Balancing Acts–Devotions

by  Tom Beutel

tom b

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

(Psalms 1:1-3, NIV)

As peacemakers we think and talk a lot about peace. One would assume that if anyone understands what peace is and is able to consistently act in ways that promote peace, it would be the ones who profess to be dedicated to peace. And, of course, as Christians we believe in and follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

However, I think most of us would agree that the idea of peace is not all that straightforward. Peace is the absence of turmoil; it is calm, quiet, unruffled. Peace is not violent; rather it builds up, affirms, restores. Peace is well-being, justice, community. Peace encompasses our relationship with God, ourselves, others, and the creation.

It is not always easy to discern the way of peace. Seeking justice for some may bring injustice to others. Avoiding confrontation and violence may support an unjust status quo. Tolerating behaviors in an attempt to be loving may go against the commands of God.

How can we know what is right, whether it be in a peace-making situation, or even in the various choices and decisions that we have to make in our daily lives? If we are to be effective as peacemakers and make Godly choices in our daily lives we need to be able to know and do the will of God.

Paul writes in Ephesians, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Eph.  5:17) and Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” But, how do we do this?

There probably is no magic formula for hearing the voice of God, knowing His will, and following His ways. However, a first step is to remember that we believe in a God who is living and active in the world. Our faith is more of a relationship than a religion. And, like any relationship, it takes concerted effort for it to prosper. For a marriage to flourish, a husband and wife must spend time together, talk with one another, listen to each other, get to know each other. Then the things they do with each other and for each other will, on the whole, be the “right” things.

For us to know and do the “right” things as peacemakers and as followers of Jesus Christ, we must nurture our relationship with God. There are many ways to do this, but an important one is the practice of devotions. Typically, when we speak of “doing devotions” we mean that we spend some time reading scripture and praying. As the excerpt from Psalms 1 quoted above says, “Blessed is the one … whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night … whatever they do prospers.”

Devotions are devotions because they are a time devoted to God. They are times spent with God, talking with God, listening to God, getting to know God. Then, Jesus will be able to say of us, they “listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

While there is probably no magic formula for devotions, there are, I believe, some important guidelines. These are in many ways no different than the characteristics of nurturing any relationship. First, we must actually spend time, time alone with God, time focused on God. We cannot really build a close relationship with a friend or spouse if we are never together, if we are in a crowd, or if we are doing other things at the same time. We must have time devoted to the other and to our relationship. Jesus frequently went off by Himself to be with His Father. If He, who was God, needed separate, private time with God, how much more do we?

Second, we should set aside regular times of devotion. This may be more of a practical matter than anything else. The fact is that if we do not set aside regular times of devotions, we will probably not spend the time. We are all busy people with many demands on our time. Only by having the discipline to spend regular time in devotions are we likely to do them. Again, if we do not spend necessary time with our spouse because we are busy at work, in local committees or groups, with our children, and with our friends, then our relationship with our spouse will suffer. So with God.

Third, devotional times should be significant times. Quick, superficial devotions will not accomplish much. Remember Psalms 1:1-3, the “blessed” person “meditates on [God’s] law day and night.” Martin Luther who began the Protestant Reformation is credited with saying, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” To know and do what is “right” as peacemakers and as followers of Christ, we need to be devoted to God so that we can hear His voice and follow Him.

Finally, devotional times should include reading and meditating on scripture and prayer. Regular Bible reading is important, but simply reading one’s Bible is not enough. Again, Psalms 1 provides guidance. He who is blessed is the one who meditates on God’s word. We need to read and reread scripture, in context. To properly understand what a scripture means now we must understand what it meant when it was written. According to Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart “A scripture can never mean what it never meant.” (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth) The Bible is God’s Word; it is God speaking to us; it is one way that we hear His voice.

Likewise, prayer is important. It is our talking with God and listening to God. We certainly can praise Him, thank Him, and ask Him for healing, guidance, and protection for ourselves and others. But we should also spend some quiet time trying to listen. God will speak to us, putting thoughts or impressions into our mind. We need to learn to recognize His voice.

We will not be Christians by simply believing the right things or even by doing the right things. Nor will we be able to make peace effectively unless we can know and do the will of God consistently. Devoting ourselves to God generally and doing devotions regularly will help us to build a healthy relationship with God so that we will be “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever [we] do prospers.”

 

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