“…. go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” -Matt. 6.6
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” -1 Tim. 4.16
I cannot think of a cautionary word more frequently cited by great historic preachers than this: The busyness of life will choke out devotional prayer and Scripture reading if you do not earnestly contend to establish them as a daily reality.
This holds true in every life context, not merely for preachers, and it ought not surprise the believer, for the powers of darkness are well aware of what most damages their diabolical efforts against the Church. They know what to target in the lives of the saints. The enemy has been fracturing and fragmenting the devotional life of the Church for a very long time.
Satan knows how to cripple the effectual witness of the Church; how to distract the saints from the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ,”and it is not primarily through blatant sinful temptations, nor through overt doctrinal heresy. Historically, the depletion of the Church’s life has come through the subtle blurring of a vision of Christ, especially through the diverting power of engagement with necessary things- even ministerial things. Perhaps ministers of the Gospel are the most susceptible to this, being pressed on every side with the needs of men, most of which are legitimate.
Has there ever been a more distracted age than our own? We have more trinkets and gadgets than any generation past, and the formation of a true devotional life will require an acute sense of our own need for the oil of God’s Spirit, the wisdom of His Word, and the life-giving communion that only comes to us in the consistency and stillness of the secret place.
Ours is an age drunk with “have it your way” paradigms; an undisciplined generation, largely incapable of waiting for and treasuring a glimpse of God’s glory. Ours is an instant-results approach, and an eagerness for that one precious crumb that would fall from the Master’s table is rarely found, even among the servants of God. We have exchanged the “ancient paths” of prayer and devotion for a life congested with busy-headed ministry, and we have added cloggage to congestion with a paralyzing profusion of entertainment and social media. What hope has the grit of Gethsemane in light of the advent of wi-fi, laptops, and smart-phones, which have the propensity of latching onto our affections and schedules like proverbial tumors on the brain and heart? We must steward technology for the advance of the Gospel and the edification of the Church, but it will only suffocate prayer and Spirit-anointed witness if we give it an unchecked and uncircumcised place in our lives. Well did Corrie Ten Boom exhort the saints, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” This warning has been applicable to all generations, but never more poignantly than today.
“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” -Lk. 5.16
The radical nature of Jesus’ secret prayer life needs desperately to be considered and followed. Few men would be able to walk away from the multitudes to find a secret place to meet with the Father. Yet our Lord broke away from the crowds to engage in prayer and communion with the Father.
Who among us would’ve left the masses to replenish in secret? Who among us would leave the buzz of the crowds and the wonder of the miracles to find a “lonely place” to engage with God? Yet it must be said that this was the great secret to Jesus’ life and ministry: His total dependence upon the Father, which manifested itself in public life, had as its source a life of fervent and frequent secret prayer. Is this the pattern of our experience as sons?
Jesus knew that if we neglect our own souls, the quality of ministry is totally depleted and we end up employing powerless words and lifeless efforts. He demonstrated what it means to be a true son by showing that an utter reliance upon the Father will bring to bear upon the earth a glorious revelation of the majesty of God. Our inward lives must be tended to, or else the powers of darkness will bring chaos to our souls, however engaged in ministry we may might be. If we would show forth something of the worth of Christ, our devotional studies and our prayer lives cannot be confined to ministry preparations. Hear Spurgeon on this:
“I can only think with my own brains, and feel with my own heart, and therefore I must educate my intellectual and emotional faculties. I can only weep and agonize for souls in my own renewed nature, therefore must I watchfully maintain the tenderness which was in Christ Jesus. It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organize societies [or ministries], or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself….”
(Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students; Zondervan, 1954; p. 7)
Do not be the one who is overly active in all manners of service, while neglecting “the culture” of ourselves. Do not be engaged with building broad and wide ministries that lack real depth and power with God. Rather be like unto the Son of Man Himself, going deep in the place of prayer, deep into the Scriptures, and deep into the heart of the Father. Let us come out from the holy place with a vital word and with “power from on high” for those to whom we have been sent. The darkness of this age will only be pierced by the works of God Himself, and those works only come through broken vessels; servants who have “been with Jesus,” and consequently, bear His own heart and likeness.