Choose This Day Whom (Your Devotional Life) Will Serve
Spending time with God for all the right reasons
In Joshua 24:15, the people of Israel had a crucial decision to make: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”
Pastors need to make the same choice every day. We have sworn our lives to service of both God and His people. But sometimes, another “whom” worms its way into our motivation.
Some people think of pastoring as professional Christian living. Just as you would expect a professional athlete to have an impressive daily workout, many people expect pastors to have impressive daily devotional routines.
When your people hear about your devotional life, you want them to observe that you really are a spiritual person. You are a man or woman after God’s own heart, and you are doing it right. As leaders, we rightly want to blaze a worthy path for others to follow. But we must stand guard over our hearts, which so often lead us astray.
The “whom” that can sneak its way into whom you will serve is your approval rating with your congregation. And nowhere is this motivation more dangerous than in your devotional life.
When you meet with God, it is vital — life and death — that your focus is on dwelling with your Heavenly Father. This may seem obvious, but the reality is that many of us allow other motivations to leech out the lifeblood of our walking and talking with God.
You may have set up goals for yourself, like reading a certain number of chapters per day or praying in tongues for a certain length of time. Beware the “whom” that such checkpoints are serving.
One way to assess whom your devotional life serves is to ask what would happen if you stopped. Skip over the “right” answer and go with the most honest one.
What would happen if you stopped spending time with God? In his book, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, Skye Jethani points out four orientations that distract us from God’s ultimate goal for pastors and laypeople alike — that is, fellowship with Him. More than building something together or healing us or blessing us, God wants to be with us.
The following statements represent an application of the misorientations Jethani describes. Do any of these resonate with what motivates your devotional time?
We must stand guard over our hearts, which so often lead us astray.
- If I stopped spending time with God, He wouldn’t bless me.
- If I stopped spending time with God, He wouldn’t be able or willing to use me.
- If I stopped spending time with God, I wouldn’t be thought of as a good pastor.
- If I stopped spending time with God, I couldn’t guarantee the success of my ministry.
There is no solitary right answer to what should follow that comma. But carefully consider: What would be the greatest consequence in God’s eyes? Separate your desire to impress from your desire for God.
Joshua told the Israelites, “yield your hearts to the Lord” (Joshua 24:23). What if your devotional life were mainly about yielding your heart to the Lord?
Sometimes yielding to God doesn’t look very impressive on the outside, and that’s OK. But it does require discipline. Here are some practical ways to pursue a healthier balance in this area:
- Separate your personal devotional time from your daily prayer for ministry. Some staff teams have morning prayer most weekdays. Involving others is often a more fruitful and enjoyable way to bring the needs of the ministry to God.
- Find separate locations for your personal Bible study and your study for sermon prep or other ministry work. Even choosing a special chair for your own time with God may help your mind switch modes, especially if you meet with God in the same spot every day.
- Give yourself a Sabbath from disciplined devotional time. Hopefully you have a day off from ministry, and this could be a great day to do whatever you feel like doing to spend time with God. Let yourself off the hook for one day a week. Enjoy the duty-free attention of God.
This is not a call for lazy Christianity. This is a call to practice what we preach. We tell our congregations that the grace of God is free, but sometimes we are not free to enjoy the favor of God. Instead, we choose to serve the approval rating of our congregation.
Jesus said, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). You can trust that as you are abiding in Jesus — however that looks day to day — He will bear good fruit in your life and ministry. This fruit will speak of the depth of your walk with Him.
You may not have church members whispering awe-filled rumors about your ascetic devotional practices. In fact, they may forget to notice you live a sacrificial life. But they will see Jesus in you. The work of the Holy Spirit is to illuminate the work of Christ, who illuminates the character of the Father in and through us.
And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:24).