I think it was the last time Mrs. Hanko and I were in Singapore that I was asked to contribute one or more articles on the subject of personal devotions. I had forgotten all about it until Josiah kindly reminded me of my unfulfilled promise. I consider the subject an extremely important one and am happy to write for Salt Shakers.
Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School, where a lot of my children studied for either all or a significant part of their primary education, had a teacher in the Sixth Grade, who was one of these “born teachers.” Some teachers are that way. They receive gifts from God that sets them aside from others as having all those gifts that are necessary to teach children effectively and in a God-fearing manner. They really do not need any education in how to teach. They just know. She was in Hope School for many years, and most, if not all, my children enjoyed her instruction as they passed through the Sixth Grade.
I mention this because she taught the children the importance of devotions in their lives. She prepared calendar charts of each month with each day of the month on them. She prepared one for each child. The children were required to practice personal and private devotions every day of the month. They were to fill in the space on the chart for that day with the Scripture passage they read and some of the things they had told the Lord in their prayers. Many of these children, under her direction and encouragement, formed life-long habits of personal devotions that continue to the present. Mrs. Hanko and I are thankful for what she did for our children and for all the children of the covenant.
Scripture’s Mention of Private Devotions
Although the Bible does not, so far as I know, use the term “personal devotions,” such practices are referred to in other ways in many difference places in Scripture. I can mention a few. We read that Job, when he had received all the bad news of the destruction of all his possessions and the death of all his children, “arose, rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped (Job 1:20).
The Psalms often speak of the personal and private prayers the Psalmists made to God. But they speak too, of more than prayer. For example, in Psalm 77, the Psalmist was so troubled that he was convinced that God had ceased to love him and had abandoned him. But then he recovered from this dreadful state of mind. He tells us: “This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings” (Psalm 77:10-12).
The Psalmist found relief in calling to mind God’s great works, meditating on them and speaking to God of them. These great works of God were, of course, to be found in those books of the Bible that the Psalmist possessed in those days.
Our Lord gives special instruction to us for the prayers we are to make; but also mentions our own private devotions. In Matthew 6:6 he speaks especially of these private devotions: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into they closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to they Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
When messengers came to Peter from Cornelius while Peter was staying in Joppa, “as they drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour” (Acts 10:9). Peter was not aware of the fact that these messengers from Cornelius were coming, but he was waiting for dinner and spent the time in private prayer.
What Devotions Are
The word “devotions” is the noun of the adjective “devout” and the verb “devote.” All these words mean “dedication,” “consecration” or, “piety” and refer to worship. It is this last point that needs emphasis. To practice devotions is to worship God.
To worship God is to enter consciously into God’s presence so that we are in God’s presence with our minds and souls. We cannot come bodily or geographically into God’s presence. So, to engage in devotions is to enter into God’s presence in our minds and hearts.
Now, it is possible, of course, to go through the motions of devotions and not really to engage in them; we go through the ritual, but our minds are on many different things. This is what the Bible calls “Lip-service,” and is something particularly abominable to God (Isaiah 1:11-16). It is possible for us, even though we are on earth and God is in heaven, to enter into his presence when we think of him as the Scriptures tell of him and speak to him as if we were together conversing about various things. It is a great blessing that God gives us. He makes it possible for us to do this, because he gives us the Holy Spirit in our hearts (Romans 8:15, 23, 25, 27).
There are many ways in which the child of God has devotions. He has devotions in church on the Lord’s Day, when in singing, praying and listening to God’s Word he is consciously in God’s presence. He has devotions with his family when parents and children gather to read the Scriptures and pray – and, perhaps, sing. He has devotions when he meets with fellow saints for Bible study; or when he and one or more friends pray together. Always, devotions are coming consciously into God’s presence.
But the Bible speaks also of private devotions; that is, devotions in which a child of God is alone with his God. That is what we want to talk about in this and a following article, or articles.
Why Devotions Are Important
We need devotions because we are still very sinful and imperfect people. It is our calling to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. That means we are to love God all the time, every moment of our lives. In heaven this will be possible, for we will see our Lord face to face and we will be every moment consciously serving our God. But, while we are on earth, we cannot attain to such heights of devotion.
We are too busy with our studies, our entertainment, our obligations at work, all the other things that occupy our time and energy. For hours on end and even days we do not even think about God or about our calling to be dedicated to him. And so we need to set aside certain periods in the day to put out of our minds all our daily distractions that occupy so much of our time, so that we can come to God and live in covenant fellowship with him in our devotions.
Such devotions are crucially important and we cannot survive spiritually without them.
Although we will talk more about devotions in another article, here are some questions that you can answer and use as good subjects to talk about with your fellow saints.
Questions of discussion
1. Look up the text in Psalm 77 that I referred to in the article and explain what it means to “meditate” upon God’s mighty works. How do we meditate?
2. Why does the Psalm speak of meditating on God’s mighty “works”? The Psalmist was in deep spiritual trouble when he wrote this Psalm, (Read from the beginning of the Psalm how deep his troubles were.) How did meditation on God’s mighty works help him spiritually to escape his troubles?
3. If you have found the answer to question 2, then answer this question: Is it possible to conclude that God’s mighty works are for other saints and not for me? What then do we do?
4. Are their differences in our prayers and the contents of our prayers in our own private devotions from the devotions of a family, or the devotions of a child of God in the worship services?
5. If you conclude that there are differences, then be specific as to what these differences are.
6. Read Isaiah 1:11-16 and answer how our own sin of lip-service is really the same as Israel’s sin.
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 3