What were the Patriarchs doing when they were not “fathering”?
What did the prophets do when they were not prophesying?
What did the disciples do when they were not following?
Pick any group and we can be fairly certain their daily lives were not consumed with the type of activities that overwhelm members of Western Civilizations. No “daily grind”, no climbing the ladder to success, no pursuit of another dollar to buy more toys. It’s just as certain they were not sitting in front of the television watching the latest soap opera, the recently released Blu-Ray movie, or the Sunday, Monday, or Thursday football game. There were no iPods, no cell phones, no internet gobbling up chunks of time. So what exactly were they doing?
The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about the daily lives of these people. We often know their occupations and travel itinerary but sometimes no more than that. Consequently are we to assume their day-to-day lives were not important? At least not important enough to record. Were they Bible readers, prayer warriors, and witnesses? I suspect not—at least not as we would think of those traits or activities.
It’s not often that you read of Moses, Abraham, Jacob, or the others daily discipline for interacting with God. Agreed, we see pivotal connects; burning bushes, cloud covered mountain tops, intimate displays of faith with knife in hand, wrestling matches on the riverside, etc. But, was there more to it than that? Was their faith an umbrella type faith that rested under the idea of sacrifices, the Torah, Sabbath, or fulfilling the new life as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, etc.?
Naturally, in the OT, there were regular sacrifices offered to God. But it was clear early on that God was wanting more than animal sacrifice, he wanted a sacrifice of the human heart. He wanted his people to love kindness, do justice and walk humbly before him in obedience not ritual.
The prophets’ daily duty was fairly obvious. They were to prophesy. Their job was to communicate God’s message to a stubborn, obstinate, people determined to have things their way. People slow to hear, tardy in what they saw, and hard-hearted when it came to carving their own conception of the divine. We seldom get a glimpse of their personal lives. Isaiah, Hosea, Elijah, might be exceptions and a few others, but most of what we learn of them is related to their role, not their personal habits of devotion and worship.
Then we have the disciples. As they say down south, “Bless their heart.” They learned early on that coming to terms with following Christ was not as easy as they might have expected. It wasn’t so much that they couldn’t do the job, they could in most instances. It was that they couldn’t seem to get their arms around the ministry of the Messiah, his teaching, and of course, his ultimate goal. Even in those intimate times of solitude together or mountain top experiences, they struggled to get a grasp on what was really going on around them.
It wasn’t until after the resurrection that they finally came to terms with their ministry and mission. Acts 2:42-47 gives us a look at the focus of their ministry and how the people responded to that ministry. Following that initial outpouring the God’s spirit, things seemed to dissolve into more routine matters; taking care of the poor, the widows, encouraging the gathering of believers and practicing the ordinances.
Does any of this have any significance for us when it comes to our daily disciplines, our routine devotions? I believe it does.
Often there is a distinct emphasis from the platform and otherwise, to engage, even cajole people into some type of daily ritual that involves scripture reading, devotions, and prayer. These activities are not intrinsically bad, but the emphasis on “daily” may up the ante to such a degree that people fail to maintain it and then feel guilty because they fall short of someone else’s expectation. This in turn can result, in some people’s mind, in falling short and being less of a Christian then those people who maintain the daily practices. Is that the way it should be? Probably not.
Any exercise physiologist will tell you that working out too much has an adverse effect. Always focusing on one muscle group fails to allow for recovery and a strengthening of that muscle group. Recuperation is key to building strong muscles and endurance. This can be an analogy for discipleship.
Doing something daily, may have a tendency to make the “doing” less beneficial. Reading our Bible every day is not a negative, per se, but it seldom allows us to meditate and assimilate what we’ve been reading. It simply becomes one section of scripture piled on top of another without any real time for “recovery” or allowing us to internalize what we’ve been reading. That does not mean that if we have time to read our Bible daily we shouldn’t do it. It simply means at some point the material we’ve been reading needs to get from our head to our heart and out through our hands and feet. Simply reading to be reading in order to say we’ve read is a meaningless exercise.
Prayer is often approached the same way. Prayer involves the heart and the mind. It requires no set procedure. Effective prayer is not a result of how long we pray, what position we pray in, or the words we say. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time had that kind of problem. Prayer is an issue of the heart. Therefore, prayer can be done anywhere, anytime. Let’s go back to the exercise analogy. When I was racing bicycles and training regularly, I looked for any opportunity to maximize my training efforts. As a result, if I found myself standing in line at the grocery store, I would practice calf exercises by raising myself up and down on the balls of my feet. It didn’t involve weights, but it did allow me to keep those muscles toned. Prayer can be like that. Because it is free of any particular environment or procedure, it can be practiced anywhere. The one exception may be while driving, especially if you’re in the habit of praying with your eyes closed. Best to stay focused behind the wheel.
Daily rituals are good, even beneficial. When it comes to discipleship, it’s not necessarily the case that your Bible rest in your lap every morning or every evening. It’s also true that going into your “prayer closet” daily may not be necessary. If we have opportunity to do these things daily and choose to do so, that’s wonderful. On the other hand, if we do not, let’s avoid piling guilt on ourselves. Just as God wants a “cheerful giver”, he also wants a willing heart. He wants us coming to him because it’s our desire, not out of compulsion, demand or some rote habit. It’s okay to pick a development time for our Bible reading that we set aside each week and say, “That’s when I do my reading and study time.” Then once we have that practice set, let’s cut ourselves some slack the other days.
Yes, it’s true, doing these disciplines under this type of framework may put us out of touch with the share circle when they start explaining, “In my devotional time today….” That’s okay. We can say, “In my study time this week…” Folks may look at us funny, but what the heck. Our intent is not daily duty, rather sincere devotion as best we can. We are committing ourselves to be a true Christ-follower, not a devotional hound.*
*Please note, as noted a couple of times, I am not implying that regular devotional time is ineffective. Quite the contrary, when it’s practiced sincerely. It is form without function that is at issue. That along with the insistence by some that daily devotions are the only way to true devotion.