daily devotions: life-giving or performance-based?

I read a great article by Tim Challies called The Quiet Time Performance.  

Here’s the heart of the article where he quotes Jerry Bridges:

Why is it that we tend to think this way? [meaning that God will bless us for good quiet times and punish us for bad] According to Bridges, we’ve come to believe that God’s blessing on our lives is somehow conditional upon our spiritual performance. In other words, if we’ve performed well and done our quiet time as we ought to have done, we have put ourselves in a place where God can bless us. We may not consciously articulate this, but we prove that we believe it when we have a bad day and are certain that on this day we are absolutely unworthy of God’s blessings. This attitude “reveals an all-too-common misconception of the Christian life: the thinking that, although we are saved by grace, we earn or forfeit God’s blessings in our daily lives by our performance.”

Do you think of quiet times this way?   (By quiet times I mean read the Word and pray).  On the days when you miss, are you just waiting for God to be “dishing out bummers”?  I think Challies has hit on some crucial points to help those who do quiet times for performance.  The kind of people who are sharing what they “learned” in quiet times more to show off or make sure everyone knows that they had quiet time than anything else.

If you brag about your quiet time, there may be a problem.

The same people who try to impress man with their devotions are probably also trying to impress God.  

But I’d like to come at it from the other side as well.  Yes, there are people who do quiet times for performance.  And if we end the conversation there, many people will, (now liberated) say, “Aha, I don’t need to do quiet times, God’s blessing on my life is secured by the death of his Son.”  

They’d be right.  Challies says, “Quiet time becomes tyrannical when you understand it as a performance.” 

So perhaps to end the tyranny, we should end the quiet times.

No!  Of course not, and that’s not what Challies is saying.  Here’s some of his concluding remarks:

So what, then, does Scripture command? It commands that the Word of God be constantly upon your heart. You are to pray, to read the Scripture and to meditate upon it, but you are to do so from a joyful desire, and not mere performance-based duty.

To look at devotions as mere duty, done to gain favor is lethal.  But to see them for what they should be, namely, the means by which I survive from day to day, they become a precious grace, not a performance for a blessing.  They are Air. Water.  Food for my soul.  

My pastor says it best in regard to prayer specifically (although I think the same can be said for Bible reading).  In answer to the question, “Is prayer a duty?” he says:

You can call it that. It’s a duty the way it’s the duty of a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes underwater. It’s a duty the way pilots listen to air traffic controllers. It’s a duty the way soldiers in combat clean their rifles and load their guns. It’s a duty the way hungry people eat food. It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water. It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts in his hearing aid. It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin. It’s a duty the way Pooh Bear looks for honey. It’s a duty the way pirates look for gold.

And so, Challies says, quiet time should come from a joyful desire.  I think it should also come from a desperate need.  Desperation is more often my motivation than joy.  I’m needy.  I’m sinful.  Without the Word and prayer I get lost.  

And the more I’m in the Word, the more my need for it increases, not the other way around.  The more I pray, the more I need to pray.  

There’s no amount of time that is the “right” amount of time to do devotions.  Some will gain more for their soul from teaching a child one tiny verse and letting it affect their life and heart than others who spend hours studying.  Some are praying all through their day and others set aside a time to do so.  

The point is to rail against legalism, while preserving the Water that is the Word of God and prayer for thirsty people.

Any thoughts, readers?

5 thoughts on “daily devotions: life-giving or performance-based?

  1. Good thoughts here. I know that meditation on the Word of God and things of God are CRUCIAL for me day to day.

    With 2 children, I don’t always have the “perfect quiet time” but sometimes the Lord puts verses on my heart that bless me all day long. One thing I do know? Making time for God’s Word is ALWAYS worth it. And we’re to “pray without ceasing.”

  2. I like the comparison to food. I often think of it this way. If I miss a meal, I might be a little hungry, but I can still keep going.

    If I miss a few days, I start to get weak. If I keep on going without food, I will eventually sink into a coma and finally die.

    If God’s Word is our spiritual food, the more we go without it, the weaker we get. (I think about attending church the same way.)

    I don’t eat meals because I have to. I enjoy them and look forward to them. Time with the Lord is the same way.

    However, I sometimes pack my schedule so full I don’t have time to eat substantial meals, and sometimes I miss time with the Lord because of that, too–when it happens I need to change my priorities and schedule.

    We were talking about this in our Bible study tonight. Someone mentioned that sanctification was the process by which we try to do the things we need to do to become like Jesus.

    I didn’t say anything, but somehow that doesn’t seem to be quite right to me. At one point there were certain things I thought I could and should do to become more like Jesus, but it didn’t produce that result. None of my efforts seemed to make me more like Jesus, or a better mom, or a better teacher. But I find that when I look at the day before me and just say, “Jesus help me,” or when I come to a situation and call on him for how to respond, I have more peace, I react more gently, and he is so faithful to help me with whatever it is.

    So now I don’t spend time in God’s Word or do anything else to try to be like Jesus, but just to love him. Making me like him is up to him, and he has promised to do it.

    As far as our devotions leading to a smooth kind of day–some of the days when I have had the sweetest devotions have been the most difficult and unpleasant days of my life. Maybe that’s why the Lord gave me extra time with him that day–because he knew what I would face.

    I can’t relate to the people who say, “When I have my devotions, my day goes better.” I’m not saying every day that I have devotions is a bad day; I’m just saying I don’t see a direct relationship to how much time or how meaningful my devotions are and how the day goes.

  3. I’ve noticed that on the days when I’ve been either tested the most in my own walk, or loving the most of others and God, those are the days when I have truly cared about letting God’s Words sink into my stony heart.

    On the other days, when I fall into legalistic devotions (or miss altogether) I do notice a difference. My sin nature seems to appear that much faster, my frustrations seem to be that much more keen, and my happiness seems to be that much more due to my own cunning rather than God’s blessing.

    It’s like you said, our devotions seem to be a “precious grace” given to benefit our days. Thank goodness for that grace!

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