In my main ministry circles, having “daily devotions” or “quiet times” stands as a norm. Often, it is even a standard of maturity. And I’ve written elsewhere about how unhelpful that can be. But, overall, I remain convinced of and convicted about the goodness of habits or regular practices aimed at hearing God from the scriptures, prayerfully seeking communion with our Father and further conformity to Christ, all by the Spirit. It is a practice wholly beneficial within Christian discipleship, a tributary of God’s grace for our maturity and perseverance.
However, and this is also my experience, many Jesus followers struggle with having times of personal prayer and scripture reading. And it can settle into crushing guilt, a sense of missing the mark as they miss their morning devotions. They carry guilt that they are inconsistent; find devotional times difficult; and that they don’t get more out of their scripture meditations. Is that you?
Many believers struggle with daily devotions. And it can settle into crushing guilt.
What should we say, or what encouragement can we offer, to navigate this guilt but also uphold the goodness linked with daily devotions? In other words, are your daily devotions (or lack thereof) weighing you down with guilt? In this post I will urge you to remember the following: this is tough, so don’t make it tougher than it needs to be, this is good, but it won’t justify you before God.
1. This Is Tough
Hardly anything good comes easy. We know this in sport, academics, relationships and many other areas of life. Why should daily devotions be any different? In addition, ‘the enemies’ to time in scripture and prayer are broadly threefold. Firstly, part of us, what the Bible calls ‘the flesh’, would much rather do something—anything—else. Secondly, Satan would much rather we do something else. And, thirdly, the world offers us plenty of other things to do, multiplied by the distraction of technology and media. So yes, this will be tough.
Ask the Lord for help, and then act as a responsible disciple of Jesus.
Be realistic: time in the scriptures and prayer will require more from us than mindlessly vegging out in front of our favourite TV series. Tough? Again, nothing good comes easy. God speaks very positively about discipline and self-control. Reading his Word and praying in response requires both. Again, this will be tough! So ask the Lord for help, and then act as a responsible disciple of Jesus.
2. So Don’t Make It Any Tougher Than It Needs To Be
Consider your expectations.
Don’t Chase An Unrealistic Experience
For instance: do you expect your daily devotions to feel like entering the indescribable 3rd heaven, ascending blazing Sinai with Moses, or tasting the tangible brightness of God’s glory properly secured with Jesus’ return? With respect, that’s unrealistic to expect or chase. And perhaps you’re worshipping an experience, more than God himself?
Rather, think of daily devotions like a daily meal. Your meal doesn’t have to come from a top restaurant, but you do want it to nourish you. So, aim to simply have a bite, to prayerfully be sustained by God’s truth, whether it is a short look and brief reminder or extended gaze.
Don’t Enslave Yourself To Your Bible Reading Programme
There is a time to read broadly. And there is a time to read deeply. When I first became a Christian I benefited immensely from consistently reading through the Bible in a year or two. But at times reading four chapters or more a day can also become rote, impractical, and even burdensome. The programme can become the master. Quantity is not always quality! Some of us would do far better to aim for consistent smaller meditations, memorising rather than daily marathons. And all of us would benefit from varying between reading scripture broadly and deeply at different times.
Reading four chapters from the Bible a day can also become rote, impractical, and even burdensome.
Be Reasonable About Your Time
Linked to the above, perhaps some of us expect having devotion time for two hours a day. While some can manage that, it’s impractical for many others—although, not impossible if we total how much media we consume. But if your daily devotions become impossible, why not aim for even something like 25-30 minutes a day?
As with most exercise, a solid 25 minutes per day trumps a 2.5 hour session once a week. Start small and aim for the consistency of regularly injecting God’s worldview as a counter to the messages preached at you throughout the day. You can always add more time once the baseline healthy habits are set in place.
3. This Is Good, A Glorious Opportunity
Yes, while tough, time in the scriptures and prayer isn’t meant to be a burden. Here stands grace, not law. So, remember that daily devotions are an opportunity, to:
- Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8)
- Hear the Spirit speaking through the scriptures (Hebrews 3:7)
- Remember God’s plans centred on Jesus (Ephesians 1:10)
- Be taught, rebuked, corrected, or trained in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
- Praise or pray to God out of the scriptures (Psalm 145:1-2)
- See how all the scriptures point to Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44)
- Lean into God’s promises and character (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
Psalm 1:2-3 describes someone who delights in the Lord’s instruction and meditates on it day and night. They’re pictured as a tree planted besides flowing streams that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.
So, when it comes to the scriptures, besides communal time under the word, aim for personal times of delight and meditation. Taking one good bite at a time—little by little. The accumulative effects of this kind of humble and consistent time hearing from God really can, by God’s grace and Spirit, create people like trees planted besides flowing streams. Fruitful. Even in hardships. Do this individually, do this corporately.
This is good. Prayerfully, keep going.
4. But It Won’t Justify You Before God
Finally, we come to the guilt that is often due to ‘failed’ daily devotions. Perhaps we have:
- Unwittingly tied our standing before God to our performance? ‘I have a devotional time therefore God loves me or will be with me, at least for today.’
- Become too concerned with doing them so others think well of us? ‘I have a devotional time because I want others to think I am mature.’
- Set up a standard foreign to the scriptures? ‘I have a daily devotional time because this constitutes a mature Christian.’
Let’s engage each of those misconceptions briefly.
Regarding the first: at every point, my standing and relationship with God my Father is based on Jesus, and him alone. In other words: Jesus’ devotion, not my devotionals, are my assurance and confidence. The child of God who spends more time in the scriptures is not more loved by God! Do I believe that?
Regarding the second: this seems to be a classic case of practising our righteousness in front of others (Matthew 6:1). Whether it’s giving, praying, fasting, or daily devotions, we’re urged to not do it for others to see or hear. Instead, we action them before our Father in secret, and focus on the reward that lasts (Matthew 6:1-18). So perhaps repentance is required.
At every point, our standing before God is based on Jesus, and him alone.
Regarding the third: there are other standards to focus on instead. For instance: prayerfulness (Luke 18:1-8); being people of faith, love and hope (Colossians 1:1-8); becoming hearers and doers of the word (Mark 4:24); being marked by love (1 John 3); and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Amen to keeping our eyes and hearts on the standards God highlights.
So, our guilt is worth interrogating. As we do that I pray we will remember that we are not justified by our daily doses of scripture.
In Closing: A Defence Of Daily Devotions
However, even if they don’t change our relationship with God, don’t forget the goodness of personal times in the scriptures. For example, yes, the child of God who spends more time in the scriptures is not more loved by God! But your time in scripture might be used by God to make you more aware of his love for you in Christ. Furthermore, the other standards of Christian maturity often grow and flow out as men and women humbly sit in and under God’s word, listening, repenting, believing, acting, and growing—all by God’s Spirit. To close off, our daily devotions might not affect our union with God, for we’re secure in Christ, but they can enrich our communion with him.