Devotional Life vs. Real Life

dsc04578.jpgI can never decide if I love or despise E.M. Bounds.

Bounds was was Methodist minister born in Shelby County, Missouri, in 1835 and wrote several classics on prayer in the life of believers, including his most well-known work, Power Through Prayer.  I first read Power Through Prayer about 10 years ago, having been a believer for about year.  I found it energizing and motivating—a powerful impetus to more and better prayer.

This quote, in particular, lead me to dive deeply into prayer as I contemplated the possibility of a ministry career: “It would not do to say that preachers study too much. Some of them do not study at all; others do not study enough. Numbers do not study the right way to show themselves workmen approved of God. But our great lack is not in head culture, but in heart culture; not lack of knowledge but lack of holiness is our sad and telling defect — not that we know too much, but that we do not meditate on God and his word and watch and fast and pray enough. The heart is the great hindrance to our preaching. Words pregnant with divine truth find in our hearts nonconductors; arrested, they fall shorn and powerless” (ch. 12).

But then I read it again two years ago and it had a quite different feel.  I found it to be brilliant, but also crushing, discouraging and frustrating.  I found quotes like these, from his chapter entitled, “Examples of Praying Men,” particularly plaguing:

The Marquis DeRenty, to whom Christ was most precious, ordered his servant to call him from his devotions at the end of half an hour. The servant at the time saw his face through an aperture. It was marked with such holiness that he hated to arouse him. His lips were moving, but he was perfectly silent. He waited until three half hours had passed; then he called to him, when he arose from his knees, saying that the half hour was so short when he was communing with Christ.”

Bishop Andrewes spent the greatest part of five hours every day in prayer and devotion.”

Bounds’s list of “examples” is extensive and incredible …and each and every example seems hopelessly out of reach for me. Conspicuously absent from Bounds’s list is a person who cannot fathom finding enough time to invest 3-5 hours a day in prayer, but with imperfect diligence offers God his first fruits of the day, and has done so over the course of 11 years of Christian life.

There is no one in Bounds’s list who finds himself, as I did this morning, trying to read 1 Peter, read Institutes and pray while holding a son who was in a very sleepy/grumpy state of mind and would have lost it if I put him down, sitting across the table from my bride who is, herself, trying to read her Bible, read For the Love of God and pray while holding our daughter, trying not to be distracted by the two dogs struggling for alpha-dominance in the kitchen.

We don’t have TV.  Not even an antenna.  We don’t spend much time online.  A little Facebook here, a little blogging there.  I’m not a pastor who works 60 hours a week most weeks.  I’ll exercise 5 hours a week in a good week.  But somehow 24 hours continues to be a frustratingly limited amount of time for a day to contain.  I look longingly (in some ways) on the first year of our marriage: The 40-hour work weeks, the small apartment, the relaxed pace, and the long, undistracted hours in the Word and in prayer in the morning.

But here’s the thing: God has given Leslie and me seasons in life.  And he has intended each of them for our good.  It’s good that our lives are as full and busy as they are now (despite our all-too-frequent complaints).  And we realize that it may get even busier as Owen and Ruthie begin school and/or as more children arrive.

But times of meandering paces are also in our future.  We’ll savor those like we savor these.  Right now I don’t get to be the sage in the morning, candle on the desk, quill pen in hand, sitting in silence, pouring intently over Scripture and laying siege to the Throne of God in prayer for hours on end, tearing my way through a new book each week.  And I suspect that God isn’t displeased in me.

Right now I am satisfied—No, I am overjoyed—to accept gratefully what I’ve been given. To read a paragraph at a time. To scribble some reflections in my journal as Owen tries to steal my pen.  To pray in short sentences but with earnest intent.  To look across the table and see my bride holding my daughter, her eyes darting between the Word and Ruthie’s cooing smile.

Some mornings we beat the kids downstairs and have an hour in quiet.  Some mornings we lose that race.  God meets us there either way, with mercies that are new.

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2 thoughts on “Devotional Life vs. Real Life”

  1. DOOD! Get. out. of. my. HEAD!

    “Right now I am satisfied—No, I am overjoyed—to accept gratefully what I’ve been given. To read a paragraph at a time. To scribble some reflections in my journal as Owen tries to steal my pen. To pray in short sentences but with earnest intent. ”

    I thought I was the only dude who got hit with the “read a paragraph at a time”. I am doing that with Cross of Christ by Stott. I read left side of the page and then sometimes right side of the page, close the book and do one constant “Whoa” a la Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.

    At this moment, I think I have found my mental twin.

    Needless to say, this has been extremely encouraging.

  2. I can totally relate to this. Who in our culture cannot relate to not having enough time to do what needs to be done? And certainly prayer should be a priority for Christians. I have one E.M. Bounds book, The Necessity of Prayer, and don’t believe I ever finished it. But certainly in reading after others from times gone by we do see a greater devotion to spiritual disciplines than what is generally observed by many today. It is something many of need to get back to as a core principle. I think it was John Wesley who wouldn’t allow a man to be ordained who didn’t pray at least two hours a day, and fast two days a week. That seems extreme today, and maybe it is. But I would rather err on this side rather than the other.

    I think you hit on one key thing though. And that is that you are wholly willing to devote yourself as much as time permits, and I like you, don’t believe God is displeased with you just because you fail to measure up to the standard of the “spiritual giants”. We are accepted in the beloved because of the redemptive work of Jesus. Certainly God requires of us a daily cross to bear, but I know of no reason to assume that he wants us to neglect our other responsibilities in favor of others.

    Personally, I prefer to pray throughout the day. That has always come natural to me, even when I was a kid, before anyone taught me about prayer. In fact, I didn’t even think of it as prayer. I just thought of it as talking to God. While I see the value of praying for long extended periods of time, I rarely pray for more than half and hour, and can scarcely think of a time that I prayed more than an hour.

    Thankfully I have been able to set some time aside to pray when we go into the new year. I’ll have some extra time to fast and pray about some specific things, but these times are rare for me.

    I read books whenever I get a chance, and I don’t really consider that devotional. I generally read the Bible at night after everyone has gone to bed. That is the time I really commune with God and shut everything else out.

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