The Devotional Life Expanded: Adding Action to Contemplation

The Devotional Life Expanded: Adding Action to Contemplation

When someone talks about their devotional life what comes to mind? A Bible, Portals of Prayer, maybe an online resource, possibly a hymnal? You probably also imagine some sort of contemplation, reflection, possibly a conversation, and a prayer.
This is certainly one piece, one facet if you will, of the devotional life. In fact, it’s one we would do well do deepen, learning to reflect on the profound truths of Scripture and the mysteries of the faith: the tabernacling of God among us in the incarnation of Christ; the loving, communal, communicative nature of the Triune God; the imaging of Christ’s marriage to the Church in earthly marriages; the great price of redemption in the shedding of Jesus’ blood, the reconstituting and firming up of the body in the resurrection, reigning with Christ over a renewed creation; and on and on.
St. Paul said as much in his letter to the Philippian Church:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).
So, deep and reflective contemplation is a key piece of our devotional life as Christ confessing people. 
Over the next few paragraphs, though, I will suggest that our understanding of our devotional life needs to be expanded.[1] More specifically, I want to help us add action to our contemplation. In fact, St. Paul did precisely this in the very next sentence of his letter to the Philippians!
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9).
In other words, contemplate AND practice. Reflect AND do. The AND is essential. Our devotional life is to be characterized by both. We are not pitting one against the other (contemplation against practicing, thinking against doing) or providing ourselves an excuse for neglecting the reflecting on the great drama and doctrine of Scripture. We are expanding our understanding of the devotional life to help us see our devotion to Christ and His mission more holistically. We’re adding action/devotion to our beliefs.   
So, in the Church we make many bold claims about what we believe. Consider a few: 
  • Life is sacred from the womb to the tomb.
  • God created marriage as the exclusive, lifelong, one-flesh, pro-creational union between a man and a woman to be a living image of Christ’s marriage to His bride, the Church.
  • God owns everything; we are the trustees of His property.
  • Children are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord.
  • Governing authorities have a derived authority from God to be used to check evil and commend good.
  • God gave humanity dominion over creation to steward it for His glory and the blessing of our neighbor.
  • Jesus Christ is Lord. He will return in power and glory to judge the earth and establish His everlasting kingdom. 
We believe these things and we boldly confess them. But are we devoted to them? Are we taking any action to defend, promote, strengthen, and further these beliefs, to translate them into a lived reality for the glory of God and the flourishing of humanity? This is the piece we need to add to our understanding of our devotional life, adding courageous action to our bold confession.
This is why a clear and bold confession (learned through hearing the Word preached and taught corporately with the gathered congregation and through reflecting on it individually) is necessary, even foundational to an active devotional life. Our actions must be anchored in God’s truth. Our doing must be fueled by God’s teaching because it’s all too easy to devote ourselves to things that are not extolled in Scripture.   
What are you devoted to?
Consider what people regularly devote their lives to, what they pour energy and time and money into. Dare to consider your own life. What are you devoted to? What are you pouring energy into, investing dollars in, dedicating time to? What draws you in and drives you forward? Don’t rush by these questions. We’re all devoted to something. So, what are you devoted to? 
What teaching of God is your devotion anchored to?
And the more important, pressing question: what teaching of God is your devotion anchored to? This is where the drama and doctrine of Scripture translates into action, where contemplation drives action and action motivates contemplation.
As you ask the question, you may make some surprising discoveries. You may find that you are devoted to some things that have no connection to God’s Word and do nothing to further His Kingdom, nothing to awaken anyone’s desire for God, and nothing to promote the beliefs we boldly confess.[2] This will be a painful discovery because it will mean the time for plucking has come (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-29 on plucking and casting away things leading us into sin and away from God). The idol must go.  
But you may discover that you are devoted to things that are deeply important to God. You may discover a new dimension to your devotional life (which is what we’re aiming for!) as you see action after action anchored in the beautiful things of God. Your devotion to creation care is anchored in God’s declaration that His creation is good, even very good. Your devotion to your children is anchored in God’s creation and blessing of the family and His exhortation to communicate the faith to the next generation. Your devotion to the care of God’s house is anchored in Your love for what He gives in that house (grace and salvation!).  
And you may discover new opportunities to expand your devotional life. Do you care for the disadvantaged (mirroring Christ’s compassion)? Volunteer at a food pantry, work to improve access to affordable housing, get involved with vocational training, invest in educational programs. Are you devoted to marriage (seeing it as a great good of God’s creation)? Support the work of marriage advocates and counselors (such as Lutheran Family Service), invest in quality resources that can be shared with couples, promote or sponsor marriage retreats.
Do you love God’s good creation? Advocate for wise conservation practices, support the work of organizations focused on creation care, make your corner of creation beautiful.
These may all be a meaningful part of your devotional life, especially if you intentionally anchor them in the teachings of Scripture. And then you’ll start to experience an exciting synergy as your devotional actions drive you deeper into God’s Word and your contemplation on God’s Word drives you forward into God’s world.
And this will help you see your devotional life holistically, as contemplation AND action, reflection AND doing. Want to talk more about expanding your devotional life? Let’s visit! – Pastor Conner  

[1] I am indebted to Dr. David Schmitt, homiletics (preaching) professor at Concordia Seminary St. Louis, for his insights on the devotional life, especially his article “Devotion and Discipleship in a Discontented Age.” 

[2] It’s important to emphasize that we are not talking about hobbies, we’re discussing devotion. What are you devoted to?

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