The mind and devotion

I have never cared for the dichotomy that places intellect, study, and understanding at opposite poles from the idea of devotion to God.

And yet we subtly (or not so subtly) set them at odds all the time. “That’s a good Bible paraphrase for devotional reading, but I wouldn’t want to study from it.”

I recall back in my Bible college days that many of us struggled with having to complete our studies, much of which involved deep dives into the text and doctrines of Scripture, sometimes in the original languages. We would bemoan the fact that for all that learning, it didn’t always result in a greater connection to the Lord God our Creator and Savior. In fact, if we weren’t careful, we might find ourselves adrift, feeling apart from the Lord.

For some people, the response to that in their personal reading was to eschew the intellectual pursuit of the meaning of the text and attempt to read “devotionally,” whatever that meant. As if a feeling of devotion to God could be divorced from the mind. As if we can read the Bible without a thought as to its proper interpretation.

One of the more prophetic chapel messages in my time there that shot like an arrow into my heart was based on Luke 10:27 – “And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” From this text, Dr. Norm Geisler spoke on “Loving God with your mind.” After chapel, I had the opportunity to sit with him at lunch, and I proclaimed how much I liked his emphasis on the mind and our studies. I said, “Next to my devotion to the Lord, I keep my studies the next most important thing.” He gently corrected my misunderstanding of his point, clarifying that at this time in my life, pursuing my studies was my devotion to the Lord.

This helped to set me on a track where I would no longer set in opposition my intellectual pursuit of the Bible and doctrine against my devotion and fellowship with God. My practice has become to never read God’s Word apart from my mind. I may have times of deeper study, but it’s always with the goal of understanding and not “mere” devotion.

For this reason, I do tend to utilize resources that are doctrinally and exegetically based. For my daily study, I use Tabletalk Magazine from R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries. I find that many other so-called devotional magazines often only have 1 verse each day, devoid of context, and some “thoughts” on that verse, commonly accompanied by some personal story that reinforces the point. “Sermonettes for Christianettes” as pastor and musical artist Steve Camp has called them.

Instead, Tabletalk takes me through the year in a passage-by-passage running commentary on various sections of Scripture. This year, the daily readings are taking us through the Pauline Epistles of 1 and 2 Corinthians. A couple of years ago, the texts were the historical books of the Old Testament. Can you imagine the benefits of immersing for an entire year in a deep dive into the text of Scripture?

Tabletalk includes a daily point of application, called “Coram Deo:” “Before the face of God.” But this response is always based on a correct understanding of the text.

Whatever “devotion” means to a person, it should always include the mind and not be pursued as if it supersedes our thoughts. This was, in part, the error of the Gnostics in seeking a secret experience beyond that of knowledge.

Consider, rather, how the mind plays in expanding our sense of devotion. The more you delve into the depths of learning, the more you realize how little you know. Apply that to the things of God, and you multiply your devotion. For example, as I examine (with my mind) the biblical revelation of God’s character, I understand all the more how little I can comprehend of God, and my sense of how trustworthy he is explodes, and my devotion to him increases.

Again, as I study (with my mind) all the facets of God’s great work in redeeming humanity, I encounter in greater and greater measure the extent of the sin that made salvation necessary. I grasp in increasing magnitude the extent of his work on the cross, while never plumbing its depths. What I understood well enough as a child, I continuously discover to be beyond my capacity to fathom. This inability to reach the end fuels my devotion to it. I find it oddly satisfying while never finding its terminus.

If you have had a tendency to draw a dichotomy between your mind and your devotion, I urge you to take a different approach. Discover your heart of devotion in the deep places, where God dwells in unapproachable mystery.

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