our life-giving Savior by abiding in Him through Word and sacrament! This is not something that comes naturally to sinful, broken people who are faced with an abundance of strains on our time, focus, and energy. This takes diligence, perseverance, and it usually takes accountability! It is GREAT to be spending time in the Word at our kitchen table with our coffee and the sunrise!! It is also REALLY GREAT to be in the word in community!! God has given us an incredible blessing in his instruction to be connected to a community of believers. Though I would never discourage someone from continuing the practice of personal devotions, I encourage (perhaps even challenge) each of you to also seek out opportunities to be in devotion with others.
There are many days when I have a hard time focusing on my daily devotions, but I recognize that being in the Word is good regardless of my attention span. One of the beautiful things about being in devotion with other Christians is that the wonderful blessings of God’s creation (the people around us) become a tool helping to point us back to the Word, and even to see Scripture from a different perspective!
I’m not always in a great mood when it comes time to study scripture. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by my to-do list, or I’m physically and mentally drained. One of the beautiful things about being in devotion with other Christians is that I will have brothers and sisters in Christ to share my frustrations with, as well as my joys. When there is a group of other people expecting to study with me, I will have much more motivation to show up, even if I don’t really feel like it at that moment! There is accountability in community, which helps us to build these habits and disciplines that are so important to our spiritual well being.
Sometimes, I have doubts and misunderstandings. I believe that this is the most important benefit of being in devotion with other Christians: I will have that much more of a defense against Satan’s lies and attacks when I am in devotion in community. The devil can lead us astray even as we strive to do what is right! God gives us the gift of community so that we will have guidance and support in standing strong against his schemes! We can trust in God’s enduring truth, spoken to us not only in His Word, but also from the mouths of our brothers and sisters in Christ!
We may be sounding like a broken record already, but it is our earnest desire for each and every one of you to be engaged in our Immanuel community, and living an intensely devoted life! We strive to offer many opportunities for Bible study with peers or with people crossing many generations to offer a wealth of perspectives and experiences. There are also many opportunities to serve, worship, and recognize the many gifts that God has given us through other ministry opportunities at Immanuel. If you are looking for a way to practice contemplative or active devotion and you haven’t found something that seems to be a good fit for you, please contact Pastor Jonathan or me! We would love to walk with you in that, and we would love to hear more about the passions and skills that God has designed you with to use in this life of devotion, and furthering the Kingdom!
If you get anything from this article, I hope that you have a new motivation to sign up for a new Bible study and take another step toward living a fully devoted life. If you get anything else, I hope that as you’ve been reading you have had moments of your own life flashing through your mind where you’ve seen God at work in areas other than our church building or that sun-streaked kitchen table. Living a life of devotion is more than a 10-minute slot in your schedule, but it is a reverence for God in every moment and every action.
Your hopefully devoted sister in Christ,
Tara Barrett, DCE