Aileen and I have never been too good at date nights. We know that, according to all the experts, we are supposed to go out on a date, at minimum, every couple of weeks. Those experts must all have lots of money or access to free babysitters because there’s just no way we can afford to pay someone the going rate to watch the kids every 2 weeks. What we do instead is wait until all the kids are at school on a Monday or a Wednesday and we set out on a midday date.
This has worked well for us. And i think we’re good at dating. We both know that the main point of spending this kind of time together is to return home with a lot of new knowledge about one another. We like to head to a favorite restaurant and split a sandwich and an order of 4-cheese spinach dip. We just sit and talk. And when we head home we know we’ve had a good date if we’ve learned things about the other that we didn’t know before. If we haven’t learned anything new we know that our date hasn’t been so good and we swear that we’ll do better next time. Because this is the point of dating–to accumulate knowledge about the person you love.
I’m lying. Well, only partially. That is exactly how we date these days. But it’s not at all how we gauge the success of our dates. We know we’ve had a good date when we’ve enjoyed spending time together. We don’t need to learn anything new. We don’t need to gain facts. We just need to be together, enjoying one another’s presence. We can go shopping and sit in a bookstore and consider it a great date. We return home refreshed, renewed and loving one another more than when we set out. And that’s a great date.
But isn’t it funny that when it comes to personal devotions, when it comes to our relationship to the Lord, we change the rules. We judge the success of our time with the Lord by what we get out of it, by what we remember, by what we’ve learned. We consider our devotions a success when we learn some new fact about God or about the Bible. We admire those who have great biblical knowledge or a great memory for the facts of what they’ve read. We get discouraged and want to give up when we feel like we have learned nothing through that day’s devotions.
But what if we are missing the point? What if the point of devotions is less about learning about God and more about spending time with God? What if it’s less about Bible study and more about building relational intimacy? What would change about our devotions if instead of trying to learn about God, we focused instead on spending time with God, time spent hearing from him through his Word and speaking to him through prayer? If this is the case it doesn’t much matter what we remember at the end of it because the joy has been in the moment, the value has been in the time spent together. The joy of dating isn’t in the aftermath but in the moment. And I think the same can be true with our devotions.
Jonathan Edwards understood this. Speaking about sermons he said “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.” That is true of sermons, and I believe it is true of devotions (and dates!) as well. The greatest benefit is the impression in the moment–the joy of time spent together.
There is great freedom in understanding this. Now devotions are not judged by what we remember at the end or what we have learned along the way. Instead, devotions are simply times spent with a friend, time spent listening and speaking, time spent building relationship. You do not need to be a Bible scholar to build relationship. You do not need to have extensive knowledge of God. You just need to be willing to spend the time, to listen and to speak. And we’re all good at that.