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Going through seminary, students are taught to study the Bible and uphold its doctrines about God while also being encouraged not to neglect their devotional times with God. Yet during my own devotional time I, and probably many others, often ask, “Is this approach the best way to grow spiritually, or is there a better way? What could I do differently? Should I incorporate my studies with my devotions?”
Each week, I ask a different scholar two questions about how he or she spends time with the Lord and continues to love him with all their mind, strength, and heart. While no one method or style is “the only way,” we can draw on one another’s experiences.
This week, I have asked Dr. Andrew Das if he would share his thoughts with us.
1. How do you spend your devotional time with the Lord?
Devotional time is exceedingly important. I am a conservative (Bible-believing) Lutheran, and so I have a very high view of the power of God’s Word as that which creates and sustains faith. Getting people into the Word is essential to my confession. My wife and I taught our children to read before kindergarten and soon thereafter got them their own study Bibles in an accessible translation. For my own part, I cannot recommend highly enough the Christian Standard Bible. It is demonstrably the most readable translation on the market that is at the same time one of the most word-for-word translations. That accuracy to the original is very important to me. I need to have confidence in my English translation, but I also need a readable and accessible translation. Luther translated Scriptures into the ordinary, everyday language of the people. So my kids grew up with their pattern of daily study of God’s Word and prayer at the beginning of each day (we’d fall asleep if we did it at the end of the day).
For my own part, I help out in churches, and the churches, thankfully, schedule those labors well in advance. What I like to do at the office in the morning is to take time out from the daily grind and scour commentaries and monographs for devotional applications of God’s Word. I like to grow in my understanding of the Word and yet seek out how the Word is to be applied in a way that is a natural extension of its message.
This week, for instance, I have been meditating on the story of the rich man who comes to Jesus in Mark 10. Of course, we don’t know that he is rich right away, but Jesus sees through him pretty quickly. Jesus knew that things, literally, were getting in the way for him. He also had an overly optimistic assessment of his own ability to gain access to God’s kingdom. I find this passage challenging for me personally as a wealthy American Christian. Do I really need all this stuff? Does the stuff get in the way of loving others as God in Christ first loved me? Jesus’ death on the cross has freed me from my sins, including the idolatry of putting stuff before others and before the Lord. So I have been carrying this around with me this week and reflecting on how the passage relates to the entirety of the Scriptural witness and to my life..
2. How do you practically seek to deepen your love for Christ?
In terms of deepening my love for Christ, my love for Christ increases as I deepen my understanding of God’s Word, especially as I treat it in a respectful way as God’s saving Word addressed also to me personally. There are lessons to be learned and applied. So I try to mold my patterns of action on biblical models. If God became incarnate in Christ to suffer and die for me, how can I imitate that humble self-regard to put others first?
One game my wife brought to our marriage is, in conversation, trying to get the other person to talk about him/herself. We like to “flip” conversations to keep the focus on the other person and to try to hear them and express care for them, the same love that God has so richly showered upon us in His death on the cross.
As a part-time dean at my college, I am not surprised that even secular authors on “how to be a dean” talk about servant leadership. For me, it is who I am in Christ. I am to be a servant of others. So my devotional life is something that is to be carried with me all through the day. We pray without ceasing, do we not? The only way I can imagine that taking place is through the wealth and riches of God’s Word. There’s so much there!! It’s our power source. We are not only better preachers and teachers through our study of God’s Word (with fresh, engaging new insights all the time); when we approach our labors devotionally, we grow in our faith–because God’s Word is powerful. God speaks into our hearts through His wonderful Word, and it is so.
A. Andrew Das is the Donald W. and Betty J. Buik Chair at Elmhurst College. He has also written a commentary on Galatians, as well as having written on Paul and the Law, Paul and Israel, and Paul and the Jews.
Thank you, Dr. Das!