Devotion that Keeps Me From Straying
Readings: Psalm 95 & 31 ◊ Titus 2:1-15 ◊ Deuteronomy 13:1—16:22 ◊ John 1:35-42
“They are a people whose heart goes astray, and they do not regard my ways.” (Psalm 95:10)
As I begin this journey into the Lenten season, there are a few things I need to be aware of—a caution or two that I will add to those I mentioned from yesterday. When I read the line above from the psalm this morning, my immediate response was a bit judgmental and flavored with disdain. You know, something like, “How could those ungrateful people be so quickly led astray from God?” It didn’t take very long before the Spirit began to unravel some of my judgmental attitude and reflect it back to me. We can all become fragmented in our attention and led astray. Emilie Griffith speaks to this with her words here:
“For many of us the constant onslaught of errands and duties may pile up until it becomes a wall between us and God. We do not consciously turn away from God. Instead, we drift away, like ships without rudders, with no particular aim in mind. Therefore, one thing we can do in Lent is to make a deliberate return.” -Emilie Griffith; Small Surrenders
Little by little, the worries and distractions of life can turn our attentions away from devotion to God. We think we are still being attentive to Him by acknowledging Him with our lips, but the reality of our living and lifestyle do not reflect one who regards His ways. We think, like Peter did, with the mind of man… and this earned him a rebuke from Jesus, who called Peter “Satan.”
“Christians who permit themselves to be shaped by secular culture are guilty, not only of betraying God, but losing their own true selves. -W. Paul Jones
What is the remedy for this? I believe the first step is awareness; knowing that the possibility of distraction is real and can affect even the most resolute person of faith. Secondly, I think having a regimen or established discipline is helpful to keep us tethered or grounded in our devotion. Some of these disciplines can seemingly become rote acts of devotion, even appearing to be dry, lifeless, and fruitless. I suppose that can be a real concern, but in my life’s experience I have found even in the rote acts I am tied to the God I am devoted. This devotion stems from a desire to follow Him and know Him with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength. Through faith, I believe He honors that devotion…even if it is sometimes shared in a rote act. That action, no matter how dry it might be, is still an act of devotion born of the desire to remain connected to the God who created me and it keeps me from becoming so distracted that I stray and fail to regard His ways.
“Suppose there are prophets among you or those who dream dreams about the future, and they promise you signs or miracles, and the predicted signs or miracles occur. If they then say, ‘Come, let us worship other gods’—gods you have not known before—do not listen to them. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul.” -Deut. 13:1-3
This is kind of scary; maybe it even seems a little tricky and unfair to us. The LORD says He will test us to see if we will stray. He will test our love and devotion. This provides me with all the incentive I need to stay on my toes and remain alert. It is precisely the reason that I need disciplines…rote or otherwise to keep me rooted, grounded, tethered, and anchored to the God of my faith.
A couple of other thoughts occurred to me while I was in Scripture today. While reading a text from John’s Gospel, these words stirred me: “When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’” (John 1:38)
I found these words encouraging. As I follow Jesus into this season of repentance and reset, I hear him asking me; “What are you looking for?” I believe as we journey together, I will be able to identify what I am looking for…and I will be able to communicate that to him. Actually, I believe as I walk with Jesus, he will help me to realize what I’m looking for…and realize I have found it fully and completely in Him.
“God’s way can be grasped only in prayer. The more you listen to God speaking within you, the sooner you will hear that voice inviting you to follow the way of Jesus. For Jesus’ way is God’s way and God’s way is not for Jesus only but for everyone who is truly seeking God. Here we come up against the hard truth that the descending way of Jesus is also the way for us to find God. Jesus doesn’t hesitate for a moment to make that clear.” -Henri Nouwen
Finally, another word, this from the apostle Paul to the Titus, lifted my spirits as well. I know; experience has shown me, that I will get tired during these 40-days. I will go through a bout or few of depression and even may get a bit discouraged by my own weaknesses. I may begin to doubt that I will accomplish what God desires for me. These following words will serve me as a reminder to be encouraged during these low times:
12 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13 NRSV)
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord have mercy.
O God, Maker of all mankind, give the rewards of joy, grant the gifts of graces, dissolve the chains of quarreling, and bind fast the agreements of peace. Almighty God, ever-lasting Father, your love was poured forth upon our world from the cross. As we have come to know the grace of our Lord’s resurrection, grant that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we may rise with him to new life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.