Today, in Part 3 of our “Mere Devotion” series, I explore the roots and reasons for Mere Devotion. Previously, our administrator Francis James introduced Mere Devotion, written about searching for God, and discussed Mere Devotion with Dru Lattin and Tim James on That Jesus Podcast (view here on YouTube).
“Mere Devotion” refers to spiritual disciplines including prayer, the study of scripture, holiness, community, caring for the poor, and the Great Commission. These form the core ethos of the Kingdom Outpost as scriptural and essential expressions of our devotion to God and part of a healthy and thriving Christian life. We seek to develop and build these in our own walk with God, united together with believers of all walks of life and from all backgrounds.
But what exactly is devotion? What really matters in all of these things? What is the core, the heart, and the basis of “mere devotion”? Should we focus on the actions and expressions of devotion, or on devotion itself?
Nachfolge – To Devotedly Follow
Life and relationships teach us that you cannot show devotion unless you are devoted. Otherwise, it is a mere facade. Devotion is the life-blood, the engine-room, and the heart of a faithful following of Jesus. Devotion is what leads us to pray fervently for things after the heart of God, to devour the Scriptures hungrily, to long to be holy as God is holy, to seek out communities in which we express and live out our faith, to love the poor and all who are in need with the sacrificial love of Jesus, and to be compelled to bring the gospel of the Kingdom where it has not yet been preached.
I believe that Mere Devotion boils down to two things: pursuit and surrender. Pursuit, nachfolge in German, means to follow after Christ, take up our cross, and forsake the world that we may play a role in its redemption. Surrender, gelassenheit, means to yield in obedience to God. These are really two sides of the same coin because at the center of both of these is Christ.
Question we can ask ourselves, even as Christians, include, “Do I have a relationship with God? Do I pursue Jesus? What has Jesus done in my life? To what and whom is my heart given to? What does “a relationship with God” really mean?”
One definition of a relationship is a space, a place and a part of yourself that is only between yourself and another – in this case, God. No one else enters that space. It is like the metaphorical or literal going into your room and shutting the door Jesus describes in Matthew 6. There can be no religious performance or facade in that place because no one else is watching. What draws you to that place? Do you feel God tug on your heart and call you? Even if you don’t “feel” it, is there some part of your mind, heart or soul that just hungers for God?
Being alone with God confronts us with hard questions. Firstly, do we really know if God is real? Forget everything and everyone else. Forget Christianity. Where is Jesus? Can I reach out to Him? Do I know He hears?
If we do not have an assurance of God’s reality, then we must seek Him.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Secondly, if you know God exists, do you hear His “voice”? Whoever belongs to Jesus is given the assurance that we will hear His voice with regards to one thing – He will call us to follow Him (John 10:27). This is perhaps not an audible voice, but it is a conviction and calling that applies to every single man or woman who draws near to God. You cannot know God and be left unchanged, to maintain your life and your possessions and everything that is yours as your own. Everything about being a Christian stems from this one thing: Jesus wants to be real and present King over your life. This is what it means to be part of His Kingdom, not a tacit alignment with or affirmation of a statement of faith but a living and dynamic relationship. Discipleship.
Corporate worship and prayer, daily community life and service to others all have their place, but a Christian life doesn’t exist solely in the presence of others, not is it founded on social circumstances, conditioning, and one’s environment. Community can only build upon the place, the foundation, that a relationship with Jesus creates. Otherwise, we will simply meander along with the form of religion but with the spirit and power only possible by new birth.
If I have not heard Him call me, then is it Him that I am following, or the culture and secondhand faith of those around me?
Gelassenheit – A place of yielded serenity
Personally, when it comes to seeking God, whether through prayer or scripture reading or anything else, I believe that the intentionality is the crux. What matters is that we regularly and purposefully, in whatever time and place, come to a place of surrender before God.
Romans 12:1 reminds us to put our “all on the altar”, as it were – to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. How do we do that?
