Have you ever been frustrated that devotions didn’t work? You read your Bible, prayed, then went out and lived life and were disappointed by the results. There was no known sin that you were holding onto. You weren’t resisting God. But for some reason you left your time alone and just felt empty. Well, as I grumpily sat there and asked God what I had done wrong, His Spirit began to graciously show me what I had done wrong. God reminded me of several areas where my thinking about devotions were off, and what I could do to fix that.
I hope that what God has taught me can be a help to you. So here they are – 3 tips for when devotions don’t work.
1. Make sure your devotions are an act of dependence and not a work.
The first question you need to ask yourself if you’re coming up dry in your devotions is “Why am I doing this in the first place?” The word “devotions” is a beautiful description of what should be happening, but too often it is simply a technical term that refers to that 30 minute or time period where we read our Bible and pray so that we can check it off our to do list.
The disposition of our heart when we’re in the Word is almost as if not more important than the amount of time in the Word. I was once challenged by James 1:21, which encourages us to receive God’s Word with meekness, or humility. You see, there is a big difference between someone who is crawling to God on their hands and knees, begging for His help and someone who arrogantly walks into the throne room of heaven doing what he is supposed to so that God will have to bless him.
In my case, I realized that my time in the Word, at least that day, was not an attempt to seek God for His grace, but an attempt to earn His grace. It was about me, not about God. Without realizing it, my mindset had been that I did what I was supposed to do in order to earn God’s grace. But we never earn God’s grace. He gives it. And if we are going to the Word and prayer with a mindset of pride instead of humility, we really shouldn’t be asking ourselves why God seems so distant.
2. Remember you are in this for the long haul.
I was so excited after my first time working out in the gym. I immediately ran back to my room, jumped in front of the mirror, flexed with all my might, and promptly quit working out. Because there was no change! An hour lifting weights and nothing to show for it. What a waste!
Of course, I’m not being serious. I didn’t quit after my first session, and I would hope no one ever has. If you want to build muscles, it will require consistent exercise week in and week out. No one expects that there will be a night and day change after your first workout session, because that’s not how physical strength is built. And that’s not how spiritual strength is built either.
Changing to be more like Christ is a progressive process. A half hour a day of devotions, or even an hour a day is not going to be enough to instantly remove years of sinful habits, thoughts, and attitudes. There are no quick fixes when it comes being like Christ. This isn’t to say that God’s grace is insufficient, but it is saying that growth is painful and the internal changes we would like to see often take more time than we would like. But just as with working out, consistency over time will produce an amazing change in your life so that one day you will look back and be amazed and humbled by how far God has brought you.
3. Keep wrestling with God.
Often God pulls back, not because He is trying to discourage us from pursuing Him, but to see how serious we really are. It is the times when God has felt most distant that I have sought after Him the hardest, and consequently and ironically afterward were the times I felt closest to Him. God twice told Israel, “You will seek me and find me, if you search for me with all your heart.” (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:13).
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is when Jacob is about to meet Esau, who had threatened to kill Jacob the last time they saw each other. Jacob prepares to introduce Esau to his family and show Esau how God has prospered him, and Esau for his part brings an army! Here is Jacob preparing for either a joyful reunion with his brother he hasn’t seen in years or the end of everything he’s ever loved. I can’t imagine the emotions that must have been surging through him the night before it all went down.
And it is here that we read about a very peculiar wrestling match. A match between God and man. Jacob wrestled a man which we later find out was most likely a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. How he knew that this was a divine visit we’re not told, but at some point Jacob realized it and when he did he clung on and wouldn’t let go. In fact, when God told Jacob that it was dawn and he needed to let go, Jacob responded, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
I can remember being bothered by that. It seemed irreverent. It seemed demanding. But God didn’t think so, because God honored Jacob’s request. And slowly I’ve come to realize that the person who lays hold of God and begs Him for His blessing and doesn’t let go, far from displeasing God, actually shows how dependent he or she is on Him. God wants us to pursue Him and not be content until we have found Him. Nothing pleases the Father more than His child grabbing hold of Him in the prayer closet and saying, “God, I have to have to have You! And I’m not going out there until I’m sure You’re going with me!” God is not upset when His children are demanding, so long as they are demanding Him.
If your devotions are leaving you dry it may be that your heart is not humble before God. It may be that you need to realize that while God’s Word does change us, it does so progressively and rarely as drastically and immediately as we would like. And it may be that God is pushing you to search for Him harder.
Maybe this spiritual drought will last a day, or a week, or years. But never forget that God’s Word works. Prayer works. God is a real person and promises that if we seek Him with all our heart, He will be found by us. With such promises, we ought to run to God, hold on to Him, and never let go until He blesses us.
“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”