No Devotions

Today I am happy to have a guest blogger for you to learn from and enjoy. 
Stephanie and I met a few years ago through Biblical Counseling for Women. I have asked her to take a turn at the keyboard while I am in Denver speaking at the International Association of Biblical Counselors Conference.  I know you will be blessed by what she has to share.  Check our Facebook page for pictures and updates throughout the conference!  Julie

"You need to stop doing your devotions," said my husband, the pastor.


Um, what?

I had unexpectedly dissolved into a puddle of tears. Too many books and blog posts, too much comparison and fruitless introspection, too much shame-faced looking back on the past or faithless looking ahead to the future wondering about the impact of all this failure to measure up... and no looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith. I just couldn't take it anymore. "My yoke is easy and My burden is light" seemed to be either a promise for other people or just one big, fat lie.

I was adrift, unable to focus on any one thing for very long, both personally and spiritually. Household tasks went undone or unfinished, quiet times were sporadic and aimless at best. I was in the throes of depression, drowning in long-term, unrelenting stress; chronic illness; and feelings of fear, anger, and despair. I wasn't in the Word much anymore, and when I was, all I saw were more lists of more things I wasn't doing well enough, doing completely wrong, or not doing at all. I should be better than this, I told myself. I would be, too, if I would just get in the Word on a regular basis, not just reading, but obeying. Obeying had to be key. This was my fault. All my fault.

"All I see is condemnation wherever I look!" I wailed to my husband. "I know I should be...and do...and that it's all of grace...and...and..." I kept on and on for minutes, as he patiently waited until I'd vented all the grief and fear and unbelief, ultimately concluding, "I'm either not saved or the Lord has given up on me because I. just. can't. be. this. woman. everyone. thinks. I. should. be." And as my wise husband listened, he sifted. He heard through the words to my heart.

So, "You need to stop doing your devotions," he said. He realized that, among other things, I'd made my devotions law rather than a means of grace. My quiet times were disquieting my soul rather than refreshing my heart. I struggled to love, so I tried a study of 1 Corinthians 13 to remind myself to "Get it in gear and be patient and kind already!" And when I failed, I applied more law instead of God's grace evident at the cross, His fullest expression of His love. My loved ones suffered from my anger and so I went to all the passages that talked about not being angry and tried to grit my teeth and apply them. And when I blew up, again, I tried to make up for it by blowing up at myself instead of remembering the wrath of God poured out on Christ, who bore it in my place.

When my husband said I needed to stop doing my devotions, he didn't mean I needed to stop reading, meditating on, and memorizing the Word, or that I should stop praying. Instead, he meant that I needed to stop doing those things to earn points with God, to merit His compassion or His help, to deserve His pride and favor, or to prove to others around me that I got this. I needed to, just for a time, stop reading for the obligations of the Gospel - results of a thankful heart strengthened by the indwelling presence and gracious strength of God Himself - and really see the declarations of the Gospel - what God says is now true because of what Christ has done.

For example, 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, "He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised." All I could see was the obligation: "No longer live for yourself, Stephanie!" Get it together, woman! Pick yourself up, grit your teeth, put your big girl panties on (and any number of other self-help clich├Ęs), and be perfect already!

Now, I know that the Bible does not in any way communicate that God helps those who help themselves. God helps us because we cannot help ourselves, at any point! But I lost sight of that and instead imagined Him looking down on my home and my heart, saying, "Stephanie, I've taught you enough and you aren't following through. When you prove yourself to Me by consistent obedience, then I'll help." In other words, "Merit My unmerited favor. Show Me you don't need My compassion, and then I'll be compassionate." Foolishness. Utterly enslaving foolishness, and I believed it.

Foolish because that 2 Corinthians 5 command is couched in an amazing declaration: He died for all, including Stephanie...for MY sake He died and was raised. Not only did He die to pay the penalty for my sin, He rose again, proving that God was satisfied with His payment...and I don't need to make any further payment. Perfect attendance in my "prayer closet" doesn't earn His favor. Perfect application of what I read there won't just happen. I simply cannot love or control my anger apart from God's help. So I read because the Holy Spirit has the power, through the Word of God, to change my heart. And His Spirit can do that because of the cross.

I can love because He first loved me.

I can give up my desire to control and the hateful anger that spews when my demands aren't met because Christ submitted to His Father's will, knowing it would result in temporary shame and indescribable torment.

Quiet times lead to a changed life when we see the lengths He went to, to purchase our pardon and set us free from the law of sin and death. My devotions should be a result of my devotion to Him in thankfulness for His grace-filled declarations. Not a duty that arises from a prideful need to prove myself to the One who has already given Himself for me.

So I can take a few moments to quiet my heart because I want to know the God who would do all that for me. Because His written Word is where He reveals Himself in Christ, the living Word, the embodiment of the fullness of Deity. Because all the obligations in the world are only possible because of God's full and complete declaration that, in Christ, wearing His perfect righteousness, I am already holy and blameless, above reproach, perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Postscript: If you find yourself where I have been all too many times before, may I steer you in a helpful direction or two? My husband thought it would serve my legalistic heart best to focus my study on the amazing grace-filled, God-sustained truths of the covenants, so I've been working through Kay Arthur's book, Our Covenant God: Living In The Security Of His Unfailing Love (http://amzn.to/MU8Z0k). Another helpful book to guide your thinking toward Gospel truths is Elyse Fitzpatrick's devotional, Comforts From The Cross: Celebrating The Gospel One Day At A Time (http://amzn.to/OmYDHG). Or if you really need to simplify what you're doing for your quiet time, remember that this is about habitual thinking. Assuming it really takes 21-30 days to replace a habit, spend four weeks meditating on these passages (a week for each one): Psalm 103, Ephesians 1:3-14, Colossians 1:15-23, and Isaiah 55. For help with Gospel-informed prayer, you can be guided daily by one of the prayers from Valley Of Vision (http://bit.ly/Rz70i), or use Ken Boa's extremely helpful book, Handbook To Prayer: Praying Scripture Back To God (http://bit.ly/QoGcUW).


About Stephanie: I've been a child of God for 29 years, a wife for 11 years, and a mom for 19 months to two children we're hoping to adopt from the foster system. I used to be a counselor and Bible teacher, and I used to write ablog. These days, I counsel little hearts, teach my babies to love and memorize the Word of God, and my writing consists of modeling the ABC's for a preschooler who's dying to \write. Lots of things have grown my faith over the years, but not much has shaken it like infertility and motherhood, and I'm thankful that God has proven Himself faithful and merciful over and over again. I do all this from a tiny corner in Pennsylvania where my family serves with Village Missions, a missions organization whose purpose is to strengthen and establish healthy Biblical churches in North America, primarily in rural areas.