Someone told me I should write a devotional. I didn’t take kindly to the suggestion. For those of you out of the North American Protestant/Evangelical/Charismatic lingo loop, a devotional is a collection of meditations and suggested Bible readings attached to dates on the calendar. Some of them are published as monthly booklets and some as hardbound classics.
The problem for me is that “devotional” did not bring up fond memories of pleasant times of focusing on God. It brought up memories of one more thing I had to do before I could shut off the lights and go to sleep, one more tense morning around the breakfast table while Dad quickly read to us from the booklet with one arm already in the sleeve of his coat, one more packaged sermonette from the camp counsellor before we could go down to the lake to swim, one more occasion to cease the fun and get serious at youth group. In short, I associated “doing devotions” with religious duty that interfered with stuff I valued more. I needed deep healing from the ravages of godless religiosity. I’m realizing, when negative reactions like this pop up, that I still do.
I know I’m not the only one, because a brief online search for devotional material revealed a number of titles bragging about brevity. The Ten Minute Devotional. Quick Daily Devotions for the Busy Mother. Seven Minutes to Starting Your Day Right. Five Minute Devotions. I think the winner of this genre had it down to one minute. That’s what happens when a once good idea becomes an obligation. Let’s get this thing out of the way and get on with life.
The other use of the word “devotion” means a heart set apart and acting out love, loyalty, and care for a person or object. Being devoted to something or somebody means making the object of that devotion a high priority. Imagine Moses saying to his brother Aaron, “I’d love to stay with you and listen to these people complain, but I have to go up on a mountain top and watch the goodness of the Creator of the universe go by.” Imagine Mary of Bethany saying to her sister Martha, “I’d rather wash pots with you, but I have to put in ten minutes of listening to Jesus talk about his Father in heaven first.” Imagine Paul telling the Holy Spirit, “Fine. You can explain the mystery of the ages to me, but be brief. I’ve got a boat to catch.”
Here’s the thing it has taken me far too many years to realize: we cannot love God without receiving his love first. Without his love, without his grace, without revelation of his purposes since time began we have nothing to give but grudging obedience to rules and a quick prayer that nothing bad will happen to us, or our kids, if we miss occasionally. From the beginning he planned for our salvation. He has always been devoted to our well-being, our spiritual spiffing up, and satisfying eternal life with him. We can love him because he loved us first. We can respond from the heart to his invitation to go for a walk with him and ask him our questions, or we can choose to go for the record and see if we can cut down the doing devotions thing to thirty seconds next time.
One day, some years ago now, with the ugly voice of depression whispering that I would just be disappointed again, I chose to get up and go for a walk with the Lover of my soul. I’ve never looked back. Sometimes we talk about how much we value each other, but he always wins. His love is stronger. His devotion to the objects of his love is from everlasting to everlasting.