#493

September 25, 2016

The Importance of Personal Devotions

Good Morning Dr Craig,

Thank you so much for having answered my last e-mail in your reasonable faith podcast of 11-08-2015. I listened it in the bus to work, and was really surprised and glad to tears. Thank you.

I've read with a great interest your Q&A #52, about personal productivity, and it has raised more questions to me (as I begin to write myself and find a way to worship by writing):

Do you pray during your work, Augustine style? How do you pray for your writings in general?

How do you do your devotions?

Do you have a time where you pray with your wife?

Sorry if the questions are a bit personal, but i have the strong conviction that for a christian intellectual-type person, it is more vital than anything else to pray first, and pray good. That's why I’m looking for your example.

Thank you so much by advance,

In Christ the Logos,

Etienne

France

Thank you for your encouraging letter, Etienne! While I wouldn’t want to hold up my personal devotional life as a model, your question does give me the chance to emphasize the importance of maintaining a personal devotional life. My understanding is that sociological studies actually show that Christians who have a regular devotional life of Bible reading and prayer have a better chance of persevering in the faith than Christians who do not. We have the example of our Lord of how important it is to spend time alone with God in this way. If Jesus needed to do this, then, needless to say, so do we!

In answer to your question, “Do you pray during your work, Augustine style?”, I’ve wrestled with praying that God would guide me into truth in my studies, as Augustine and Anselm were wont to pray. I have decided against it, partly through the conviction that God did not answer such prayers on the part of godly men, as their own disagreements with one another, not to speak of their errors, show. God allows us to use our own intellects to try to discover how best to understand and unfold the truth He has revealed to us (as well as the truth about His universe). This is a journey to find truth which is replete with errors along the way. When you think about it, genuine human freedom probably requires no less. It is, in any case, I believe, part of the human project which God has given over to us.

So, then, “How do you pray for your writings in general?” I certainly do pray about my studies, as they are part of my divine calling. So I pray that God would be glorified through them. I pray that He would be pleased to use them in the extension of His Kingdom. Despite all their short-comings, despite the undetected errors lying within them, I ask God to glorify His name through them and to draw people into His Kingdom and strengthen believers through them. Then I just give “my utmost for His Highest,” as the saying goes, and trust Him to use them as He sees fit.

How do you do your devotions?” As in the case of physical exercise, the key to maintaining a devotional life is to make it habitual. It can’t be hit or miss. It needs to become a habit pattern, so that you hardly need to think about it. I find that setting aside the same time each day helps to make it habitual. For me, that is the morning, before others get up. I find that once my mind starts going with all the things to do and think about each day, it’s hard to focus on devotions. So I have them first thing.

After a time of prayer, I read a short portion of the New Testament in Greek and sometimes a comment on the passage from a top commentary. (Try William Lane’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark, for instance.) Then I read two pages from the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Church Fathers. You wouldn’t believe all the volumes I’ve gotten through over the years by doing this. It exemplifies what Jan and I call “the turtle method,” after the well-known story of the tortoise and the hare. Just slow, steady plodding eventually wins the race, and after time you look back and are amazed at all that has been done! Finally, if I have time, I’ll close by reading something from Operation World about a country of the world and the state of the Gospel there.

Do you have a time where you pray with your wife?” Yes. One of the blessings of being empty nesters is that we’re not so rushed in the morning getting kids breakfast and off to school. So we take time after breakfast to read a devotional thought (I really recommend Michael and Sharon Rusten’s The One Year Christian History) and then pray together. We usually both pray. Sometimes I’ll lead; sometimes Jan.

By the time we’re done, she’s ready to do all her tasks and I’m ready to hit the books!