Devotional reading in the digital age

I was sent a link to this article: Devotional Reading in the Digital Age today by my friend Chris.

I could anticipate the likely conclusion of the author before I began reading, but was pleased to see a subtitle ‘Let’s not be luddites‘ towards the end of the piece. Overall, the argument is that a smartphone is designed for communication and makes this so easy to do that remaining undistracted while using one to read a digital bible is quite difficult when compared to reading a paper version.

Personally, I do find this to be the case for myself. Sometimes I purposely leave my phone in a different room to avoid the temptation to fart around on social media instead of reading the bible. However, I disagree that meditating on the word of God is better with a paper bible. What I actually find is that I meditate on God’s word when I have no bible in my hand – this is when I think about what I have read or remembered and try to understand it. I may refer back to a bible, but that is often on my phone while I am walking, so a case can be made that having the bible on a digital device that’s always with you enhances meditation.

Anyway, it is a good article and a topic worth being mindful of. There are also some interesting looking links at the bottom of the article that I will get around to reading some time.

I tell myself it is worth the trouble

This year we are attempting to do some Lent devotions as a family when possible. It is a somewhat stumbling effort, but the kids do seem to like it and even our three-year-old is getting the idea, or at least he likes the candles!

For us the best time to do a ‘God talk’ in this format is immediately after dinner while everyone is still at the table and the kids have not yet switched into jungle hour mode (totally hyped, loud, disobedient and cranky). Some evenings the meal doesn’t end neatly however, and bringing everyone back to the table and settled becomes quite a challenge.

To plan my devotions I use the reliable and scientifically proven organisational approach called last minute rush. In this case flicking through the gospels in my Bible looking for a Jesus story that isn’t too long, can be explained to a six-year-old and I haven’t used in the last couple of weeks. Tonight my background accompaniment was middle child having a melt-down over a lost homework book, with boisterous boy playing melody and strains of tired ten-year-old on strings.

Then I couldn’t get the first candle to light and little boy decided he needed to help me. He was most indignant when I refused to give him a lit match! He was correct in assuming I needed help.

By the time I said ‘amen’ we had everyone together around the table.

Our carefully chosen (ahem!) passage for this evening was Matthew 21:18–22, leading to discussions of how large a splash mountains would make on landing in the sea, the meanness of Jesus in killing a fig tree, and how cool it is that God can make impossible stuff happen.

With a young family and me doing shift work, our attempts at devotions are erratic at best. Yet even when it seems the kids are not paying any attention and we are all tired, I convince myself it is worth the hassle. I just pray my children find good churches when they are older with pastors who can straighten out their bizzare theology!

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
(Matthew 21:18–22 ESV)

Stumbling is better than not trying


There are some who consider making a regular ‘quiet time’ habit to be tantamount to legalism.

I am far from being legalistic – I am too lazy! But I would argue that not making a regular habit of prayer and Bible reading is effectively spiritual suicide. Going even a couple of days without spending some time reading from the Bible and honestly praying results in me becoming noticeably more worldly and less Christ-focussed.

As I spend a longer period of time not praying as Jesus taught us, my desire to do so decreases, along with my motivation to read the Bible. My thoughts are less taken up with God and more with my own anxious concerns.

I’m not a good example:

Don’t get the impression that I spend hours on my knees praying, read ten chapters of the Bible a day and memorize entire gospels. Often my time with God is a couple of chapters read distractedly while feeding breakfast to myself and one or more children. My prayers look strangely like I am ‘resting my eyes’ (sleeping!) and are fragmented by random stray thoughts.

To remind myself to pray I have photos of people I want to pray for on my bookmarks in my Bible – simple, but it really helps ensure I pray.

And what I have found is that even an interrupted, somewhat sleepy time dedicated to seeking God and His will really does make a difference. A difference which is very noticeable if those times are not happening.

Do you have any strategies for ensuring you get time with God?

The crusts of my day

a crust of communion bread and wine goblet on a wooden table

I do enjoy the scrap ends of my days when I get to spend some time with God and enjoy the Bread of Life.

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:34 ESV)

Even a small portion of Bible reading and quiet prayer is refreshing and brings everything back closer to where I should be. Maybe I should be offering the best parts of myself/my days to God, but they are taken up with the mundane details of being faithful to the roles He has already placed me in. We do what we can.


Image source: Lightstock

My fridge is smarter than my soul

How come a fridge is smarter than my soul? I drift and drift and completely lose internal stability before realizing that some work needs to be done to get back to where I should be.

It has become my habit to use the quiet once everyone has gone to bed to check blogs, write a draft post, search for a picture for that post, check the news, scan Facebook, then wearily do the dishes and fall into bed. There was no plan of pushing God aside in my evenings, I am thinking about him as I do all these things. I’d like to spend less time on the computer but there are so many things that ‘need’ to be done online.

