Lesson 9: The Devotional Life
Written by: Biblical Studies Foundation Posted on: 04/09/2003
The Devotional Life
In our hurry up, man-centered, man-dependent world that measures success by activity,
making big bucks, or
how much we accomplish, finding time to hide ourselves alone with God for steady spiritual
growth is a lost
priority. It is viewed by many as a nonessential, as something for those who have nothing to
do. The question
people often ask is where is the practicality of time alone with God?
We have become so utilitarian that we find it extremely hard to look at time in terms other
than æTo DoÆ lists
and projects, performance and accomplishments. Others view time alone with God as a
There are centrifugal forces at work in our modern world that propel us into a whirlwind of
activity or business.
But perhaps more than anything else our society has been led into a dangerous mood of
Peterson accurately captures this mood of our day and writes:
One aspect of world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the
assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if
something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention
spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has
been flattened by thirty-page abridgments.
There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little
enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long
apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.
Everyone is in a hurry. The persons whom I lead in worship, among whom I
counsel, visit, pray, preach, and teach, want short cuts à They are impatient for
results àThe Christian life cannot mature under such conditions and in such ways.92
King David knew his need of daily time alone with God and, though faced with trials and
pressures that were
pulling him in other directions, he vowed that nothing would keep him from meeting with
at the beginning his day. In Psalm 5:3 David vowed: ôIn the morning, O Lord, Thou wilt
hear my voice; In the
morning I will order my prayer to Thee and eagerly watch.ö
No doubt it was this intimate morning-by-morning meeting with the Lord that developed
DavidÆs faith and
made him a man after GodÆs own heart. This morning watch, as we might call it, has the
special reward of
knowing God more intimately and of Christlike transformation. Surely the Lord had this in
mind, at least in
part, when He said in Matthew 6:6 ôBut you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and
when you have shut
your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay
The rewards of time alone with God are often not immediately evident and in our impatience
we run to
something more visibly practical. But there is a self-deception at work here as well. The
negative effects of
ignoring daily time alone with God is also not immediately visible. ItÆs not like falling off a
roof where gravity
immediately takes over and swiftly plunges us to the ground.
Ecclesiastes 8:11-12 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed
quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do
evil. 12 Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I
know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly.
The aftermath of failing to draw near to God is more like the decomposition of organic
material, slow but sure.
In time we can begin to see and even smell the signs of spiritual and moral decay. Ironically,
spiritual decay is
often accompanied by a paradox, the rock-like hardening of our souls which may blind us to
the rot taking
place in our heart.
Hebrews 3:7-8 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, ôToday if you hear His
voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of
trial in the wilderness, àö
Hebrews 3:12-13 Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an
evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. 13 But encourage one
another day after day, as long as it is still called ôToday,ö lest any one of you be
hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Mark 6:51-52 And He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they
were greatly astonished, 52 for they had not gained any insight from the incident of
the loaves, but their heart was hardened.
Unless we make time alone with God a priority, the other hours devoted to our busy
schedules will be poorly
used. We are prone to ignore times of retreat because our work, our ministry, our families,
all seem more
important. Doing seems so much more practical than praying or meditating on the Word. But
disciplines of prayer and meditation on the Word do not constitute idleness or indolence.
They are rigorous
disciplines that are vital to the spiritual life.
No doubt getting alone with God is not easy and forms a kind of paradox that modern man
difficultùretreat is really GodÆs way for us to advance. Satan obviously delights in
deceiving us in this matter
and works overtime to make it difficult. And the fact it is difficult only serves to highlight
the great need we
have for time alone with God. We need to hear and identify with GodÆs word to Elijah the
prophet when He
told him to hide himself by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:3).
Finding time to get alone with God is a need for all Christiansùwives and mothers, husbands
children, studentsùeveryone. Why? Because it is through seclusion with God that we are able
to develop and
maintain the mind of the Spirit and keep our spiritual equilibrium so that God is at the center
and in control of
It is through the two spiritual disciplines that will be discussed in this lesson that God
communicates to us and
we to Him. Here is where our faith is developed both in content (what we believe), and in
degree (how much
and how consistently we trust in Him rather than in ourselves).
Through the dailies, and what I will call for lack of a better term, the weeklies, we are able to
get into GodÆs
Word and get GodÆs Word into us for conviction, motivation, edification, comfort,
direction, and disciplined
living by the power of the Spirit.
The Two Disciplines
The dailies refer to the discipline of daily getting into GodÆs Word and daily going to the
throne of grace. The
weeklies refer to the discipline of weekly (regularly) assembling together with other
believers for fellowship,
singing, reciprocal ministry, prayer, and the study the Word. Though this study will deal
with the weekly
aspect, the primary focus will be on the daily devotional life.
The dailies and weeklies are part of the means by which believers are able to more intimately
know their God,
relate to and rest in their new life in Christ, and experience true spiritual change and
life-dominating patterns of sin. The dailies promote growth in devotion to God and the
ability to grasp,
personalize, believe, and apply the Scripture, GodÆs personal Word to His people. Apart
from the dailies and
weeklies properly understood and experienced, there will be very little peace and true
spiritual change from
within through a deepening faith relationship with the living God.