It could be as simple as saying, “Here I am, Lord. Make me Yours.” It could be saying, as Mary did, “Behold the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to Thy will.” It could be as Jesus prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.” It could be praying the Greatest Commandment, for God to give us a love for Him that encompasses all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength.
I believe that every work we do must be built on the foundation of surrender to God, surrender not as a one-time prayer but as a lifetime process. We need to come back to this place often, not formalistically or ritualistically, but meaningfully and genuinely. In my life thus far, every time I have been weighed down by decisions and crossroads and stresses, I have found coming to a place of yielding it all to God and pouring it out to Him brought me peace and helped bring me to the right paths and right decisions. It has meant casting my cares and worries and any inner turmoil upon Him (1 Peter 5:7).
With this surrender comes wrestling. The choice to surrender to God brings in its train challenges when our will and our heart come into conflict with His. The cross and the taking up of our cross involves unique, individual journeys with unique joys and unique sorrows. We may share fellowship on this path but each person’s cross is their own. We do not carry the cross of another person’s prescription or description. We take up our own, by His grace.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, even Jesus’s will and the will of the Father came into “conflict”. We should note that we are allowed to express our will to God; in fact we should. We are even encouraged even to ask of Him, knowing that our generous heavenly Father is one who spares us nothing, who is not a sadist or in any way cruel. He will not give us a stone when we seek after bread (Matthew 7:7-11). A paradox though it may be, God wants to go to Him and to ask of Him.
At the same time, in asking of Him, we lay down and we pour out everything that is on our hearts and minds at His feet, including our fears, worries, desires, goals, and ambitions.
Petitioning Him is the act of surrendering our petitions. I used to be wary of verses that asked us to ask of God because I figured they could be abused. But, if we think of asking as coming before His throne, so to speak, and laying down our requests before the One who is all-powerful, the posture itself is that of petitioning and placing His hands the agency to give, to bless, to act on our behalf and for our good. Asking of God is thus a place of communion and it is also a place of trust. It is gelassenheit.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:4-10)
Jesus describes this in John 15, telling us to abide in Him as He abides in us. It is of note that Jesus makes this abiding, this dwelling, a non-optional part of any form of action or work. If we do not abide in Him, the fruit that we bear and the works that we do are of no avail. It is in Him, though Him, that we act. It is from a place of devotion, complete devotion, that we set about to do His will. It is from this place that we ask of God and it is from this place that we bring glory to Him. This is a place of obedience. This is a place of love.
This is where we find peace.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
Sometimes it is necessary to stop completely in our tracks if we realize that we are running along and serving and working and continuing in the “status quo” of Christian life but have not plugged into the source that literally keeps us going. If we are not rooted deeply in Him (Colossians 2:7), if we are not partaking of living water (John 4:14), and if we do not eat His flesh and drink His body and exist as one body with Him, then we are not truly alive.
God gives us wisdom to make decisions and God wants us to use that wisdom to obey simply and without complex second-guessing. At the same time, we have to trust God to be working, consciously or unconsciously, audibly or inaudibly, in us as we endeavor to surrender our work and acts of “Mere Devotion” to Him. The Bible gives us a solid enough basis to believe that we should put our cards down on the table, including our plans and our missions and our initiatives, and say, “I surrender this to You. Work through me.”
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
We often think of these verses above in terms of holiness and sanctification. For the longest time, I was taught that sanctification is God’s continuous work in us to make us perfect. That may be true, but there is one more step to this: God sanctifies us not so that we can be holy trophies, paragons of perfection and sanctity. All this is for the sole reason of making us usable – right here and right now, on earth, and to other people.
The six facets of Mere Devotion (there are more!) describe part of what it means to live a fruitful and abundant Christian life. They all stem from a love for God that we grow into from day to day. They also express themselves in practical, selfless love for others. Mere Devotion is just another term for a Jesus-centred, cross-carrying life. It is another term for all-consuming love.