Is it really Friday? And the sky is threatening snow, so that’s something. For reasons I can’t quite remember, I started watching videos on youtube about mindfulness and other kinds of meditation practices, and I happened to find a lot of “Christian” stuff about meditating and then went on and, in morbid fascination, watched different people go through their “mediation” routines, which in many cases was actually some kind of “devotional” practice. I have some things I thought I might like to say on this important subject.
I think I am probably what one might call a “devotional” writer. After all, I have written a devotional, which you can buy here (there is word that the kindle version is fixed but I haven’t been able to verify it), and in a lot of my daily blog posts I end up mashing some bible verses at the end or annesplaining that it really does matter about Jesus etc. But as I watched a lot of these videos, I was reminded about why I wrote that book in the first place, and that’s that people think they can go through a “Devotional” and that that’s the same as “reading the Bible.”
When, in reality, the two are not the same. A devotional, if you happen to pick one up, is the thoughts and feelings of the writer of the devotional about the Bible. That person, hopefully, has read through the text more than one time, but you might not be able to know that. The person will profess to be an expert, and maybe that claim is true, which is why it’s good to go digging around and reading about the people who write the devotionals you love, they may be really good and the devotional will be a help to you. On the other hand, they–and I think, tragically, that this is often the case–may not have a good sense of the overall narrative of the Bible, how the books fit together, what God is really saying, and why the Book even exists in the first place. They may think that it is a good guide for life, or that it is full of useful principles that you can glean to make the workday easier and better, or that by reading it you will become a moral person. Very often, if you find yourself trucking through a devotional, you will find a short list of laws at the end of each page–Pray More, Be Good, Renew Your Mind, Stop Sinning, Be Joyful, Be Grateful, Count Your Blessings, and so the long day wears on.
Moreover, I would say, and bear with me here, that unless you actually pick up the Biblical text and read it, you’re not actually reading the Bible. Reading the verse and then what the person says about the verse, does not let you off the hook for reading the Bible. You’re only reading what that person discovered when he or she was reading the Bible. You yourself have still not read the Bible.
Why should you, though? Why read it? It’s hard, as I say in my own devotional, and difficult, and sometimes boring. That’s why you’ve opted to depend on the help of the devotional.
You should read the text yourself because that is how God will chiefly speak to you. He will do inside of you, without you really knowing it, all the things the devotional is telling you you must do for yourself. When you read the Bible–just like when you go to church and pray and take communion and listen to the sermon and obey people in authority over you–God, through the Holy Spirit, transforms you into the image of the Son. He remakes your mind and heart. He does that work by the words of the text which come off the page and cut and hack their way through you to make you the person he wants you to be. The words will come off the page and into your mind and heart and convict you, comfort you, change you, strengthen you, help you, guide you, feed you, heal you, and every other good and perfect help that you so long for.
If you never read it, you will probably go on being a Christian, but a severely malnourished and undergrown one. Your mind will not be shaped, your heart will not be softened, your emotions will continue to spin out, your priorities will be disordered, the heat of your desires will drive you into the various small pits that make life so miserable and terrible. You have to read it because it puts God in charge of your Christian life, and not you yourself. To read the Bible, praying for help to understand and be changed, is an act of trust, the placing of yourself into God’s hands to remake you. If you don’t read it, you will go on being a spiritual nincompoop, buffeted by every ridiculous wind of false doctrine, by every fad of the world, and by all the unchristian forces of wickedness that are carrying the world into darkness.
If you, like I, are wandering around youtube and the world looking for interesting people to listen to and better ways to be a Christian, ask yourself two important questions before you trust what anyone is saying. 1. Does this person even sound a little bit biblical? Is the bulk of what she or he is saying more full psychological terminology, personality theories, self-help and self-care, mindfulness, or just the usual words that most of us use as we go on through life than any scriptural terminology or deep doctrinal substance? Have I heard Jesus mentioned or a verse sited? Does this person know that God is Three and One? That Jesus is God? That he, or she, is a sinner? And 2. Would I even know? Is my Biblical formation so anemic that I can’t tell whether someone is talking like a Christian or not? Answer these questions honestly, and then go about remedying the problem…Read The Bible.
And go check out more takes!