Why Devotions Are Not Enough

I recently learned something I wish I had learned years ago.  I should have known it; it is everywhere in the Bible.  It was in my theology – that is, I had it in my brain.  However, it never worked itself into my life.  Because of what I recently learned, my life will be forever changed for the better.

I learned that spiritual growth requires more than a personal relationship with God.  It also requires me to process life devoson a deep, heart level with safe people.  Not only do I need a strong devotional life, which is what this blog is all about, but I also need others to help me incorporate God’s work in my life.  I need people who will walk with me through life.  I need people who will empathize with my pain, my hurts and my losses.  I need people who will celebrate victories and will be a support team to help me become more like Jesus.

Until recently I believed that Jesus was all I needed for navigating life.  I really thought my personal relationship with him was sufficient.  In fact, if I admitted needing others in my life, that would be dishonoring to God.  For example, when my son was born prematurely and died after two days of life, I went to God alone with my pain.  I found Psalm 139:16 and reasoned that if God had ordained those two days of life before my son was born, then I would consider them a gift.  To grieve the loss of more days with my son would be to dishonor God’s gift.

What I know now is that I needed some safe people who could have come alongside me and grieved with me.  Grieving isn’t dishonoring to God; it is healing.  I missed out on the full extent of God’s grace because I ignored my loss.

Were my son’s days ordained by God? Yes. Were they a gift? Yes.  My personal relationship with Jesus was not the problem; my devotional life was strong.  My theology was not the problem; it was just incomplete.  What I failed to understand was that when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15), God was once again incarnate in the world.  Now he is not just incarnate in one man – Jesus, but he is incarnate in his church – the body of Christ!  I knew this theologically, but now I know it experientially.  Finally, I am beginning to experience the healing power of bringing my losses to other Christ-followers who will share in my grief and will extend God’s grace to me.  I love it that I can be 55 and still not too old to learn life-changing lessons!

The point is this: a strong devotional life is a must for spiritual growth, but so is a strong, community of safe believers.  Continue to nurture your relationship with Christ through the disciplines of Bible reading and prayer, but don’t neglect building a community of safe people through whom God can extend his grace to you.  My devotions will work bigger changes in my life when I process life with others, inviting them to walk with me on God’s path.  For a much better understanding of this, read How People Grow by Henry Cloud & John Townsend.

What does your community of safe people look like?

Listen Up!

When I was in college and later the Navy, I was highly influenced by the ministry of The Navigators. Their ministry helped me develop a relationship with God by teaching me to spend time daily with him in prayer and in searching his word to me from the Bible.  One of the tools they offered was the “Hand Illustration.” Each finger on the hand respected some aspect of engaging the Bible: Hear; Read; Study; Memorize; and Meditate.  Most importantly, the palm of the hand represented Application.

Picture only your fingers holding a Bible. In that case I could easily walk up and snatch it from your hands.  However, if you tucked the Bible deep into your palm and then gripped it with your fingers, I would have a hard time taking it from you.  The point is that we need to apply the truths we learn from hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Scriptures.

In the next few posts I want to talk about each of these aspects of the Hand Illustration.  Today, let me focus on hearing the word of God.  Thirty years ago the only way for me to have “heard” the Scriptures would have been by someone else reading them to me. That would have been awkward and just wasn’t going to happen. Perhaps I could have read them out loud to myself – but isn’t that the same as reading?  So, we listened to sermons and called that “hearing of the word of God.”  Now I am all for preaching.  I preach some myself and I certainly listen to my own pastor and a number of others through podcasts.  However, we live in a day where we can easily hear the Scriptures being read. There are numerous audio versions of the Bible available to us.  One of the least expensive (it’s free!) ways to access these is through the YouVersion app.  I really believe that today’s smart phone technology was inspired by God for the very purpose of allowing this app, and others like it, make the Bible accessible to millions.

Think about this: How did the early believers receive the word of God?  They received it by hearing.  For example, when Paul’s letters were sent to the various churches, they were read out loud from the beginning to the end.  There were no chapter breaks, no interruptions in the middle to “study” the meaning of a phrase or word.  The people simply listened to someone read the letter to them.  No one passed around photocopies of it beforehand for them to follow along.

I have found listening to the Bible to be the single most useful way to learn the Scriptures.  I can listen to the Bible much faster than I can read it.  Plus, it forces me to receive the Scriptures in their context.  When I listen to the Bible, I am unaware of when one verse ends and the other begins.  I hear the flow of thought.

Here’s an assignment for you: Sit down and listen to Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Start at the beginning and listen to as much as you have time.  Close your Bible.  Just sit and listen as attentively as you can.  Tell me what you learn from this exercise.  How is it different from reading? From study?  Does it give you insight that you had never “seen”?

Grab a Spoon!

Ray is my grandson.  He is 7 months old and at that stage where he wants to feed himself.  He doesn’t like it when his mom tries to spoon-feed him.  He wants to take the spoon in his own hands and do it himself.  It is so fun to see babies exerting their independence. From the day they are born, they grow.  They don’t stay babies long. Of course, maturing comes with some pain.  At this stage, it is more the parents who are the recipients of such growing pains.  Because Ray wants to feed himself, he doesn’t get enough food into his mouth. And since he has a short attention span and endurance level, he just doesn’t get enough in his tummy to make it through the night.  But this too will pass. Slowly but surely, he will gain the coordination and skill necessary to feed himself.  He will wean himself from all milk and live on solid food.  This is inevitable.  No one has to cajole him to do this.

When it comes to growing in Christ, however, maturity appears not to be so natural.  The writer of Hebrew has to exhort the believers to grow up.  He says:

“Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” – Hebrews 5:11b-14 (NIV84)

In other words, grow up! It is time to start feeding yourself. Quit living on the simple milk of someone else’s elementary teachings.  Pick up the spoon and dig into the truths of God’s word for yourself.

However, let’s be realistic about this endeavor:

  • It is going to be messy.  We put bibs on babies because we know not all of the food will end up in their mouths. Not to mention, what goes in may not stay in.  We just need to relax and realize that as we begin to learn to read God’s word not all of what we read will make sense at first.  But something will nourish your soul.  Soon you will understand more and more.  Spiritual maturity will occur.
  • Sometimes a little assistance is needed.  A mom or dad will often help a baby feed themselves by steadying their child’s hand as the spoon gets closer to their mouth.  As you start to read the Bible and begin to have a devotional life, don’t hesitate to let a good devotional resource help you.  Use these as examples and supplements to teach you how to feed yourself from God’s word.  Just don’t get dependent on the help.

It takes practice and time to learn how to be a self-feeder of God’s word.  You can do this.  This blog is all about helping you learn to do so.  Dig in and try your hand at some solid food.

We like to call our grandson, Sweet Baby Ray.  Someday, however, the only thing called Sweet Baby Ray will be the BBQ sauce he puts on his ribs.

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