For instance, Romans 8:2-4a speaks of the ChristianÆs new life in Christ with its new
emancipated living available to believers through the Spirit-controlled life. However, this is
not just some
mysterious, automatic experience that somehow suddenly sweeps over the Christian after he
or she has trusted
in Christ. So Romans 8:4b relates this new life-changing capacity to a walk in accord with
(adapted to and
under the control of) the Spirit. Then verse 5 relates this spiritual walk according to the
Spirit to the focus of
oneÆs mind. Literally, Romans 8:5 reads,
for those who are according to the flesh (controlled by the sinful nature), are
minding, thinking on, the things of the flesh, and those according (controlled by) to
the Spirit (are minding, thinking on) the things of the Spirit.
As the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit is the one who teaches us and illuminates our hearts to
the Word (Eph.
1:15-20; 3:16-19). True spirituality, walking by the control of the Spirit of truth, will result
illumination, understanding, and so right thinking about God and man and the real values
and priorities of life.
But it is equally true that meditating on the word and right thinking is crucial to true
spirituality or the
The Holy Spirit does not operate in a mindless vacuum, one devoid of GodÆs point of view.
The Word and the
Spirit work together so that, if we are not taking time to get alone with God in His revelation
to us in the Bible,
two things will happen: (a) we will quench the ministry of the Spirit and grieve Him, and (b)
as with a partial
vacuum, we will tend to draw in the attitudes and viewpoints of the world around us.
Romans 8:6 adds to our understanding of the issues here. It reads: ôFor the mind of the flesh
is death.ö The
mind of the flesh is attempting to live independently of God; itÆs the mind of manÆs point
of view, of human
solutions to life, and of human will power. The result is death. Death means separation and a
loss of life, but the
context must determine the kind of death or loss of life involved. The apostle was writing to
the Christians at
Rome, and by the context he was undoubtedly referring to a life of carnality, frustration, and
the absence of
peace, a life dominated by the sinful nature. If continued, such a life would eventually result
in physical death as
discipline from the Lord.
Ephesians 5:14 For this reason it says, ôAwake, sleeper, And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.ö
Romans 8:13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the
Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Hebrews 12:9-13 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we
respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and
live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He
disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the
moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained
by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 12 Therefore,
strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make
straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of
joint, but rather be healed.
1 Corinthians 11:28-32 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the
bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks
judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many
among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves
rightly, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by
the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.
By contrast, ôthe mind of the Spiritö is the mind of spiritual dependence on God, of
operating by GodÆs
viewpoint with His values, objectives, and priorities. The result is life, peace, victory,
fellowship, a life
controlled and led by the Holy Spirit, and of being transformed in GodÆs image.
These spiritua1 disciplines or routines (the dailies and weeklies) are GodÆs grace means of
minds according to the Spirit. Here is the place where the mind is filled with the things of
restructured by the Spirit of God according to the Word of God that we might walk in
newness of life.
An Important Balance
There is a subtle balance which must be maintained, a narrow road, or we will miss the way
of deliverance by
grace and end up in the pit of one of two extremes, maybe even both.
We are calling the dailies and weeklies spiritual disciplines because the term discipline
focuses on the fact of
the believerÆs responsibility in the process of godliness. But this is not meant to imply that
by the discipline of
human will power or human effort we can overcome our sinful nature and its life-dominating
cannot consistently and in all areas free ourselves from life-dominating habits by our
willpower no matter how
badly we desire to do so. For one thing, very often, the goal in such pursuits is selfish.
Though people often overcome some habit by sheer determination, self remains at the core
and true Christlike
change does not occur. People often want change and may turn to God for help, but if they
are not really
seeking to know God and grow in their relationship with Him, they will only be turning to
God as a kind of
A basic truth of the Bible is that spiritual change is the product of genuine godliness, of
growing in our
dependence on and relationship with God through Christ.
Colossians 2 touches on some of the methods or human regulations men often use in their
attempt to control
sin or bring about change. In 2:23 Paul refers to one of these methods as ôself-made
religionö or ôwill-worshipö
(KJV). This is the Greek word eqeloqrhskia from qelhma meaning ôwillö and qrhskeia
religion or worship.ö It refers to will-worship, service, worship of the will, or a self-imposed
religion of doÆs
and donÆts by which men attempt to change their lives.
Colossians 2:20-23 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the
world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees,
such as, 21 ôDo not handle, do not taste, do not touch!ö 22 which all refer to things
destined to perish with the usingùin accordance with the commandments and
teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of
wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body,
but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
But the apostle shows us in this passage that such methods are doomed to failure and they
are doomed to
failure for two reasons.
(1) First, they fail because all human methods are futile to deal with manÆs condition in sin
which is so
ingrained in his total being. The flesh simply cannot overcome the flesh. Self cannot
overcome self because self
will always remain the center of the life.
