First off, let me say how concerned we are for the people in Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin after the storms that hit last night. We are praying for you, and we hope the storm season ends soon. Like today.
Secondly, I was thinking about Bible study and personal devotions yesterday. The girls and I read the Bible systematically first thing every school day, and then narrate and discuss. This year was too busy, but we made sure to do Bible consistently. (Okay, and math. Bible-and-math. It's like the homeschooling mantra.) When I assess gains and losses over the past school year, Bible comes out as the biggest blessing. Every morning at 7:30 we gathered in the living room and read from either the Old Testament (Tuesdays and Thursdays) or the New Testament (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). We gave the NT more time because we read through some of Paul's letters this year and I wanted to be able to divide each chapter into thirds. Sometimes those letters are hard to follow. (For those of you that don't know, we are KJV only at our house.)
Anyway, this time every day is an oasis. We learn a lot about Bible history as well as duty and doctrine. It gives us an opportunity to talk about what is currently going on, how we should live today and what we should pray for. We pray. I just love it. I think this past school year was the best Bible reading time we have ever had.
I have gone back and forth about my own personal devotions this year, because we do the group Bible reading, don't we? I have struggled with personal devotions for years. It was easy to leave it out, because we were so busy, and Bible reading was going so well. I just didn't feel right leaving out my own personal devotions, though.
(Just fyi: We don't make the kids have personal devotion time. This may or may not be right. We encourage it, but we don't force it. They do, however, have to be part of group Bible reading.)
Anyway, my own devotions. I feel lonely when I pray by myself, except during arrow prayers-- those short, quick prayers you pray when you find out a friend needs a prayer and you pray it right then and throughout the day whenever you think about it, in the middle of doing your other stuff. But focused prayer-only time is lonely. My mind wanders, too. I read about a person who kept a pad of paper and pencil by his bed and wrote down those distracting things as he prayed. I tried to do that for awhile, but it just didn't seem to help. I didn't feel effective in my devotions.
There is one of my problems-- devotions are not about feelings.
So I was thinking about my own devotions yesterday and how I don't have them anymore. I keep trying to convince myself that this is okay, but I don't think it is. Night before last I started reading President George W. Bush's book, Decision Points. In it, he talks about his conversion. He used to think of religion and the Bible as a great self-improvement plan, but eventually he realized Self is not at the center of Christianity. Christ is.
That thought was bumping around in my head yesterday as I thought of devotions, and I realized that my frustration in reading stems from wanting to get as much out of my devotional as I possibly can. For me. When I am tired, I don't want to do devotions because I don't think I will get much out of it.
There is the next problem-- devotions are not about self, but about Another.
Then this morning, after finding out all I could about the tornado in Joplin, Missouri, I followed a tweet to this article by Tim Challies. I love the title: "Pursuing Relationship". That's what I ought to be doing in my devotions. Spending time with the Lord. It isn't about how I feel or how much I learn or what I get out of it. It is about setting time aside to focus on the most precious relationship of my life.
I'm not very good at maintaining relationships. My long-distance family will tell you that I am horrible about calling or remembering special occasions. I don't even put the Valentine's/Wedding Anniversary guilt on my husband because it just isn't that big a deal to me. I mean, the Warrior Poet is a big deal, but marking special days isn't. Not guilt-tripping my husband is probably a good thing, but I shouldn't neglect relationships. And I have a hard time even celebrating normal days. It took a friend coming through cancer to teach me to celebrate those, and sometimes I still forget.
What I read or what I write in my journal isn't as important as focusing on God. (Well, I should be reading the Bible, but I shouldn't get hung up on what to read next.) Devotions should be a time of quiet celebration, quiet rejoicing in a normal relationship with God. The penultimate normal. The precursor to the normal we were supposed to have, which was ruined in the Garden, but will be restored in the Resurrection. It isn't a self-improvement course, although self-improvement may be a side benefit. It isn't about me. It's about Him. Devotion. Get it? (I know you all get it, but it takes me awhile.)