For me, as an Evangelical, I have always been told to “do your devotions,” to “set aside time every night/morning to read and meditate on the word of God.” But the more I have come to love the Word, the more I believe that devotions are at best a stopgap, and at worst unbiblical. Devotions, as Evangelicals like to define it, are not the way to properly grow a proper relationship with God. Devotions are a symbol of a consumerist society that has become jaded to the value of the word of God and are a poor substitute for memorizing, hearing, and constant meditation on scripture.
The thing with devotions is that it isn’t wrong to do in and of itself, it isn’t wrong to read, it isn’t wrong to pray, it isn’t wrong to meditate. However, it can easily become a checkbox in our daily life, and the more I think about it, the more I don’t think devotions meets the criteria of meditating on the word day and night and is entirely reflective of our current time and age. Devotions are a luxury borne out of the immense overabundance of wealth of scripture that our developed western society has obtained. Why do I say this? Because in the world of the Bible, we know that most people were not literate, most people didn’t have a copy of the word in their own house. Indeed for much of history Bibles were so valuable as to be chained to pulpits so that all the faithful might have access to the one copy of scripture. Jewish synagogues today still special store their handwritten copies of the torah in a dignified manner. The point I want to make is that for most of history people didn’t have the luxury of having a copy of scripture, of being able to read scripture.
What then is it to meditate on scripture? Part of it might be what we call devotions, or personal reflection on scripture, yes, because of the commands when God gave his great assertion of oneness, the Shema:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deut 6.4-7)
We should be reflecting on the given word of God day and night. However, it is also more than that; it is to memorize scripture. In proverbs we see that we are strongly encouraged to “keep your father’s commandment . . . [b]ind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck.” This act of memorization is how we are able to, as the blesséd man in Psalm 1, meditate on his word day and night, unceasingly. This is how even the illiterate could meditate on what feeds the soul.
Some of us might complain about memorizing scripture and might say “it’s too hard” or “my mind is not made in such a way.” But this isn’t so! In the time of Christ, or just after Jewish education was instituted for people with instruction in the torah. This education involved memorizing entire books of the Old Testament, or the whole Old Testament itself! Just because we now have easy access to the word doesn’t mean that we should be putting off memorizing scripture, because we remember what we love. If we can memorize a line from a movie, the words to our favourite song, or poetry that touches the heart, or anatomical parts in preparation for medicine, there is nothing that hinders us from remembering the word of God. It might start with a phrase, but phrases can build into passages and soon we memorize more than we might have thought possible so long as we earnestly desire to remember that which pierces even unto the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of joint and of marrow, the lamp unto our feet, that which is sweeter than honey and that which is perfect, converting the soul.
Memorizing scripture daily is a needed supplement to reading the word, for by memorizing, by repeating verses each and every day we instill in our hearts a proper and right mind of meditation, filling our hearts and minds with that which is able to convert our souls, provide strength in temptation, and keep us in the everlasting way by sanctifying us with truth. Don’t settle for fifteen minutes of instructed devotion, but keep the word around the table of your heart so that in his word you might dwell day and night. So no, I won’t leave you with a legalistic instruction to read the word 15 minutes every morning, but what I will do is encourage you to meditate on the word day and night, unceasingly until the day of Christ.