Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Idealized Devotional Life

Some of David Powlison's words in Seeing with New Eyes really shook me up the other day, so much so that I wrote, "Wow...I never thought about it like that" in the margin of the book. He described the process of personalizing Psalm 131 and begins with this paragraph: "Your biggest problem is proud self-will. That's the noise machine inside you. And there is a way to gain composure through the Lord. What should you do now so you can honestly say, 'My heart is not proud'? How can you make this psalm your own? How do you quiet yourself?" (p. 86).

He has a series of four bulleted sets of questions that are designed to help us "identify the ladders to nowhere that pride erects" (p. 86). It was the very first section that caught my eye and convicted my heart. He writes:
Where do you raise up ladders of achievement? How do you go for victory, for grades, for promotion, for the big church, for the the idealized devotional life? (p. 86).
Wow! I had never looked at my striving for a better devotional life like this. It seems that I have this rosy, idealized picture of what my devotional life should look like. In fact, I believe that I impose extra-biblical standards upon myself at times, and instead of spurring me on to reach the mark that I place so high, I simply want to sit in the corner and throw the baton to the other guy.

Does anyone else face struggles like this? If so, take comfort in the fact that you're standing with God is ultimately not due to any personal righteousness on your part but due to the imputed righteousness of Christ. In a personal e-mail, Matt White encouraged me in my struggle with sin with these words: "To see myself as a sinner, yet more than that, perfect in Christ whom no one can judge comes as great comfort and release."

God desires that we enjoy Him, and this manifests itself differently in each believer. I must not succumb to feelings of guilt because I do not read 10 chapters from the Old Testament every morning before I go to work.

I urge you to enjoy the Christian life and your walk with the Lord, for it is a pleasurable experience to delight in the delightful Savior. I believe that Satan knows it's effective to seek and lay guilt upon us for what we seem as deficiencies in our devotional life, for he is the accuser of the brethren. He also seeks to rob joy from us so that the time will be stale and will often seem unproductive to us, so that we may ultimately throw up our hands and quit. Satan's purpose is for us to see this time to be unfruitful and simply become discouraged in our walk.

In Manly Dominion, Mark Chanski quotes J.C. Ryle with regards to personal devotion [I've condensed the three paragraphs into one long block quotation]:
This paper may fall into the hands of someone who reads the Bible much, and yet fancies he is no better for his reading. This is a crafty temptation of the devil. At one stage he says, 'Do not read the Bible at all.' At another he says, 'Your reading does no good; give it up.'...The greatest effects are by no means those which make the most noise, and are most easily observed. The greatest effects are often silent, quiet, and hard to detect at the time they are being produced...There may be far more doing than you think in your soul by your Bible reading...Settle it down in your mind as an established rule, that, whether you feel it at the moment or not, you are inhaling spiritual health by reading the Bible, and insensibly becoming more strong. (p. 134).
Finally, may these promises of Scripture encourage your heart:

1. The Word is Alive--The Word is alive and can accomplish God's purpose. Scripture reminds us that "The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12, NASB). The Bible is at times the blade of a surgeon, and it may be used to do imperceptible good in our lives. Like a patient under anesthesia, the effects of the surgeon's blade are not felt immediately. I have often read or memorized a particular verse and have it impact me in an amazing way at a time far removed from when I first learned it.

2. The Word is Effectual--The Word is effectual and will accomplish God's purpose. God reminds us in the Bible that the Word which he sends out "shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire" (Is. 55:11, NASB). God's Word will always accomplish what He desires. We ministers frequently take comfort from this verse with regard to our public ministries. We take comfort in knowing that God's Word will accomplish His purposes when used in preaching, teaching, and personal evangelism. However, we're not so good at letting it comfort us in our personal lives of devotion before the Lord. However, trust in God and His Word! Reading Scripture is never a fruitful activity, for God is slowly using what you're reading to edify you and build up your faith.

Because the Bible is alive, it can affect you; because it is effectual, it will affect you. Encountering the Word of God is never a fruitless activity, and I can only pause to thank my God for the power of His Word.


Angela said...

Good stuff, Ken. I always enjoy reading your entries!! And why don't you have a picture up yet??

Kenny Wells said...

Thanks, Angela! I'll have to work on the pictures later. They were too big to import, and I haven't gotten around to shrinking them to fit the maximum size yet. I keep forgetting. I'll try to remember to do that after work today. Blessings, and thanks for dropping in!