Bad Devotionals

I Chronicles opens with nine chapters of genealogy. Nine. Flippin’. Chapters.

When I resolved at the start of the year to read through the Bible from cover to cover, I was hoping to come across all the little “gem passages” that I’d somehow missed over the years. I thought that surely between Sunday school teachers being overly focused on Moses and Joseph and Theology professors being obsessed with Amillennialism and Five-Point Calvinism, there was some really good stuff I’d missed. I figured if I just made sure to read every single passage there was to read, I’d find a bunch of cool passages hidden between all the heavyweights.

Instead, I got nine straight chapters of genealogy. There’s literally a section called “Saul’s Genealogy Repeated.”

Look, I know that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful, but I’m just not quite spiritual enough to find a good use for “Benjamin fathered Bela his firstborn, Ashbel the second, Aharah the third, Nohah the fourth, and Rapha the fifth.”

My Bible reading plan had me spending the better part of a week on those nine chapters. I found myself getting less and less out of my morning Bible reading and prayer time. I tried reading studies on why genealogies were important, but I didn’t find much. It was a major dry spell, as far as devotional times go.

I’ve since moved on to II Chronicles, which is all assassinations and treasons and wars, so things are at least more exciting now, but I’ve still been thinking about the concept of bad devotionals. How should I respond to bad devotionals? Is there something I can do to fix a bad devotional? How many bad devotionals am I allowed to have in a row before I’m considered a bad Christian?

We talked about this on Jesus Freaks a few weeks ago, and that’s where one of my favorite pieces of advice came from. Someone called in and told me to quit being so impatient. He used much nicer words, but that was the gist of his message.

He had a point, too. We like to hear stories about people who crack open their Bibles at random and just happen to land on passages that tell them exactly what they need to hear right then, but that’s not always how it works. Sometimes, when we read the Bible, we’re just storing away little bits that we’ll need later. Maybe a verse will provide context that enriches a passage later on, or maybe it will just sit in the back of your mind and then pop back out sometime in the future, right when you need it.

Another thought I had was that maybe bad devotionals aren’t the end of the world. Sure, if it’s been months and things are still going bad, maybe you should start re-examining your process, but there’s more to being a Christian than the time you set aside for reading your Bible and praying. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the things we shouldn’t define our relationship with Jesus by, and devotionals have recently been added to the list. I have a tendency to put way too much pressure on these times when they make up such a small percentage of my life as a Christian.

In my relationship with my wife, we have “devotional” times in the form of regular dates. These times are all about us and deepening our relationship. They’re important, but they’re not the sum total of our relationship. We don’t define the strength of our relationship by how good our last date was. There’s a day-to-day friendship to consider. There’s the way I serve her, the way she supports me, and dozens of other little things that are also important.

The strength of your relationship with Jesus goes way deeper than how you felt after you put your Bible away this morning. Look at how you act toward others every day. Look at the things you do to serve Christ. Look at the way you view the world. It’s a heck of a lot more to keep track of, but I guarantee it’ll take the pressure off the next time you have to read nine chapters of genealogy.

How do you respond when you have bad devotionals?

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3 thoughts on “Bad Devotionals

  1. Taylor, the way I respond to what a bad devotional is, trying to find the answer for yourself. It looks as if the genealogy means little to me.
    A friend asked me one time why I wanted to go to Heaven. My response was I wanted to meet my father. He assumed that I was talking about my dad who passed several years ago. He asked what if he wasn’t there? I told him that I wanted to meet the Father of all things. He was amazed that the answer was so simple.
    What I take from the nine chapters of genealogy means we are created in his image, but family because of our faith and beliefs

  2. I can certainly relate to these feelings. I remember a while back when I was doing exactly the same thing, and came across a passage that essentially just talked about peoples jobs in the temple. I was already in a bad mood that day, and wondered how in the world was hearing about some going in charge of taking water from one part of the temple to another going to help me learn something new about God?

    Someone later pointed out to me that the simple fact that God found it important to mention someone with such a seemingly insignificant job shows us how much God cares about the individual. Needless to say I felt pretty sheepish about it afterward.

    I think I have had to learn that when I am going through what appears to be a bad strand of devotionals it is usually because I will need this later. I met not understand it in that exact moment, but I think that is part of the process of a good devotional. We need to be willing to wrestle with a passage sometimes.

    I also think it teaches us not to simply rely on routine. To often I allow my devotional time to be a simple routine that I follow. I need to work hard to make sure it doesn’t just become one thing to check of my list for the day.

  3. Probably everyone who has or will read your blog has had feelings like yours. I tend to dilute my OT readings with a Psalm, a Proverb and a chapter or two from the NT. When I told your Grandpa about your blog, he said a friend told him that he kept a Strong’s Concordance handy when reading the genealogies and would look up some of the names for the meanings. I guess he felt that was helpful. One final comment: I try not to look at my devotional time as a magic wand that will bless me with a good, trouble-free day, though I must confess I sometimes wish it were so!

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