This evening, with no particular intentionality, I changed the order and did the dishes first – the computer was OFF, it still is as I write, with pen and paper – my favourite way. It took a while for the urge to be checking updates, editing, tweaking, researching, to subside.  Gradually the hum of the fridge became my new baseline – a monotonous drone maintaining the status quo. After a long reset my heart synchronized itself with this being here, maintaining a steady internal environment. It took over an hour to settle and regain the internal state of thirsting for God:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water
(Psalm 63:1 ESV)

Eventually homeostasis is achieved, the fridge stops humming – it will resume once it’s internal state drifts away from it’s set point. How come a fridge is smarter than my soul? I drift and drift and completely lose internal stability before realizing that some work needs to be done to get back to where I should be. Only then can I do the work God made me to do.

Headache in a hailstorm

Christians have various ways of spending time with God, trying to engage with Him and experience His Spirit in their lives. Some find a quiet place and meditate upon the Bible, or pray, some write in a journal, others sing, listen or play music. There are many other means to cultivating an experience of God’s presence in our lives also, many folks are very creative in worshiping Christ.

One of the ways I get some time out with God is by taking our two dogs for a walk up the hill near our house through a reserve of scrub and pine trees that is criss-crossed with mountain bike tracks. The combination of fresh air, being out in a natural environment, the view across the city and hills and some time alone to think, often enables me to notice God’s presence with me more than I normally do in the busyness of life. As the weather warms up I will spend more time ‘up the hill’ with the dogs, so hopefully the musings and ponderings from there will result in a few worthwhile blog posts. Sometimes (like on Sunday) I take my camera so there may also be some pictures of what catches my attention, other days it will be seeing with the eyes of my heart through the window of words alone.

Part of my motivation to get out for a walk on Sunday was the headache which was brewing, the result of too little sleep and being inside too much over the weekend. So despite another spring storm I made an effort and was much better for it. A walk in the cold wind helps me to appreciate simple things, such as a warm jacket and woolly hat, especially as the hail came down.

Something I noticed was that the storms a few weeks ago had toppled some trees, including one that had been killed by fire. This poor lone pine had stood stoically for several years after the fire, seemingly solid until it finally came down with a resounding crash. So I had a closer look at where it had broken off.

What became clear was that despite it’s solid-looking exterior (albeit somewhat charred), the inside of this tree was rotten. Dry rot and insects had been eating away from the inside, weakening the structure of the wood until it became inevitable that it would fall. A strong wind hastened it’s demise, but the end of this tree had begun whenever that rot had begun deep inside it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
(Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)

We all have rottenness inside our hearts, it is there festering and growing unless we combat it actively to prevent it destroying the very fabric and structure of our lives.

Unlike this unfortunate tree, there is a way to redeem the rotten core of our lives if we will commit ourselves into the mercy of God.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
(Romans 12:2a ESV)

Finding time to pray

How do you find time to pray? I set out to pray for 30 minutes a day and frankly am struggling to manage even that! I can usually get in 15 minutes a day without any stress, but the additional 15 minutes is much harder to find, or to remember to make time for. In theory, 30 minutes of prayer time a day should be an easy thing — simply a matter of making it a high priority and doing it.

But is it really that simple? In order to pray you need to get alone with God (see Matthew 6:6). I live with my wife and three young children in a small house, work all day in an office with six other people, use public transport to and from my job and am pretty tired by the end of each day (this last point is relevant!). While I have read some advice on training your kids to not annoy you while praying, that is much easier to advise than to do; my eighteen-month-old son is often up in the mornings when I am and loves to climb onto the dining room table to stand there investigating my coffee! Such antics make it difficult to read the Bible, let alone pray.

As alluded to, my preferred time to get alone with God is in the mornings, in fact the ‘easiest’ times for me to pray and focus on God are early in the morning while everyone else (aside from my son!) is asleep, or late at night when everyone else is asleep. Can you spot the problem? (Hint, I pointed out that I’m tired at the end of each day).

At the very least, making more prayer time in my life will require not only discipline, but also some re-arranging of other priorities in order to be able to spend time in prayer. Some folks might try forgoing some sleep, however, I am in a stage of life where I have been getting too little sleep for too long and am physically suffering for it already, without purposely making it worse. So what is the answer?

I honestly do not know. What I do know is that I am not giving up on praying, I am still aiming for 30 minutes per day but am flexible regarding attempting to consolidate that time into a single block, or even two blocks. I have been encouraged by a blog called The Prayer Experiment in which the author is setting the goal of directing his thoughts Godward every minute.

