January 22, 2012
Becoming Adept at Devotion
"Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ" (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
In a world full of distractions, it is not easy to keep our hearts lovingly aimed in God's direction. Our minds are tugged this way and that by multiple concerns, and when we try to keep them centered on God, we find that our minds wander. Consistent and easy devotion to God is a habit that must be acquired, a skill that must be learned. Like most other good things, godliness takes training, discipline, and regular practice over time.
If we're not where we want to be in our devotion to God, how do we get there? The answer is hardly surprising: we get there a little at a time. If a person has been confined to a hospital bed for several weeks, that person may aspire to running a twenty‑six mile marathon at some point, but that is not going to happen the first day home from the hospital. The person will first have to sit up, then stand up, and then walk across the room. With daily discipline, the person will then walk around the block, then run around the block, and then run around many blocks. The marathon will come in due course, but only after a regimen of training that progressively builds strength and skill over time. And in our spiritual lives, the very same “law of progressive strength” is in operation. We can get to the point where our hearts stay easily and naturally centered on God, but we can't get there overnight.
We need to be realistic enough to accept this fact: we won't become adept at devotion if we don't engage in the activities that are conducive to that. It is silly to suppose that we can neglect the means through which devotion is increased and still enjoy the results of those means. If we don't regularly take the time to engage in such disciplines as Bible study, prayer, and meditation, then we'll remain spiritually immature and it'll not get any easier for us to keep our hearts in the right place. As an older man, Paul knew what he was talking about when he said to his younger friend Timothy, “exercise yourself toward godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).
“Ostriches are not flying birds, chickens fly short distances with much effort, but eagles, doves, and swallows fly high and far. Sinners are like the ostrich and are earthbound. Good people who have not quite reached devotion are like the chicken; they fly in God's direction, but inefficiently and awkwardly. The devout soar to God with regularity. Devotion, then, is a natural agility of the soul” (Francis de Sales).