Listen to discussion on the Fighting for Devotional Time series on the Engage & Equip podcast, episode #173.
Yesterday, I posted about the first hardest part about fighting for devotional time: the discipline of simply doing a devotional rather than not doing it.
The second hardest part of doing devotions is concentration and thought. Most people do not have a mind trained for thinking and concentration. Our minds function similarly to our bodies in that when we are out of shape, it’s harder to perform anything strenuous. Additionally and unhelpfully, our lives and homes tend to be filled with all kinds of convenient distractions.
Therefore, to have a profitable devotional time, the next step after simply having one is to achieve something like concentration—focus. This can be aided with controlling your environment and the use of mild stimulants, like coffee or tea. Stay away from things like cocaine.
In order for many people to achieve concentration and focus, they need to repeatedly go to a quiet environment in which they have removed obvious distractions. Often, this has to be done fairly early in the day before distractions multiply. Early is often the best time to concentrate because you have the most mental energy you will have all day. Putting this together with a concentration aiding beverage can help you focus. Journaling can also aid with focus. Although journaling has some liabilities, it has two benefits. First, manual writing tends to keep you focused on creating the content you are writing. Second, writing things down allows you to go back and look at what you have written days, weeks, months or even years later. I recently went through a ten year prayer journal I used from 2010 through 2019. It not only was encouraging to see what God had done in those ten years, but it allowed me to carry forward things God had been shaping over that decade into the next. It gave continuity to my pursuit of God, the change he was praying into my life, and a sense that he has been working in me.
Aside from these aids, there is no substitute for the work of concentration. Some people can concentrate nearly effortlessly for an hour to 90 minutes. This is often the case if you have a job that requires long periods of concentration that keeps your mind in this kind of shape. For some of us, concentrating for ten minutes may feel like active work. The most important thing is to start with where you are and to do what you can do. Push yourself without injuring yourself. Just like if you started running after months of sedentary living, you shouldn’t try to run two miles your first time. You’ll probably both fail and hurt yourself.
Similarly, if you have not been spending time concentrating, push yourself about 30% longer than comes natural. For some people that will be ten minutes. For others it will be 25. Just make sure you stretch yourself. Over time, you’ll be able to build yourself up to concentrating longer just as you would increase weights in the weight room if you were getting in shape.
Again, doing devotions brings natural benefits along with the spiritual benefits. By pursuing a sharp mind for God you will end up with a sharper, more disciplined mind for everything. Your devotions won’t just develop you spiritually; they will sharpen you mentally. You will literally become smarter over time—a clearer thinker. I have discipled many people who have said that their faith made them much smarter than they were before. That is not because faith in itself makes us more intelligent—some ways that people believe can decrease their curiosity and make them functionally less intelligent over time.
But there is an educational and intellectual development to knowing God. As we exercise our mental abilities in pursuing him, he matures and shapes our minds for his service. And as you see the good results of this pursuit, you may find within yourself the growing conviction to minimize and remove the things in your life which distract you and dilute your concentration.
If we listen to Jesus’ call to love God with all our minds, and if we grow in our powers of concentration as we pursue deeper devotion to him, then he grows and sharpens our minds as we give our minds to him.