If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’ve probably been encouraged to practice “spiritual disciplines.” Pastors want their people to read the Bible, and pastors want their people to pray. Colloquially, the disciplines of Bible reading and prayer are often termed “personal devotions,” “quiet time,” or “time alone with God.”
If you’ve ever tried to be faithful in the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer, you know that “spiritual disciplines” are not easy. They do in fact require discipline, and at times they are frustrating and discouraging. Many believers have abandoned their Bible reading plan in Leviticus, and many believers have found themselves dozing off mid-prayer.
My guess is that many church going folks who find themselves struggling with spiritual disciplines simply assume their struggle is a personal problem. Surely more mature Christians have a different experience when they engage in the spiritual disciplines? Surely it’s not this hard for everyone? Surely they’re just doing something wrong?
In reality, church going folks who struggle with spiritual disciplines need to understand that even pastors have “regular devotions.” These regular devotions include the following challenges:
- Struggling to be consistent with daily devotions.
- Laboring through difficult sections of Scripture.
- Trying to understand and apply certain passages.
- Losing focus in prolonged times of personal prayer.
- Wondering if your prayers are even being heard.
- Feeling that devotions are routine and insignificant.
Believe it or not, even pastors have regular devotions. We struggle. We get frustrated. We get discouraged. We fall short. We don’t walk away from every quiet time feeling like we experienced the presence of God.
If you’re a regular Christian or a regular pastor, and if your devotions feel regular, what should you do? Give up? Wait for emotion and feeling to motivate you? Lie and pretend every moment with the Lord is life changing? No, no, and no.
Instead, press on with your regular quiet time. Be disciplined. Endure. Continue reading. Keep praying. Spiritual disciples are intended to be a marathon, not a sprint. A single quiet time is supposed to be habit-forming before they ever become life-changing.
Emotions are not the goal of spiritual disciplines. Feelings are not the litmus test of personal devotions. The aim is life transformation. This transformation comes through the discipline and the habit of renewing your mind as you listen to God’s Word and respond in prayer (Romans 12:2).