(2) Second, manÆs religious methods do not work because they are faithless in the
ChristianÆs new position
and life in Christ. Perhaps Paul is also warning us that the moment we attempt the process of
change by our
willpower, we are worshipping our own will (self) which takes us to the heart of the
problem, our need for faith
and dependence on God and what He has done for us in Christ. Will-worship is doomed to
failure because it
neutralizes faith in the ChristianÆs position and divine operating assets in Christ. It is the
dependence on the Lord and His grace work. As long as we think we can deliver ourselves
by our own
willpower, it will only make the sin within us stronger.
Note also that in Colossians 2:23 the apostle teaches us that such man-made religion or
will-worship has ôan
appearance of wisdom.ö It will have an outward display of success to some degree, in certain
areas, and for a
time, but there will be serious flaws, cracks, and crevices in our righteousness and the true
condition of our
inner life will eventually manifest itself in spiritual failure.
Matthew 12:33-36 reveals another truth which is practical to this point.
Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad;
for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil,
speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 The
good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out
of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. 36 And I say to you, that every careless
word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.
The Pharisees to whom Christ was speaking in this passage were religious externalists who
sought to be good
by their own will power and religious works. Since their inner life was not being changed by
regeneration and by continued fellowship with the Lordùit was impossible for them to truly
speak good things
and behave in a righteous way. Sooner or later, regardless of their outward appearance, the
real condition of
the heart would become evident. Such is actually true of any of us, even though we are
regenerated by the
Spirit of God as believers in Christ. If our inner world is not being fortified daily by an
intimate life with God,
the true condition of the heart will come to the surface.
It is not that we want to be that way; we have no intention or desire to give vent to our inner
in anger, or react in self-pity, self-justification, arrogance, or act in fear. But, as we go
through life, as we meet
varying problems and people, the real condition of our heart will manifest itself.
Though we may try to cover these up, stifle them with all our might, the truth will come out
by what we say or
do, or even by our body language. Will power and good intentions have no defense against
the sinful nature.
Only a heart, a spiritual mind which is right with God, one treasuring up GodÆs truth and
using it through these
spiritual disciplines, can provide a defense against the unguarded moment.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to
the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful
for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty
thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought
captive to the obedience of Christ,
Knowing this, we are brought face to face with a vital truth. All aspects of true righteousness
are gifts of God:
imputed righteousness, experiential righteousness, and, of course, ultimate sanctification. It
is essential that we
understand that experiential righteousness, victory over the sin nature (ôputting off old
habitsö and ôputting on
the godly characterö), or overcoming life-dominating sins is the work of God. True, we are
called upon to
cooperate with God by faith and positive response to grace, but the needed transformation,
change, is grace given through our new life in Christ and the power of the Spirit.
Romans 5:17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one,
much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of
righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
The gift of righteousness mentioned in Romans 5:17 should probably not be limited to
There was no such dichotomy in PaulÆs theology. With the gift of GodÆs righteousness in
Christ also comes the
work of God on our behalf to produce His righteousness within by grace through faith. So
Paul adds, ôwill
reign (live victoriously) in life through the One, Jesus Christ.ö When and where? In life, not
just after this life,
but even now through the new life that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Here, then is a key truth and a place where we can easily slip off the narrow road to spiritual
we grasp this truth, that righteousness is by grace, even experiential righteousness, we are
tempted to do
nothing (to ôlet go and let Godö) or to believe there is nothing we can do or should do. This
is where these
routines of spiritual disciplines comes into play. God has ordained these spiritual disciplines
as the means of
receiving His grace or of appropriating it into our lives so that God can change us. These
disciplines allow us to
put ourselves in the place of blessing and at GodÆs disposal.
Galatians 6:7b reminds us of the law of the harvest. ôFor whatever a man sows, this he will
also reap.ö We
reap according to what we sow. Just as a farmer is helpless to grow his crop without
preparing the soil and
sowing the seed, so we must prepare the soil of our hearts and sow the seed of the Word to
reap a harvest of
righteousness. Then automatically by the power of GodÆs Word, the seed produces (Mark
So it is with these spiritual disciplines. They are GodÆs means of preparing the soil of our
hearts, of sowing to
the Spirit, and of setting the mind on the things of the Spirit. Without these spiritual
disciplines, we sow to the
flesh and reap of the flesh, either in mere human good and dead religious works or in sinful
behavior or both.
One vital characteristic of godliness is contentment. Think about just how much evil exists
because of greed
and the lack of contentment. Paul wrote, ôBut godliness actually is a means of great gain,
by contentmentö (1 Tim. 6:6). ôContentmentö is the Greek word autarkeia meaning
ôself-sufficiency.ö But as
this word is often used in the New Testament, it included the concept of becoming
independent of things for
oneÆs satisfaction, significance, or security. Instead, these things are found in God through
the sufficiency of
Philippians 4:10-13 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have
revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked
opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in
whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and
I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned
the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering
need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Regarding contentment, Spurgeon wrote:
We need not sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough, because
they are indigenous to earth: and so, we need not teach men to complain; they
complain fast enough without any education. But the precious things of the earth
must be cultivated. If we would have wheat, we must plough and sow; if we want
flowers, there must be the garden, and all the gardenerÆs care. Now, contentment is
one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated; it will
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