Evidence of grace

My last post highlighted how it can feel to do ‘spiritual exercises’ when it falls flat and seems like a big farce. The obvious question following such a post is; ‘why bother then, if it all seems like a ludicrous waste of time?’

My answer to that is to look for ‘evidences of grace’ a phrase which comes from a message by C.J. Mahaney called Pastoral Character & Loving People which is based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. As we know, the church at Corinth was at least as messed up as our modern ones are, yet Paul could still say:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,
(1 Corinthians 1:4 ESV)

Despite having wrongheaded ideas on many basic aspects of living as Christians, Paul could see enough evidence of the grace of God at work in the folks in the Corinthian church to be able to sincerely thank God. This is an excellent way to view any Christian, especially those we may not like. It is also encouraging to look for the evidences of grace in your own life.

As CJ says, “Most people are more aware of the absence of God than the presence of God. Most people are more aware of the presence of sin than evidences of grace. What a privilege and joy it is in pastoral ministry…to turn one’s attention to ways in which God is at work, because so often people are unaware of God’s work. And much of God’s work in our lives is quiet; it’s not ‘spectacular.’ It’s rarely obvious to the individual, and normally it’s incremental and takes place over a lengthy period of time.” (excerpted from a post on the Acts 29 Blog by Scott Thomas).

What might such evidence look like? A few examples might be: do you want to know Jesus more than you do now? Do you know that God has called you to be His child? Do you recall a time when you hungered for Christ and loved to worship Him? Are you aware of sin in your life? If you could answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions, God’s grace is working in you. Even the negative sign of being aware of sin is actually evidence of God’s grace in making you aware that it is sin and not allowing you to rationalize away what you are doing.

Another way to notice the evidences of grace in your own life and other people is to have a look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-24 and notice ways in which God is growing you in these things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. There are many characteristics of Christian transformation listed in the New Testament, they are not there as rules of law to strive for, but as signposts to encourage us that we are indeed being transformed into the likeness of Christ and to urge us on to grow even more. (See Romans 12:1-2 and Ephesians 4:20-24).

Real life

real-life

I arose early today looking for God. He wasn’t lost, I know He hasn’t gone anywhere but I cannot sense Him and this is not something I can change easily.

When I read the Bible the words barely touch the sides of my neurons as they slide down into the oblivion of forgetfulness. I pray, and there are two voices in my head; one mumbling pleas to God, the other mocking me and sowing doubt. Pausing to listen for the voice of God, I hear the fridge humming irritatingly, the fire pinging, a child coughing and a dog sighing.

Where is the ‘on’ switch for a spiritual life?

I let my hungry stomach remind me of hungering for God… until it becomes distracting and toast beckons. A cup of tea also, to resolve the parchedness of body at least. With body fed and watered there are now no distractions, aside from the nagging impatience to connect with God in the next five minutes before I need to get the kids out of bed…

I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O LORD!
My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
(Psalm 143:6-8 ESV)

Have I been stood up? I kept my appointment, as I try to each work day. Did God not show up?

One way to view this exercise sees a deluded middle-aged guy reading a reprinted translation of a very old book while eating breakfast. He is struggling to concentrate, re-reading the same passage, occasionally putting his head in his hands and mumbling for a few minutes (perhaps with a headache, or are those delusions troubling him?).

Another view sees a child of God wanting to grow and craving to know his Father. So he reads God’s words, turning them over and pondering how they apply today. Praying and accepting that God answers in His own time.

What makes the difference between these two views?

Faith.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV)

The laser-guided Word

I’m generally not enthusiastic about daily devotionals, the idea of someone else’s predigested thoughts on a scripture passage as a substitute for getting it straight from the source doesn’t appeal to me (yes, I do see the irony!).

However, last night while trying to rouse myself from a somnolent state on the sofa to actually go to bed, I flipped through a freebie devotional that had turned up in the mail. Since it was for next month I couldn’t even look up the devo of the day so was just randomly browsing.

The intriguing thing is that despite disagreeing with the emphasis given by the author of the devotional, God convicted me through the scripture passages included in several readings. This is a reminder of the power of God’s Word and that whereas what I write is just words on a page, the words of God are living and active (Hebrews 4:12).

It is not hard to understand why this is so, nobody knows me as well as God does — even my own heart deceives me (1 Corinthians 2:10-11, Jeremiah 17:9). As I read pages of words God knows better than me where I need reproof or rebuke (2 Timothy 3:16, and 2 Tim 4:2), so out of perhaps thousands of words He can easily sharpen my attention upon the 10 or so of His that are appropriate to effect His purposes in me (Isaiah 55:10-11).