Spiritually and emotionally, this last week for me has been marked by distraction and devotion. I think that’s the perennial question for most believers, but I am particularly conscious of it at the moment.
The other day I was in the car with my sister, the radio was on and it was news hour. Despite my almost total lack of interest in the whole saga, I somehow got sucked right into a story about Schapelle Corby’s parole hearing. I found myself wondering what it would be like to be her, to live the next three years outside of prison but in Indonesia, unable to come home to Australia … and in the process of imagining completely missed a question my sister asked me.
I was driving …
Why is it so easy to get carried away with things that aren’t even interesting let alone important to us, but so hard to focus on what truly matters? Y’know, like God and our relationship with Him. With the example I’ve just given, it’s not even a case of the tyranny of the ‘urgent’ pushing the ‘important’ into the background – it’s just stuff getting in the way. We talk about information overload, and really, the Corby case was just one of countless messages flinging itself at me that day. I feel under constant fire from the radio, Facebook, the internet more generally, what I do at work, and a whole range of other sources, including just your regular, old school face-to-face conversations. I hardly watch TV, but imagine if I did!
Too. Much. Intellectual. And. Ridiculously. Unintellectual. Stimulation.
Why do I struggle and constantly fail to be present with Him day by day when it is all my heart yearns for?
It has always been the case for me that I am better at making big decisions than at making small decisions and, similarly, that it is easier to dedicate myself to God’s ways in the big things of life than in the small things. Deciding not to date for years and years, deciding to spend two years volunteering in Ecuador for the Kingdom, deciding not to build a fancy career or earn lots of money – that was fairly easy to do. Not to say it hasn’t been difficult at times or that I haven’t ever messed up, but it’s generally been quite easy to make those decisions, stick to them, and not regret them. Yet being present with Him outside of church (and even there, sometimes), seizing opportunities to witness in word and deed in a daily setting – that’s hard. I want to do those things, but I pretty much just forget. Or something. I haven’t quite worked it out.
Do I need more ‘daily’ or ‘short term’ devotion rather than ‘long term’ devotion, and how do I get me some of that?
What does devotion even look like? I googled it and couldn’t find anything worth posting here – the search threw up some medieval artwork, a number of cosplay photos, but mainly just the word DEVOTION or DEVOTED in a pretty font or as the title of a book or CD without any relevant image attached.
The thing that got me thinking about all of this earlier in the week is, in fact, a footnote to Leviticus (NIV).
But nothing that a man owns and devotes to the LORD – whether man or animal or family land – may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD (Leviticus 27:28).
The footnote reads:
The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the LORD, often by totally destroying them.
The archaic use of the English word devote also conveys this idea of destruction. Pretty violent, hey? (Think: zealots, suicide bombers). But it’s actually also consistent with key biblical concepts:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him … In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6: 8, 11; see also 6:2-4, Colossians 2:20 and 3:3).
So dying to self sits well alongside this rendering of devotion. I feel like I’ve been spending close to the last decade of my life constantly trying to give 100% to God, be 100% a follower of Jesus – but the practical dimension of making that happen has been far more difficult than the willpower dimension. Reading through the books of Moses and Radical by David Platt and reflecting on Sunday church messages on the book of Daniel have pushed me to think more about what it means to deepen my faith, to be devoted not just in the ‘bigger’ decisions, but also in the everyday ones.
There are “good” things that I now do without having to think about what I’m doing. They have their roots in the transformation Christ has worked in my life (the values, attitudes and perspective the Spirit has been shaping in me) and are, I believe, effective and valuable testimony. But I believe my witness has to be more intentional. In the last few days, I’ve been in conversations at work which offered segues into at least some discussion of the gospel, but I struggled and failed to grab them; I simply couldn’t find anything worth saying.
I’ve been praying a little more than I had been – asking people for prayer points, having specific people to pray for, is helpful. Still, I could improve in that area, and I need to be more mindful of the presence and prompting of the Spirit. In order to fix that, I may just have to try and create a habit, much the same as I (successfully) did with daily Bible reading, and much the same as the Israelites did (perhaps not so successfully …) with their daily sacrifices.
At the end of the day, I can’t get rid of distraction – I can try to manage it (see, for example, this chart), but it will never go away. Devotion has a different dynamic altogether – it’s a ‘big’ decision I already made to give everything over to God, but I have to consciously and constantly make smaller decisions to reinforce my initial commitment.
Let me close with one final image which, for me, illustrates devotion better than the options Google gave me.