Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, considered his personal devotions to be crucial for his life and work. He rose at 3:00 every morning to meditate on the Scriptures and pray. He continued this meditation and prayer until 6:00 or later. One of his servants asked him once: “Dear Brother; you are so frightfully busy; how can you afford to spend three hours or more in your devotions?” His answer was, “The busier I am, the more I need those devotions.” That remark of Luther has often put me to shame. Three hours? If I spend a half hour, I am doing well. The greater the busyness, the more important the devotions? How easy it is for you and me to say to ourselves that we are much too busy for our devotions and we will have to skip them for the day. Or, at the end of the day we say to ourselves, “You are so exhausted that you can’t even stay awake long enough o have devotions. You had probably better just forget them today. The Lord will understand how tired I am.” Maybe Luther was the great man of God that he was because he knew the importance of devotions and faithfully practiced them.
I know I am speaking of family devotions, but the importance of family devotions reflects itself in our private and personal devotions. My father told us that his father had to be at work at 7:00 in the morning.
Because these were the days when automobiles were not yet used, my grandfather, who had his own painting business, had to harness the horse, hitch up the wagon and proceed at a horse’s pace to the place of work. This took a great deal of time and he usually had to leave the house by 6:00 AM. But he insisted on having family devotions at the beginning of the day. And so all the children had to be out of bed and at the breakfast table shortly after 5:00.
We tried to practice that when our children were home. It didn’t always work because sometimes our boys had to leave for work around 6:00; I had to take them to work; the distance to and from the place where the boys worked was probably nearly 30 miles. The result was that I and the boys (who worked in the celery fields, had our devotions together at breakfast; and then we had our devotions with the rest of the family when I returned. But we did always have devotions together at the beginning of the day. Both Mrs. Hanko and I considered it important to read God’s word together and pray together as a family. And we always tried desperately to have family devotions at the supper table. If the children were home, we also had devotions at noon. In every case we began with prayer and ended with Scripture reading and prayer. At the beginning of the meal we sought
God’s blessing, and at the end of the meal we gave thanks to God.
This seeking of God’s blessing is important for God’s gifts are sanctified by God’s word and by prayer I Timothy 4:3-5).
What Should Be Included In Devotions (Scripture Reading)
Personal devotions are as important as family devotions.
It is quite clear from Scripture that the main essentials of devotions are the reading of Scripture and prayer. These two elements are important because, being consciously in God’s presence (which is what devotions are), is really a part of covenant fellowship with God. And covenant fellowship has as its main characteristic that those within the covenant have fellowship by conversing together. If they do not speak to each other, they have no fellowship, but each goes his or her own way. A man and his wife live in the covenant of marriage because they can and do talk together. So it is with God and his people. God speaks to them and they speak to God.
But we do not talk to God in the same way that we talk to our neighbor, or even our friend. God is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. He is great and beyond all description. The difference between God and us is far, far greater than the distance between the most powerful king and a small spider that spins a web in the corner of a ceiling in the palace. God’s greatness must be preserved in all our fellowship with him.
As far as our devotions are concerned, God always opens the conversation. He speaks first. He must speak first. But His speech is powerful, quickening, creative. His speech has to be first, for our speech is always and must always be a response to his speech. In fact, God’s speech really creates our speech, for his speech brings with it grace and mercy and love.
God’s speech does not come to us out of the air. It is not some inner voice which only you can hear. It is not the whisperings of the Spirit in our hearts, so that we say, “God told me to do this … or that.” That sort of thing is the nonsense of Pentecostalism. If that is the way God speaks to us, we can make God say anything we want him to say – and many people do just that. They use the speech of God, which they hear in their hearts to justify things that they should not do. They think they hear God when they feel something, — whatever that feeling may be.
God’s speech is in the Bible. That is the only place you will find it. Nowhere else in the whole world can it be found. But that speech of God in the Bible becomes a speech we hear by the work of the Spirit. The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God, Paul says (Romans 8:16). But the Spirit does not speak except through the Bible. The Spirit ties himself to the Bible. He will not speak at all without using the Bible.
It reminds me of something that happened in the Netherlands to a minister. He told his wife one week that he was not going to make a sermon, because he believed that the Spirit would give him what he had to say when the time came. That Sunday morning his wife could not to church, because she was sick. And so when he came home from church, his wife said to him, “Hans”, for that was his name, “what did the Spirit say to you this morning?” He mournfully shook his head and said, “All he said to me was, ‘Hans, Hans, how lazy you were.’”
You can see the point as far as our devotions are concerned. Bible reading is God’s word. That word we must hear first, before we can speak to God. Our speech in our prayers is a response to what God says. It is not a response in the sense that we answer questions from God. It is a responses because we learn who God is, what he does, and why he loves us in Christ. Knowing all these things, we can say that we will tell God all that lies on our hearts and he will surely hear us and answer us.
So Scripture reading must be a part of our devotions. We will wait to discuss this matter of how to read Scripture for another article.
Questions for discussion:
1. If God speaks to us only through the Bible, how do we know the will of God for us in the circumstances of life about which Scripture does not speak? For example, if we want to marry someone, how do we know it is the will of God that we marry the person we have chosen for our husband or wife? How does a minister who has a call to a different congregation know whether or not to move?
2. Are there any decisions we make in life without God’s direction that our completely our decisions?
3. How can we be sure, having made a decision, that it is the right one? Or cannot we be sure?
4. Does God’s word help us at all in these situations?
5. Why is it important that we read Scripture before we pray? Is this always necessary?
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 4