I thought it would be interesting today to take a step back and look at the genre of writing we do here each day and ask the question, What exactly are devotions?
I know Wikipedia isn’t the place where Christians get their information, but I wanted you to see their definition; I’m not sure they got it right:
Christian devotional literature, also known as devotionals, is religious writing that is neither doctrinal nor theological, but designed for individuals to read for their personal edification and spiritual formation.
The footnote is from The Encylopedia of Christian Literature and reads:
After the Bible, Christian devotional literature has provided the most popular and instructive kind of reading and guidance for believers. Most broadly considered, Christian devotional literature may be thought to encompass any inscribed verbal artifact employed to stimulate the production, sustenance, and direction of the unique interior Christian self, whether solely in relation to the divine or including also service to fellow believers, neighbor, and/or world.
Everybody got that?
Their entry for “Bible study” clears this up (a little):
In Christianity, Bible study is the study of the Bible by ordinary people as a personal religious or spiritual practice. Some denominations may call this devotion or devotional acts; however in other denominations devotion has other meanings. Bible study in this sense is distinct from biblical studies, which is a formal academic discipline.
I like the idea that devotion is a personal activity, and that it’s not about building up academic knowledge. But the first definition implies that it’s not theological in nature, but then what are you left with? And where does it leave those of us wanting to process at a “201” and not “101” level, and go deeper? Their definition leaves you in an “inspirational” category that can be theologically vacuous. Theology is the study of God, and while that implies (to some) something taking place in a lab, we do want to know God and learn His ways, as part of our daily walk with Him. It’s going to involve, at the very least, an open Bible.
The word devotion is used eleven times in the NIV, the first few always preceded by the adjective wholehearted. That’s a point we don’t want to miss. Our devotion should not be brief, perfunctory or done out obligation, or done with grumbling. It should come from the heart.
2 Kings 20:2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” …
(That exact verse, word-for-word, is repeated in Isaiah 38:3.)
Two of the uses are in the New Testament.
I Cor 7:35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
The second one is a warning:
2 Cor. 11:3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
Here we’ve picked up two more adjectives, pure and undivided, which we add to wholehearted.
The word devoted is used even more frequently.
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
You can read all of the uses of devoted here.
On a personal level, when I think in terms of devotion, the verse which comes to mind most frequently is:
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
The modern devotional readings we do could fall under the “teaching” or the “prayer” category, but either way we see a four-pronged devotion in the early church: Teaching, fellowship, the common meal and prayer. (I know prayer is one area where I’m weak; what about you?)
In our modern world, we sometimes despair when somebody takes a noun and makes a verb out of it, but perhaps here we have an example of someone taking a verb and making a noun. Devotions have become a thing, something printed in a book or on a computer screen, when in fact devotion to God is an action; an action perhaps based on an underlying attitude or approach toward God.
One of my longtime favorite devotional books is a one-year tour through the NCV New Testament called Time With God. But you can read the book and miss the title: God wants us to spend time with him, and he wants to spend time with us.
If you’ve read this far, the title at the top of the page is clearly wrong. The question is not “What are devotions?” but rather “What is devotion to God?” or perhaps “What is my devotion to God?”