Rethinking My Daily Devotions
Like most people, there are a lot of things I feel that I fail at. Exercising, music practice, relationships, living a godly example, etc. When I get especially cranky I halfheartedly berate my mother, to her amusement, for not having been a demanding, "Chinese mother" in her training of us. But I don't mean it, and she knows it. Frankly, on such occasions I'm really just expecting perfection from myself.
I realize that for many people managing time in the morning for bible reading and prayer is a problem. Fortunately for me, I was raised doing this so that it automatically has fit into my schedule since I could remember. I am very grateful to my parents for this when I see how others struggle. But lest you think I've got it made, read on.
I don't normally rush through morning devotions. On the contrary, I take too long. From quite a young age I took to keeping a bible journal where I write down my thoughts relating to what I read. Since I love to write, there are times when I can be quite long-winded. Others in my family have asked what I find to write so much about. Most times it's nothing earth-shattering and sometimes it's as simple as summing up what I just read. But it helps me to better digest what I am reading as well as giving me pleasure. And yet therein lies my problem. I come to morning devotions with my books and notebooks and sit down to learn my lesson for the day. I read and reread a passage, I take some measly notes, I copy part of the scripture, but at the end I feel like I didn't learn much. So I try harder. I ask God to speak to me, teach me, show me the deeper meaning of His words. And sometimes He does. But sometimes nothing stands out and I accuse myself of not having been open enough to God's voice. In the end, I didn't learn a new lesson like I should have.
While reading the journals of Jim Elliot a few years ago I ran across an analogy that has stuck with me ever since. After all this time I finally think I am beginning to understand what it means. He said, "The altar of incense seems to be representative of my daily offering of worship to God... the incense altar is the place for the individual's offering of worship daily... So when I come to God morning and evening, there is the opportunity to place incense before Him" (emphasis mine). Jim was referring to Exodus 30: 1-8 where God commands the Israelites to build an altar of incense. The priest was to come in twice a day, morning and evening, to burn the incense God selected. The act was one of obedience and worship, and was done completely for the pleasure of God. It is truly a beautiful passage, and so full of meaning.
I stewed over that analogy for years. It felt so obvious and yet there was something that I knew I wasn't grasping. I asked God time and again to keep this going in my mind until I had unwrapped exactly what it meant, what He was trying to teach me.
I don't know when I finally did understand because it was a gradual thing. What the analogy was implying, that which I was unable to grasp, was that devotions, daily meeting with God, was not firstly about me coming to learn a lesson but a time of worship.
You start your day worshipping God and paying Him homage for who He is and what He is to us. The beauty of it is that even though the lesson is not the reason for daily devotions it inherently follows.
"Make me to realize that my individual devotion is not for the pleasure I get out of it, though I cannot help but enjoy its odors, but for Thee."
Such simple truth and yet is has been liberating to me. Before I thought I had to learn a lesson a day or I was letting God down -- failing in the school of spiritual growth, so to speak. I learned that daily time with God is not for me but for God, which is connectively for me as well.
When I view morning devotions as worship I am freeing God up to teach me what I could not see before because at that time I was too much in control. Similarly, holding too tightly to something and thus restricting it from doing what it was made to do. My only responsibility is to worship my Creator. Essentially what I was doing before was trying to get God to teach me something in my time, not His.
Can you see how momentous and revolutionizing this is? Can you relate to believing this misconception as well?
My hardest problem now is remembering what I have learned and not letting myself carelessly fall back into the old mindset. Worshiping God every morning takes commitment but once you commit, the lesson part is in God's hands and He won't disappoint.
What do you think? Does this make you reconsider how you conduct your morning devotions? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Passages quoted from The Journals of Jim Elliot, March 22, 1948 entry.