Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Discipline of Devotion

Quite a while back I posted some thoughts on reading our Bibles and in that post I mentioned a new edition of the Bible published by the International Bible Society called The Books of the Bible. It uses the TNIV translation, and my real reason for loving this edition is the format itself: no chapter and verses in the text, single-column, no headings, study notes relegated to end notes, and, though this feature was less compelling to me, the re-ordering of the books of the Bible according to their probable dates of composition, literary style, and theological content.

Right now there are just over 20 people in our church reading through The Books of the Bible in a year. At the website you can find a handful of different reading plans for just this purpose. At the beginning of the new year we had a special service wherein we dedicated these new Bibles and handed them out to those who had signed up to read it in a year. And we are also meeting once a month for prayer and encouragement. Of course, not every one is literally on the same page, as nice as that might be; however, the point is that people are reading. That said, I still tease my wife since she is still behind! But, again, she is reading. And when it comes to the Bible this is the most important thing.

We're not always much for discipline in our churches. And trying to read through the Bible in a year no doubt serves as a reminder of this. I imagine there are some in our church who opted out of even attempting this simply because they couldn't imagine finding 15 - 20 minutes a day to read their Bible, fearing from the outset that they would fail miserably. But even for those who have taken up the challenge, we too are discovering that finding time is not always easy. Hence those who are still reading through Exodus when on the schedule we should all be in Leviticus or Deuteronomy.

I sometimes wonder if the reason we have trouble with discipline regarding spiritual things has to do with more than simply our busy lives; I wonder if it has something to do with our attitude about spiritual matters to begin with. Is it possible that our reticence to engage in spiritual discipline reflects the degree of our devotion? Do we need to repent of a halfhearted love for God? Or is it perhaps a symptom of a culture that wants everything in quick fixes and therefore wants spiritual enlightenment and growth in the same time that it takes to watch a TV sitcom?

Now, I completely understand and can identify with those whose lives are full and who simply find it difficult to squeeze in time for prayer and worship and Bible reading because there are work and family demands that leave us exhausted and drained of motivation at the end of the day. I, too, once the day is done and the evening begins often want nothing more than to sit in front of the TV to enjoy a favourite show. This is especially true if the day has been both busy and stressful. I don't want to think. I'm too tired to be of much value. But I also know that it doesn't necessarily take a great deal more energy to sit and quietly read my Bible rather than watch another episode of The X-Files. So it seems to me that having a busy and full life is no excuse for not taking time out for my relationship with God which, like any relationship, requires deliberate attention.

A part of this is simple habit. What have we habituated ourselves to do when we have free time? Do we allow the hours to be occupied by a lot of what we typically call screen time? This is certainly our cultural habit, one that is ever increasing since screen time can now include TV, computers, cell-phones, video games, etc. What we need, though, are holy habits, ones that do more than simply entertain us and, worse, numb us to the realities of life. In other words, we need to do do much more with our time than indulge in escapism. Rather than habituating ourselves to escape reality, holy habits such as reading Scripture prepare us to face reality but on God's terms.

But, unfortunately, this takes discipline. It takes intentional effort. It takes a willingness to put the things of God before the things of men. And it means doing so regardless of the poorer habits we have formed over time. But such disciplines of devotion are part and parcel of our life of faith and constitute much of our training in holiness. Growing in holiness, or spiritual maturity, is not an overnight process. It takes place in fits and starts. It happens incrementally. It takes place in a world of dirty laundry, crying children, busy schedules, long days at work, and arguments with our spouses. And unlike other, less noble habits, such holy habits actually imbue life with value and meaning and purpose rather than simply anesthetizing us against life's hardships.

1 comment:

Chris Smith said...

Pastor Derek,

This is Chris Smith. I helped the International Bible Society develop The Books of The Bible. We're now trying to develop some supporting resources to help people move from old habits tied to chapters and verses to new habits that will help them get the benefit of the Bible as a collection of literary compositions. I've noticed that you've written about this new edition a couple of times in your blog. I'm hoping I can ask you about some of the experiences you and your church have had using it. I'm not exactly sure how to contact you, however. Can you e-mail me back at csmith2237 [at] comcast [dot] net? Thanks very much.