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A gospel-filled life: Part 9

Devotional development

Jeffrey D. Enderle

A slight sadness seeps into my psyche every autumn. For some reason, I can’t help looking ahead and grieving the loss of the magnificent scenery and pleasant temperatures. While I should be content with evening walks requiring only a light jacket, my mind automatically begins to wander. Soon it will be cold. Soon after, it will grow colder still. Stormy and unpredictable seasons loom in the distance. Almost an entire year will pass before comfortable conditions make another migration, making the outdoors hospitable again.

Some healthy habits develop over years of hard work and attention. We fall into some negative attitudes, on the other hand, without any intentional efforts.

Dispelling negative tendencies

In his short letter giving simple instructions on prayer to his friend Peter the Barber, Martin Luther acknowledged there were times when his life became “cool and joyless.” On those occasions he grabbed his book of Psalms or recalled familiar sections of Scripture and spent quiet time alone in meditation and prayer. Negative tendencies didn’t evaporate on their own. God’s powerful Word was required to address and combat doubts and disillusionment.

Work turns monotonous. Family members fling constant conflict and crisis our way. Hobbies and leisure lose their satisfaction. Religious routines feel robotic in their repetitions. Life’s less-than-perfect circumstances make life less joyful. Plans of future greatness get grounded in ordinary turbulence. Things of this life won’t provide the sense of contentment we think they should. They can’t. They aren’t designed to do what only God can do.

Augustine was an early Christian theologian who had a profound influence on Martin Luther. In prayer Augustine acknowledged the soul’s need for the peace that only God can give: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you” (Confessions 1.1.1). Augustine’s insight suggests that we might develop habits that reflect the necessity of our resting in God himself.

Try reading through Psalms 111–118 regularly. Praise in these Psalms can profoundly impact believers. Praise to God isn’t just based on emotions welling up inside believers but primarily flows from a reflection of God’s acts of rescue for his people. Praise doesn’t just depend on what we think about God but expresses our joy in God’s grace at work in our lives.

Developing healthy habits 

Let’s see how this could benefit believers. Martin Luther advocated devotional habits that turned to God’s Word regularly and let “prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night” (A Simple Way to Pray). When we turn to God soon after waking, we can begin our day remembering we are baptized children of God. Before we face stresses and responsibilities, we can find peace in God’s work claiming us as his own. As we retire for the night, we can unburden the fear of our failures with confidence in his grace. We can rest recognizing his blessings to us throughout the day.

It takes time and effort to develop healthy habits. Following natural instincts in our physical lives is rarely the best policy. God’s people have a more refreshing motivation to develop routines revolving around God’s Word than the return of autumnal glories. With each morsel of God’s Word, God grows in us a dawning awareness of the greatness of our Savior. By Scripture and thankful response in prayer the Holy Spirit develops in us an awe for God’s grace at work in our lives.

This is the ninth article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.

Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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