Fighting for Joy through Devotional Time

Isaiah 55:1-3a
“Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.”

This year as a church, we’ve been focusing on joy. So I am a little embarrassed to admit that also this year, I’ve struggled to feel joyful. Instead, the circumstances in my life in the last few months have brought out more shame, insecurity, and sin that needs to be weeded out. And anxiety and depression feel like deep waters always on the brink of bursting through a weary, old dam.

I was at the gym with a close friend recently, and I was telling her about some of this. I explained that my natural response when I have these negative emotions is to try to hide from them and distract myself, which is the exact opposite of what is helpful. I had been (unsurprisingly) feeling far from God, because instead of turning to him with all of my heart during this time, all I wanted to do was watch Netflix late into the night while eating sugar (spoiler alert, don’t do this). And somehow, I was finding time for these avoidant behaviors, but I didn’t “have time” to read my Bible and pray during an intentional devotional time with God each day.

So, like a really good friend does, she asked me what I needed to do in order to be spiritually disciplined. And I immediately knew exactly what I needed to do; I simply hadn’t been trying very hard to make it happen. The reality is that I need to wake up at 5:45am, before my baby wakes up, because I know this about myself: if I put off time with God in the morning, I put off time with him all day long.

It feels a little cheesy to talk about this even in a church context, which I find to be a terrible reality. But even in the church I feel slightly ashamed for saying I spend time with God. Saying “I had a devotional time today and I woke up earlier than I needed to in order to make it happen” feels like saying, “I’m boring and self-righteous.” But the reality is that spending time with God is an admission, a surrender, of my weakness. I cannot not spend time with God. I absolutely need time to talk with him and listen to him. So do you. To not intentionally spend time with God is to think that by my own strength I can know the mind of Christ and walk in step with the Spirit. But those things don’t happen without Christ, or without the Spirit, which God reveals to us through our personal worship, prayer, and time reading the Bible.

Everyone is busy, and everyone only has 24 hours, and everyone is tired—at least everyone I know. My guilty response when confronted with the need to spend devotional time with God is to feel like God disapproves of me for not already spending time with him, to feel like other people disapprove of me for not doing the “right” things, or to feel that I am exempt for some reason in my life stage. Then there’s the reasoning that, technically, I can spend time with God all day anyway because he’s always there, and so why do I need to set aside a separate time? And oh yeah, God doesn’t love me based on what I do.

True. But do I love God more or less when I don’t spend intentional time with him? For me it is less. Much less.

One thing I’m learning (especially since becoming a mom, but this true in every season) is that spending time with God can look a number of different ways, but the key is to always be looking for an opportunity to spend time with God. Sometimes this looks like reading a chapter of the Bible out loud while I wait 45 minutes for my baby to finish breakfast. Instead of feeling impatient and angry that he’s smearing food into his hair, I can read the Bible to him and remind myself of truth in that moment. Plus, he’s entertained. It can look like listening to the Bible while I work out. It can look like going to a coffee shop on Saturday morning and getting myself a latte and a muffin for some motivation (although that’s rare these days). I can carry a Bible with me on my phone and read a passage when I’m waiting for my turn at the doctor’s office. It can look however I need it to look to spend time with God. And—this is the part that is hardest for me—it can look different every day.

So at least for this week, it looks like getting up at 5:45am while my baby is still sleeping, making some coffee, and then writing out my prayers in a journal so that I don’t fall asleep while I’m praying. It might look different next week if my son starts waking up at 5:45am, too.

The biggest thing is to start, and to try anything. Even if you have been inconsistent. Even if the first, second, or tenth attempt fails. Keep trying. Last weekend, I snoozed my alarm twice and only ended up with about 5-10 minutes. But I was convicted to still get up and read for the time I had rather than give up and catch those last few minutes of sleep. And you know what happened? My son slept in, which never happens. I’m not expecting God to make up for my lack of discipline every day, but he does meets us with grace in our weakness.

It’s been a few weeks since that conversation with my friend. And here’s the thing, my circumstances haven’t changed. All of the things that my anxiety stemmed from are still there. None of my relationships changed, I have the same job, and I live in the same house. I don’t have more “me” time. But I do have 30 minutes to spend with God.

In Isaiah 55:10-12, God says that:
“As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
    so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
    but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
    the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.”

It’s not magic—spending time with God may not change your circumstances. But God promises that his Word will produce fruit, and that fruit is the joy and peace of the living Word that we carry inside us, leading us through each day.

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