Lesson 9: The Devotional Life
AUTHOR: Biblical Studies Foundation
PUBLISHED ON: April 9, 2003

                                            Lesson 9:                                       The Devotional Life                                           Introduction       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 virtual impossibility.       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 impatience. Eugene       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 God dailyùespecially       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 (reward) you.ö       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 d                 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 the spiritual       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 finds tremendously       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 and fathers,       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       our lives.       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 liberation from       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 possibilities of       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 in spiritual       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       Spirit-controlled walk.       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 channeling our       minds according to the Spirit. Here is the place where the mind is filled with the things of Christ and       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 patterns. We       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       Genie.       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 meaning ôexternal       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 opposite of       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 GodÆs graceùby       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 hostilities, explode       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, the spiritual       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 imputed righteousness.       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 change. When       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 4:26-29).       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, when accompanied       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       Christ.                 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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