Sunday, July 27, 2008

Devoted to Devotions, or to God?

Today's reading from "My Utmost for His Highest" (Oswald Chambers) is almost mind-boggling to me. Here is an excerpted segment:

His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. His end is the process -that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God. His purpose is for this minute, not for something in the future. We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience. God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.

Please don't confuse this with a zen-like "Living in the moment" philosophy. We do not put our faith in the moment, but in the God who ordains each moment. This God who ordains every tick of the clock has also "declared the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I shall do all my pleasure.'" (Isa. 46:10) We do not lull ourselves to sleep with assurances of some benevolent Force or faceless providence, but find our strength in the great I Am who reigns from Genesis to Revelation and beyond.

But why is that quote from Chambers mind-boggling to me? I guess because I still find the present so hard to cope with. I tend to like the big, sweeping view. I take comfort in God's overall master plan, in His declared purposes, in His promises for the future. It's today's mountains of responsibilities and hardships that send me reeling. I guess it's hard to remember that the pages of my life fall between Genesis and Revelation, too. So I tend to hide away in the comfort of various pleasurable distractions, to the exclusion of too many of my daily chores and responsibilities.

Don't get me wrong. My family isn't totally neglected. But fear of being overwhelmed by my responsibilities has always sent me into hiding far too much of the time, whether in writing a novel or short stories, or playing at some other thing. When I began to grow closer to God, my devotional time became an escape as well. Something that I read from Chambers a little while ago rebuked me for that:

To live a remote, retired, secluded life is the antipodes of spirituality as Jesus Christ taught it. The test of our spirituality comes when we come up against injustice and meanness and ingratitude and turmoil, all of which have the tendency to make us spiritual sluggards. We want to use prayer and Bible reading for the purpose of retirement. We utilize God for the sake of getting peace and joy, that is, we do not want to realize Jesus Christ, but only our enjoyment of Him. This is the first step in the wrong direction. All these things are effects and we try to make them causes.


So where does all this lead me?

Lately I've been retreating more than usual and allowing the housework to really pile up. So I decided that yesterday, which was a Saturday, would be a serious workday. And I came to the startling realization that I needed to NOT have devotions that morning.

Now, before you denounce me as a heretic, hear me out.

When I have devotions, I get so wrapped up in them that an hour or two can easily go by. And, because I tend to abuse devotional time and make it an escape from reality, I find it hard to "tune in" and engage the real world once I'm done. That's no fault of devotions, per se. It's only the result of years of misusing them.

I definitely do NOT need less time in the Word. But I do need to start having it with a heart that wants to take those truths into the day-to-day grind. I need to learn to bring the sacred into the secular.

So I decided to combine my morning and evening devotions into one, all to be done in the evening. I won't have less time in the Word. I'll just have it at a different time. Why? Because if I don't start my housework almost right away, I lose all momentum and don't start it at all. So Saturday morning, after taking just a few minutes to practice a few memory verses, I had to start in on the day's chores, challenges, and responsibilities with the goal of doing everything on my list if at all possible. I had to try to be God-centered in the midst of thankless drudgery and squabbling children and the special challenges of children with autism and ADD and bipolar disorder. I had to start seeking true godliness, rather than some sort of suburban monasticism.

It was kind of scary. It's a bit scary to think of doing it again tomorrow. It's also absolutely necessary. And I am trusting in the God who gave me a family to care for, to take me by the hand and walk with me as I face more and more of the burdens that I've been afraid to shoulder all these years. I'm also confident that He will make my devotional times MORE precious to me than they already are, as He teaches me to enjoy them the way they were meant to be enjoyed.

I guess it all boils down to this: it's impossible to pursue loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, if you're busy avoiding loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said those were the two greatest commandments, and He tied them pretty closely together (Matt. 22:36-40).

I'm not saying that anyone else in the world needs to change what time they have their devotions. And I'm not saying it will have to be this way for me for the rest of my life. I am saying that I am hungry for more of God than I can find while seated. I want to get out of the boat and walk on the water, needing only the sight of Him walking on the sea with me. Then, in the evenings when it's finally time to sit down and enjoy my time in His Word, I hope I'll be able to approach it with the perspective of someone who has gotten her feet a lot wetter than usual.

(Photo from Flickr by Independentman)

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