These are my thoughts on why I gave up the traditional “daily devotion.” If you have a busy unpredictable schedule and struggle with devotion time, I think you will be encouraged, while at the same time challenged.
The Alternate View
Several years ago I asked a pastor who I greatly admired what his daily devotions were like. I’ll never forget what he said, “I don’t really have daily devotions.” My mind reeled with confusion. How could a man so caught up in the Spirit NOT have a daily devotion? Seriously, the man was a spiritual and theological giant. He went on to explain. “I don’t have a scheduled time where I sit down to read and pray. Any devotional time occurs as I’m going about my day to day life,” he said. I didn’t argue, but I disagreed. “This cannot be right,” I thought to myself.
“How can one be spiritual and not start the day with Bible reading and prayer?”
Despite the pastor’s confession, I did not change my routine. That night I set my alarm for 7 AM. My Bible, journal, and pen waited by my bedside, as always.
A few years later, my devotional schedule was severely disrupted — it was besieged with an onslaught of strange people living with me and new responsibilities. How did this happen?
First, I got married. “Someone is in the house right now? All the time? But she is making noises. Doesn’t she know it’s called ‘quiet time’ for a reason?” With all the unfamiliar distractions of married life, my mental state declined to a robotic brain from a 1950’s movie: “Cannot compute. Cannot compute. Must.Have.Quiet.Time.” (Queue the exploding robot head). KABOOM!
Second, I had kids. “So just a minute. There’s now yet another person in the house at all times? She demands constant attention? I can’t rebuke her for it? (Telling a baby to stop being selfish doesn’t seem to be very effective) And she wakes up throughout the night, robbing me of sleep night after night and before my 7 AM daily devotional deadline?”
Oh no. This is not happening!
Third, I got a job. No, not a job continuing as the highly experienced full-time student that I was, but a real job in the cruel fallen world with evil troll bosses and their performance objectives. As a full-time seminary student I hadn’t realized all the associated privileges, like catching naps between classes, reading Scripture and theology books whenever I wanted, catching more naps, and so on.
In a short period of time, my life changed dramatically. It went from self-paced structure to fast-paced randomness. Scheduling anything at this point became an exercise of epic proportions. Even remembering to eat sometimes proved comedic. And along the way, my scheduled morning devotions were lost – completely.
For years, I struggled with guilt and confusion over the lack of devotions. I prayed to God continuously. Over and over I asked Him to help me understand what I was supposed to do. I also sought the advice of numerous friends.
Nothing seemed to work.
I was caught in an unending cycle. When I had time, I was too tired; when I wasn’t too tired, I had no time. Sleeping and working took 16 hours of my day before I could schedule ANYTHING. The mornings, though my most productive time, were filled with the needs of my early rising children and getting ready for work. I couldn’t get up any earlier because I needed all the sleep I could get. The evenings had potential, but my mind decomposed into soggy bran flakes after a day of pleasing the troll boss and performing the nightly “ceremony-of-kids-who-don’t-want-to-go-to-bed-ever.” What was I to do?
Then I started thinking more about what the pastor had told me. Maybe he was trying to drop a hint. “Any devotional time occurs as I’m about my day to day life,” he said. So I started looking for opportunities where biblical study, meditation, and prayer could intersect in stride with the randomness of my life. Then I realized: That time I spend teaching my kids catechism? Yeah, that’s a type of devotion. That time I spend talking with them about Scripture and the things of God? Yeah, that’s a type of devotion too. Those little prayers and Scripture memory on the way to work? Yep, devotion. And so I started seeing more of these little devotions in my life. Then, almost effortlessly, I just let go. I stopped fighting.
Don’t be mistaken. I held fast to my passion for God’s Word and communion with Him, but I stopped battling for “devotion time.” I felt free, and ironically found myself studying and meditating on God’s Word more than I had in a long long time.
The Take Away
Practically speaking, there are a few points of encouragement I would like to share with those who are in a similar situation:
God does not command us to have a “devotion time.” He does command us to love His Word and keep His commandments (e.g., 1 John 2:4). He commands us to pray without ceasing. David commends us to meditate on His Word day and night (e.g., Psalm 1:2). You can do this with or without aids like books, personal journals, or even a physical copy of the Bible. We are not commanded to have devotions at certain times of the day. Instead, we are encouraged to meditate on God’s Word all day, every day.
David remarked in numerous places about meditation in the morning. He also remarked about the evening. He remarked about the entire day as well. Apparently David had “devotions” all the time. Similarly, in God’s commission of Joshua He said, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8 ESV).
The point is, we are to commune with God and His Word throughout the entire day, not necessarily a particular time. In fact, I have found time and time again that following a strict schedule can sometimes lead to an unhealthy ritualism. This isn’t always the case. In certain scenarios, some Christians have highly rewarding devotion times on schedule. But for those who can’t, they shouldn’t punish themselves.
Whatever our situation, our goal should be to find a routine that leads us into a deeper holiness, a deeper knowledge of His Word, and a deeper fellowship with Christ, and we should follow that routine and never look back. Do you grow by keeping a journal? Do that. Do you grow by reading intellectual theology books? Do that too. Do you grow by having sweet one-minute intervals of prayer? Do it! Still find traditional daily devotions helpful? Then by all means continue them, but let’s be careful not to burden ourselves or others with guilt over non-biblical requirements. Let’s free ourselves from any modern-day Pharisaism.
In case there is any confusion, let me clarify by saying that no Christian can grow without studying, living, and loving the Word of God on a daily basis. In this post I have sought to address what I feel are unhelpful cultural pressures within (and certainly without) my own sphere of Christianity regarding the topic of Bible study. In no way do I intend on diminishing its necessity. If that is the lesson conveyed, then I have failed. What I have attempted to do is encourage all of us in a way that demands much more of our hearts and minds for God; that we should avoid unhealthy forms of religious ritual and instead be in the Word all day and every day.