What does it mean to be a devout Christian? And how can you grow in your devotion to the Lord? And, what does that look like at a practical level? In this week’s podcast, I explore the question of what the devotional life of a Christian truly is, and what it’s not. The answer may surprise you.
How We Normally Understand Christian Devotion
For many in the Christian traditions I come from, namely, that of Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism, when we talk about devotion we talk about our love for the Lord, and our practical commitments to an assortment of spiritual disciplines.
In church every Sunday? Check. Daily reading your Bible? Check. Praying? Check. Listening to Christian music? Check. Fasting? Double check. Got some cool Christian t-shirts or jewelry? Man… you are fully devoted.
And, if you want to really grow in your faith, and aren’t satisfied in your current spiritual experience, then you need to double down your commitment to all of the above. And, if you are feeling especially spiritually, you might even consider praying in tongues!
All this is fine and good. We need these things in our Christian walk and life. Leonard Ravenhill once said that, “No man is greater than his prayer life.”
I believe there’s a lot of truth in such statements.
But, I believe we’ve made a mistake in thinking that engaging in these spiritual disciplines are the markers of what makes us a devout Christian, and that the only way to grow more in your devotion to the Lord is to simply step up your prayer life, or other such things.
The dictionary definition is the word “devotion” is simply, “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause.”
So, since devotion is a matter of love, we know according to the teachings of Jesus that the greatest commandment is, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength.”
And so, it’s only logical to think the way we can better show our devotion and love to the Lord is to up our devotional life and quiet time with God in practicing a variety of popular spiritual disciplines.
But this commandment and teaching of Jesus cannot be divorced from the second greatest commandment that Jesus tethered to the first great commandment, and that is the command, “to love your neighbor as yourself.”
You see, as important as the first commandment is, and as much as an assortment of spiritual practices might be associated with loving God, we often stop there. We like the highly individualistic nature of such a commandment. Of course, “I” can show my love for God by simply isolating myself away from others as I engage in activities that have little to do with anyone else.
But when coupling the command to love God with the command to love others, then our devotion to God is less defined by me and my, “personal relationship with Jesus.”
Loving Jesus By Loving On Others
You see, our devotion to Jesus has less to do with how well we execute the personal relationship with Jesus stuff, and rather, is defined by how well we follow through with loving on others.
I know plenty of pious individuals with radical devotional lives, who get as much Jesus in their lives as they can. But when it comes to dealing with their neighbors, they are as cold as ice and as mean as a rabid racoon. They are rude, cruel, deliberately offensive, unkind, harsh, critical, argumentative, and constantly unloving.
The second commandment is something they happily ignore, and doesn’t even enter into their mental faculties when trying to express their devotion to Christ.
1 John 4:20 speaks to this condition:
“If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
And in Matthew 25 Jesus taught us in the final judgment of mankind, at the separation of the sheep from the goats, we’ll be judged, not according to our personal piety and what sort of devotional life we had, but we’ll be judged for how we, “treated the least of these, my brethren. For as much as you’ve done it unto them, you’ve done it unto me.”
John Wesley once said, “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.” So, if you wish to be a good, devout, holy Christian, then growing in your devotion to the Lord is to be found in growing in the ways of heartfelt love towards others.
Prayer and the spiritual disciplines is definitely a very important part of that. Indeed, with all the difficulties that govern our social human interactions, I don’t see how you can rightly relate to other human beings unless you pray!
But in the same breath, no man ought to even begin to think that he loves God with all his heart unless he also loves his neighbor with the same enthusiasm.
Our true sign of Christian devotion is ultimately shown in how well we love on others. But we often think we can love God without simultaneously loving others, and doing right by them.
The Devotional Life God Approves
The ancient Israelites used to have similar notions. The prophets of old frequently challenged them on these ideas.
I’d like to close out today’s podcast by reading from a classic passage of Scripture from the prophet Amos, who said to the Israelites of his day:
“I hate, I reject your [religious] festivals, Nor do I delight in your festive assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fattened oxen. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll out like waters, And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
I think it’s important that we really get this concept. Especially in an age where we as Christians tend to be highly individualistic in our practice, and make our faith simply about me and Jesus.
For if we are to live out our faith as we ought, our devotion to the Lord must include time spent in the prayer closet as much as it involves spending time out on the streets and in our public spheres on influence.
Make no mistake about it.
The gospel is about the salvation of our souls. But, that gospel is also a social gospel, lived out wherever people are at. And, if we wish to grow in our devotion to the Lord, we must ultimately grow in our devotion to one another.