As good Christians, we are often taught that we should have our daily devotional time, preferably in the morning before we get on with anything for the day. How do most of us conduct our devotions?
We usually use a devotional book or select a portion of bible verses for the day, and we meditate upon the words for some time and pray to God to reveal to us what these verses might mean for us in reflection of our lives. Then we often try to think of an application, of how we might apply the truth that we newly learnt or meditated today.
So, what is so harmful about this?
Let me first tell you a little story I once heard from a preacher.
There was this deacon who followed a bunch of ladies who were super into classical music. The orchestra was playing Antonio Vivaldi’s four seasons (for those of you who might not be familiar with the piece, it consists of four consecutive sections: spring, summer, autumn, winter).
The poor deacon, being clueless about classical music, found the performance rather boring and slowly fell asleep, eventually snoring during the performance and she made a fool of herself in front of her friends and those around her.
Being so embarrassed of herself, she decided to buy a book on classical music and study about Vivaldi’s four seasons. She read through different books about the piece: its compositions, style, the images that the composer tried to draw and the techniques he used to achieve this and so on.
Having her homework done thoroughly, she decided to go to the concert and hear the piece again, this time with prior knowledge of the intricate details of the music. When she heard the music for the second time, not only was she far from dozing off, but she was mesmerized by the beauty of this wonderful art and was in constant awe throughout the whole play.
The bible is also like a piece of art, but its author is God. God wrote this book with a purpose and intention. He wrote those very words to mean a specific thing – i.e. the verses were written with God’s specific intention to deliver a specific message.
Yes, you don’t need prior knowledge of Vivaldi’s four seasons in order to enjoy the music, but if you are listening to “summer” and as you are listening you are mesmerized thinking that this is actually “winter”, it should be a red flag as you are not really getting the composer’s intention.
Same thing with the bible, a verse might have meant “A” according to God, but somehow as you are reading, you think the verse means “B” and are bawling your eyes out because you are so touched by the scripture. It should be a red flag because that is just a delusion and its not what the verse actually means.
Of course, it’s okay if you are reminded of “winter” when you are listening to “summer” time to time, but if this happens every time something is definitely wrong.
You have to actually know the meaning of the verse as God intended it.
Beware of coming up with new interpretations of the verse as you are meditating. Unfortunately, some of us were taught to do our devotions this way. We were told to read a portion of scripture and interpret it in a way that fits your situation with complete disregard of the actual meaning of the passage.
Some people also taught us that we need to be free and let the Holy Spirit lead our thoughts and our devotions. Yes, this is also true, but only within the framework of correct interpretation. You are definitely not free to create a new meaning for a passage.
Use a devotional book!
This would give you at least some framework and boundaries for you to work with. This is especially helpful when you are readings parts of the bible that are usually fuzzy and confusing (e.g. Book of Revelations).
When you do have the good framework to work with, freely swim in the bible! Just be careful that you are doing it according to the traditions and teachings that were passed on to you (2 Thessalonians, chapter 2 verse 15).
Richard Kwon is from Auckland, a regular lay person who just loves the Lord.