What do you use to fill the tanks of those who pour their lives into others?
That’s the question recently posed to us by a children’s ministry leader. She was interested in finding a devotional guide that would both challenge her and “fill her up.” I know she’s not alone.
One of the most common reasons why pastors leave their ministries is burnout and fatigue. How often do missionaries return to the States for furlough exhausted and spent? The need for spiritual refreshment among spiritual leaders is a real issue.
But are the spiritual needs of ministry leaders any different from those of the average lay person? Don’t all Christians need a deep and abiding relationship with the Lord? Don’t we all require spiritual refreshment?
If you’re keeping score, the answers are “no,” “yes,” and “yes” respectively.
Devotions for Every Demographic
Check out the shelves of your local Christian bookstore. There’s a Bible or a devotional guide for every facet of society. There are study Bibles for men, for women, for kids, for teens, for ministers, for athletes, etc. You can find devotion guides for singles, for couples, for parents, for empty-nesters, for artists, for teachers, for students, for leaders, for those who want to be leaders, for those who used to be leaders. It’s unbelievable.
With so many different options available, it might be easy to believe that key to spiritual refreshment lies in finding some kind of silver bullet–the perfect resource that will minister to your exact personality and life situation. You could be tempted to trust your spiritual fulfillment to a book rather than the God of the Book.
We need to remember that the basic spiritual needs of every Christian are the same. Each of us needs a deepening relationship with our Father. That involves time–both in His Word and in prayer.
It requires a commitment to forsaking other interests and opportunities so that we might focus our hearts and minds on Him. It requires a learner’s spirit, an openness to discovering new things from the Scriptures about our God. It requires humility and transparency, a willingness to be honest with God and ourselves about our weaknesses, our temptations, and our sins. It requires investment.
What Should You Use?
Some people look with a jaundiced eye at anyone who uses anything other than the Bible during their devotional time. I’m not one of those people.
While the Bible is truly the only book that can truly be described as “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12),” God has given us a wealth of excellent Christian resources designed to aid our spiritual development. There are so many devotion guides, commentaries, theology texts, and practical books on Christian living that can help us grow in our understanding of God and His Truth.Remember the goal. We’re seeking to deepen our relationship with the Lord. I have no problem with people using solid, biblically-consistent resources to aid them in this pursuit.
Of course, in using these resources, we need to understand that anytime we move from “Thus saith the Lord” to “Thus saith Joe Schmo,” discernment must be exercised. We have to make sure that the content of the resource agrees with the content of Scripture.
Some Recommended Resources
With that baseline understanding, let me make some recommendations. Here are some resources (listed in no particular order) that can be a help in guiding your devotion time:
- The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney
- Downpour by James MacDonald
- Gripped by the Greatness of God by James MacDonald
- The Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent
- The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
- Knowing God by J.I. Packer
- My Utmost for His Highest by Oswalt Chambers
- The MacArthur New Testament Commentary series by John MacArthur
- The Finishing Touch: Becoming God’s Masterpiece – A Daily Devotional by Charles Swindoll
Use Sunday’s Sermon
If you’ve ever watched a good movie more than once, you know that you pick up on things in subsequent viewings that you didn’t catch the first time. Sunday’s sermons can be a lot like that. You can’t possibly digest all that your pastor is trying to teach you about a given passage in one sitting. And applying the content of the teaching to your life is even more challenging.
Some churches, including ours, make each Sunday’s sermon available online (ours are in our resource library). Using Sunday’s message as part of your devotion time throughout the week will help you to gain a much deeper understanding of the text and a much clearer idea of how it should impact your life.
Recommendations for Teachers
I also have another recommendation for those who teach in their churches. I would suggest using the material you’ll be teaching in your Sunday School class, Adult Bible Fellowship, or Bible study as a spring board for your devotion time.
Many churches provide curriculum for their teachers (especially for their children’s Sunday School classes). Rather than waiting until late in the week to review the content of your lessons, start on Monday.
Begin the week by reading through your lesson. In the days that follow, investigate the Bible passages in which the lesson is rooted. Study those passages and the surrounding contexts. Write out any questions you have and search out the answers to those questions.
By doing this, you’ll likely discover two benefits. First, you’ll gain a much deeper understanding of the passage you’re teaching. You’ll gain insights about God, about His people, and about yourself that the “one-chapter-per-day” approach doesn’t usually produce.
Second, you’ll become a more effective teacher. Having spent several days pouring over that portion of God’s Word, you’ll be more passionate about sharing your discoveries with others. And your passion will likely be infectious.
Too often, I think we use our feelings as the primary tool for evaluating our relationship with God. “Do I feel love for God?” “Do I feel close to Him?” “Do I feel like spending time with Him?”
While our feelings certainly play a role in our relationship with the Lord, we also need to be mindful of the fact that our emotions–just like every other aspect of our lives–suffer under curse of sin. Their ability to perceive and respond to an equally sin-cursed universe has been marred. They are at best an imperfect metric for evaluation.
Nowhere in His Word does God command us to feel a certain way. Instead, He commands us to think in certain ways and to act in certain ways. Why? It’s because we can exercise control over our thoughts and actions. We can’t do that with our feelings.
Our emotions are more of a by-product of the choices we make. When we make right choices, we tend to experience positive emotions. When we make wrong choices, our emotions tend to suffer.
Instead of viewing your relationship with God through the grid of your feelings, view it through the grid of His Word. What does God’s Word have to say about your choices? Have you lived up to the standards set forth in the Bible? Have you pleased the Lord? If you haven’t, have you sought forgiveness from God and the appropriate people for the ways in which you’ve sinned?
Evaluating your relationship with God by using questions like these will provide you with a much more accurate view of your spiritual health.
For Further Consideration
- Are there other theologically sound resources you would recommend to help someone improve their devotions?
- Are there other activities you would recommend for devotional time? Journaling? Private worship?