I remember my 2001 seminary graduation retreat. At least, I think that is what it was. I was an insecure seminarian about to graduate and go into full-time ministry and teach others how to be spiritual. The place was beautiful — out in the woods by a small quiet lake. My wife always looks forward to such events so she can sleep in (for some reason she loves to sleep in any bed as long as it is not ours).
It was around 6:30 in the morning. I woke up and decided to go for a walk before anyone else got up. I quietly got up and walked outside, shutting the door as silently as I could, so as to not wake Kristie up or anyone else who might have been in range to hear it (it was a very quiet morning outside). I tiptoed down the creaky wood stairs on the front porch, walked out into the grass, and began to make my way down the gravel path. Then, I noticed it. To my shock and horror, I was not the only one up. Not even close. In fact, I think I might have been an hour behind most of my fellow graduates. I was in a unique circumstance where I was able to observe their morning rituals. What were they all up doing? Devotionals! There were two on the dock. A handful of others were on their cabin’s front porch. Some were on the park bench. I think there was even one in a small boat! They all either had their Bibles open or were in some guilt-inducing prayer position. They were demonstrating to me how unspiritual I was. Panic set in. After all, I was just going on a walk. I was not even going to pray (or had no preconceived plans to do so).
I found myself with a few choices:
- Go back and get my Bible and begin to study
- Casually go ask to join one or more of them as if I had that planned all along
- Or just go on my walk like I had planned
I chose #3. I remember during breakfast people talking about what they had studied or how great their time with the Lord was that morning. I was tempted to feel guilty, but I didn’t.
Since then, I don’t know how many similar circumstances I have been in. Some people ask me how my morning devotional was or what I am studying in my devotional. Then there are those who advise me in them, as if they are the solution to all my spiritual problems. They tell me about how they could not function without them.
Let me let you in on a little secret: I don’t do morning devotionals — so quit asking!
You see, my spiritual life might surprise many of you. It is not as intentional as you might think. Oh, don’t quote to me “the unintentional spiritual life is not worth living.” I am sure that my spiritual life could get better. I am sure that your way of doing things works for you. I have nothing against morning devotionals. I just don’t do them.
You see, God and I have our relationship. It is our relationship. It is particular to me and Him. It has its own patterns, pitfalls, and peculiarities. It fits with the way He made me. It will probably always be this way, even in eternity. I may not talk to Him like you do, thank Him before meals, sing hymns in the car (or even listen to Christian music), read though the Bible in a year, every year, have a copy of Our Daily Bread in my back pocket, or have a verse of the day sent to my email. But don’t mistake this as a lack of relationship with the same Jesus you have devotions to every morning. God and I have our thing. But our thing is not your thing. And your thing is not my thing.
Can we learn from each other? Of course. Can we inspire each other to better habits? Most definitely. But I can’t judge your relationship with Him based upon my own patterns. The Bible gives us a lot of freedom to be ourselves. Sure, there are the principles of knowledge, fellowship, and obedience. But the expressions these, I find, are as numerous as there are people to express them. God loves variety.
As I look at my kids and think about this, the same holds true. Kylee is the devotion gal. She wants to talk about everything and has deep emotional investment in how I respond to her. Katelynn is a “just the facts” type person. Will just wants to hang out even if we never say a word. Zach is an activity type guy. He wants you to do things with him. I love them all. There are ways that they could do better with me (and I with them), but I don’t want them to change their personality to engage me in a more acceptable way — in the way others do it. I like them just the way they are and they will excel in their relationship with me and others accordingly.
God made us for a unique relationship with Him. Sometimes, that will take a form that is much different than yours, but it does not mean that the relationship is not there, nor healthy. So quit trying to make me like you. More importantly, quit judging others so quickly. You never really know how special the way they approach God is to God.
Wow, I just wrote a blog for the first time in forever. Glad I lost my knack for controversy!
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]