In the evangelical church of my youth, having “daily devotions” was one mark of authentic Christian living. You could choose morning or evening as long as it was the same time each day, sitting in the same place, reading the Bible, and praying. It was meant to be a regular “quiet time”–to grow closer to God, and to give God priority in our lives each day.
So I tried. As a morning person even then, I chose a time before breakfast. I started with the gospel of Matthew since that was the first book of the New Testament. I read. I prayed. And just as I had been told, I did sense a closer relationship with God.
But then it happened–since I was also a night person and often stayed up late, I slept in one morning and missed my quiet time. I felt guilty, and resolved to get up early the next day. But then it happened again–and again–and as it happened more and more often, I felt more and more guilty. How could I be a good Christian, if I couldn’t even keep my daily appointment with God?
And yet a part of me also wondered, why is it so important to have the same few moments with God each day? Is that really what it means to be a Christian? As a youth volunteer at the hospital, I talked to patients, brought them a book or magazine, made sure their flowers had enough water, helped with meal trays, and even fed one patient who was too weak to lift the spoon to her mouth–wasn’t that service also part of my relationship with God? As I walked to the hospital, talking to God as I memorized the letter of 1 John along the way, wasn’t that also a very intimate part of my relationship with God? Why didn’t these things “count” as much as morning devotions?
At the time, I kept my questions to myself, and continued to struggle with my guilty feelings. But then I came across the conversations and letters of Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth-century lay member of a monastery in Paris, who spoke of practicing the presence of God throughout the day.While Brother Lawrence observed the set times of prayer required by the monastery, he also said that it was “a great delusion” to think that those times were any different than any other time of the day. Whether at prayer in the chapel, or working in the kitchen (which he thoroughly disliked), or in town on monastery business, he sought God’s presence in every moment of every day.
Brother Lawrence confirmed my own growing conviction that yes! my conversations with God about 1 John as I walked to the hospital once a week were very much a part of authentic Christian living. My service to others was just as much a part of my relationship with God as any morning quiet time. I didn’t need to confine my devotional life to a few moments in the morning as if the rest of the day didn’t matter.
And so I gave up on daily devotions as the only way to spend time with God. I now realize that Christian living doesn’t mean doing devotions in the morning and then being “done” for the day. Morning, afternoon, and evening–my whole life counts!
These days, I’m still mainly a morning person and often read my Bible, pray, and journal before breakfast. But I will just as often read a part of Scripture during a random part of the day, talk to God while going for a walk, journal late at night, and seek to weave other spiritual practices into my daily life. If I miss my morning time, I no longer feel guilty that I’ve missed my time with God, for I know that God is present in every moment. I’m no Brother Lawrence, but I long to be present to God at all times too.
Your Turn: Do you practice “daily devotions”? Why or why not?