Devotion or Devotions?
Many of you know by now the incredible impact that Keith Green had on my life as a young man. As a teenager, I lived on his music and read and re-read his biography, No Compromise. Keith was a Christian musician during a time when it wasn’t the “popular” thing to do. Throughout the 70s and early 80s, Keith paved the way for the modern Christian music industry as well as the modern worship movement in many ways. He was a prophet. No, he didn’t foretell the future. But he did do a lot of forth-telling—truth-telling. Saying what was unpopular because he had a burning passion to speak the truth that the modern American church needed so desperately to hear. He made a lot of enemies. But more than that, he brought countless souls to a saving faith in Jesus Christ because of his strong convicting message. He was blunt. He was straight to the point. And he didn’t water it down. His lyrics cut hard, penetrating through the fluff of common Christianity.
Recently I ran across a series of 8 videos posted on YouTube of a lecture that Keith Green gave at Dallas Theological Seminary sometime just before he boarded the small plane with his two children that would end all three of their short lives. In this lecture, Keith borrows and elaborates on ideas from a man named Charles Finney, a great evangelist of another generation. Toward the end of his life, Finney began writing more frequently than he preached. He began publishing his own paper entitled, The Oberlin Evangelist. The one particular letter that caught Keith’s attention was simply called “Devotion.” For Keith’s purposes, he retitled it “Devotions or Devotion?” In his talk, Keith expanded on some of Finney’s ideas, the basis premise being that often, in Christian circles, we speak of “having our devotions” or “having our quiet time” as if it’s simply something we check off of our list so that we can move on with the rest of our day. Both Finney and Green detested such a notion of Christian spirituality. And as I read Finney’s article for myself and listened to Keith’s encouragement on the subject, I began to realize the hypocrisy in my own life. Bear with me as I pull from a few of Finney’s thoughts:
“I am to show what is true devotion. It is a state of the mind or of the heart. It is that state of the will in which every thing—our whole life, and being, and possessions, are a continual offering to God; i.e. are continually devoted to God. True devotion, so far from consisting in any individual act, or feelings, must, of necessity, be the supreme devotion of the will, extending to all we have and are—to all times, places, employments, thoughts, and feelings.”
And further he says,
“Devotion is that state of the will in which the mind is swallowed up in God, as the object of supreme affection, in which we not only live and move in God, but for God. In other words, devotion is that state of mind in which the attention is diverted from self, and self-seeking, and is directed to God; the thougths, and purposes, and desires, and affections, and emotions, all hanging upon, and devoted to him.”
In other words, devotion to God involves setting our mind and heart upon Him at all times. That means that anything done without this motivation in our lives is sin. Elaborating on this point, Keith quoted Romans 14:23, “…and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
As I sat there in front of my computer, watching Keith share in front of a bunch of seminary students, and myself being reminded of this verse, I began to think and wonder about the common things that make up my day—the things that are neither right nor wrong in and of themselves, but the way that I go about them, without a conscious choice of my will to do them in such a way that my mind is “swallowed up in God.” And I began to wonder how sick I must make God. How sinful I really am. That I don’t often eat to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). That I don’t often play volleyball to the glory of God (one of Keith’s examples). That I don’t often send e-mail, or chat with my wife, or check the mail, or get my oil changed for the glory of God. But I MUST! I MUST, OR IT IS SIN!
See, Christian spirituality is not about checking off our “time with God” first thing in the morning. It’s not about our checklist. It’s not about punching the God-clock and then moving on to other things. God must be all in all. Our primary joy. The One to whom belongs all things and to whom we do all things. The One to whom we direct all of our devotion, all of our affection, all of our attention with a conscious state of the will and of the mind. It’s a conscious choice we make when we get out of bed. When we brush our teeth. When we commute to work. When we eat lunch in the break room. When we tuck our kids in bed at night. We consciously decide to give God the praise due His name in those moments—many of them typical and uneventful—but that’s when God wants our hearts the most, I believe. In the mundane. In the common. That’s why Paul said what he said in 1 Corinthians 10. So that we might eat and drink to the glory of God. What does that mean? That we might bring God glory in the routine stuff of life. The common-place. The typical. The unglamorous. This is what God desires from us, but so often what we refuse to give Him.
As I reflected on Charles Finney’s words translated and adapted through Keith Green’s words, both whom have now gone to be with the Lord, I mused at how these two men of God lived out what they preached to the very end of their lives. Two men who loved their families. Two men who loved Jesus. But two men who were both simply men, like me. Men who changed diapers. Men who brushed their teeth. Men who read books, and played kick-ball with their kids. But men who chose, in those routine, common-place moments of life, to live them out for the glory of God. To make a consious choice of the will to bring glory to God in all of their actions and deeds, no matter how insignificant they may have seemed at the time.