June 8, 2015

Your One Thing: Devotional Minimalism

by Clint Archer

“Houston, we have a problem.” What Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell didn’t fully appreciate at 9:07pm on April 13th (of course), 1970, while shunting at full speed 205,000 miles from Earth, was that they didn’t have problem; they had several problems. Each item on the lengthy and unnerving list of problems they would have to overcome in the next few hours of their precarious lives was urgent, complicated, and indisputably life-threatening. But there was one that—the moment it was discovered—shot immediately to the top of the list of priorities.astronaut

Since the crew was now forced to remain in the Lunar Module instead of the Command Module, they were faced with a shortage of compatible lithium hydroxide canisters, which were needed to remove carbon dioxide from their air supply. In short, the crew was running out of breathable air at a rapid rate.

Obviously, no other mechanical challenge to a safe landing of the craft was as significant as the need to keep the astronauts breathing. Every other rescue manoeuvre would become moot if there was no one left alive to rescue. The NASA engineers on the ground accomplished an ingenious workaround that was virtually as impressive as if they had conjured SCUBA tanks ex nihilo. And only then did they get back to working on the remaining issues, since they now had breathing astronauts to carry out the plans.

In the frenetic pace of our lives we are all daily presented with urgent, important problems to navigate. Work demands, family responsibilities, health requirements, time constraints, and innumerable other forces are constantly foisted onto our cluttered priority list. And the grind is positively Sisyphean in its inevitable recurrence.

 

Often the first item to get cut from the list is our time of devotions. Bible reading, prayer, and even church attendance may be relegated to the realm of important-not-urgent (“Quadrant Two” for you Seven Habits adherents). But what inevitably happens is that as our pace of productivity increases, our neglect of our most basic spiritual needs ends up starving our soul of its vital devotional oxygen.

I am sheepishly reminded of Martin Luther who rightly asserted that on particularly busy days he couldn’t afford his usual two hours of daily prayer–he required four hours!

cabin pressure oxygen masksI have at times been guilty of misaligning my priorities, and I found these passages quite inspiring, informative, and yes, convicting. I trust they will revitalize your soul. Pay special attention to what the writers of Scripture deemed to be their most pressing priority…

Psalm 27:4 One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 42:1-2 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

Psalm 73:25-26 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Mark 12:28-30 And one of the scribes came up and …asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Luke 10:41-42 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

What is your “one thing”? What is your highest priority? And does your schedule, practice, and desire reflect that? I would love to write more on this, but I have something more important to do!

 

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Linda Rice

    Thanks, Clint. In the last few months, I’ve heard a couple of leaders in different churches minimize a daily devotion. The basic reason is that, supposedly, a set time for devotions discourages Christians from praying for the rest of the day. Then I thought of what David wrote in the Psalms about his times with God. I’ve also been reading a “God’s Battle Plan for the Mind” on the Puritan practice of meditation. Quote after quote indicates that they not only meditated through the day but they were emphatic about undistracted time set apart to God. I am indeed weak on meditation through the day and hope to improve. (Haven’t really know the mechanics of how before recent years.) But surely God, of all persons in our lives, ought to have some of our time devoted to Him alone.

    • Hi Linda, on the right hand side of this blog page there is a link to a sermon I recently preached on the “Hour of Power” which is an example of a structured prayer time. I break the time into 12 segments so you can pray a 12 minute prayer, or 24 minutes, or an hour (5 mins per segment). But I must disagree with whomever you have been listening to: to say a planned prayer time discourages prayer throughout the day is like saying enjoying a good cup of coffee in the morning will discourage you from drinking more cups that day. If anything, it will get you hooked and eager to drink more and more!

  • tovlogos

    Thanks Clint — Well, we can all relate to being distracted, since evil is proactive; and has no other interests but trying to make us stumble. Of course, the weakness in our flesh doesn’t help.
    The quote in Luke about Martha, I have used repeatedly in encouragement for certain other people; while some of the time the Spirit is also convicting me as I He convicts others through me.
    In John 16, Jesus told us the things in verses 18 through 27, it would appear, so that we wouldn’t stumble — yet stumble we do.
    In Luke 10:42, Mary, with childlike simplicity, and straightforwardness chose “the good part”.
    Without a personal conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) any one’s devotional life will be shallow, or limb at best.

    • Yup, without the Spirit, any external obedience is just dead law.

      • tovlogos

        Also, I find memorization similar to devotional technique. By immersing one’s self into the Word like a four year old focuses in a new interesting toy, one can see more, and therefore find it more interesting.
        That endeavor has spiritual roots, of course. 1 Samuel 16:7 — God wants our hearts, spiritually speaking — then things become so much easier.
        I agree with you about a planned prayer time, especially for those who have trouble focusing. The Spirit has compassion on us; He sees our struggle, and responds when we are making an effort to submit to Him — it really works.
        There’s no doubt in my mind that Martha made it to the kingdom — it took a little time for her to mature spiritually; but no doubt she loved the Lord. The majority of people I have met in life have the very same problem. I have known people for years who pray every day at the same time; yet, are the same people they were at the beginning — no evidence of change. I’ve often met women who are sincere believers, and believe they have the privilege of worrying; but emphatic believers, nevertheless. I’ve seen them grow out of their fears as time passed, before going to be with the Lord.

  • Adam

    In my opinion, I believe lack of urgency has a lot to do with our failure to spend devotional time with the Lord. Because we are “here” and God is “out there,” so to speak, the impact on our psyche isn’t as profound and immediate as the car sitting 20 feet away from us in the driveway that needs a brake job; or the drywall downstairs that needs to get hung; or the yard work that needs to get done, again, every week. And so it goes. We feel as though everything else needs our immediate attention except that one thing Jesus says is necessary. Our various “to do lists” are always right in front of us in some tangible way, while the Lord can seem much more remote. We know he is there, but we can neither see or hear him and so the urgency to spend time with Him isn’t “in your face” like the broken lawnmower wheel screaming “FIX MEEE!!! Yet we all know that if Jesus appeared on our doorstep we would drop everything to meet with Him in fellowship. What are we to do? Resolve to do! This is simply a matter of the will and a change in mindset. Our responsibilities are not going to go away, but then again and more importantly, neither is the Lord. He is there….waiting. And you are somewhere…fixing. And He is there again…waiting. And you are somewhere else again…fixing. Get it? Everything else is getting done except the “good portion” Jesus says is NECESSARY.” We need to resolve in our minds to do that part Jesus says will not be taken from us. (Luke 10:41-42) And then A-C-T on that which we have determined to do…just like when we determine to do everything else in our lives.

    • Well put. I say it this way: your walk with Jesus isn’t another portion you need to cram onto an overfull plate; it is the plate!

  • Circumnavigator

    Thank you for asking those question for me to willfully answer! :), I remember when I first got saved back in 2013 due to the power of God through my school chaplain planting a seed of faith into my soul. While praying a prayer of salvation & repentance, I instantly without giving it a second thought or time when it happened, supernaturally spoke in tongues (in a heavenly language). Haven’t since then, nor am I sure will I ever be able to again (until of course I am either raptured or called into the kingdom of heaven) for the body of Christ all have unique and intricate gifts to help us grow and be a faithful witnessing testimony to others. My daily devotion towards God goes into a routine I am used to, such as Reading the Bible, fellowshipping and preaching. The main minimalism I practice is mediating on God’s word or to listen to a holy harp or ancient orthodox jewish and christian chants. But even when my fellow brethren turn around and crucify me, I am washed by the blood. Amen, thanks for your post, and as always, stay blessed! 🙂