challenges and obstacles to the devotional life

Few habits improve the warmth of our relationship with the lord as consistently spending time with Him in prayer and His Word. Although many Christians know and acknowledge this truth, many equally know how difficult it is to start or maintain this habit. In fact, it seems the demands of modern life are incompatible with this ancient biblical practice of withdrawing to spend time with the Lord.

Likewise, most believers sincerely want to grow intimate with the lord, but they can’t figure out how to deal with the many obstacles. This article will enumerate the common challenge and barriers to a healthy devotional life, including unexpected causes.

Two Subtle Lies 

We must discard two subtle lies about the devotional life that can easily creep into our hearts as Christians

Lie number 1: Life today is too busy for this ancient practice

It is easy to unconsciously believe this assumption that life is too busy to spend time with God regularly. 

The pace of life has increased a thousand times since Jesus’ day. Even contemporary teenagers have more crammed into a day than an entire household of their ancient counterparts! However, as we see below, we all know how to make time for what we prioritize or value. Time is a limitation, but our value system is a more significant challenge.

Lie number 2: The Christian Life has highs and lows

Many assume it is God’s will for us to be full of Him one day and as dry as a withered tree in the desert the next. Though this is often our experience, it is not what God designed for the Christian life. Psalms 1:3 is a beautiful picture of God’s idea of the believer’s everyday life. 

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalms 1:3 ESV)

A healthy devotional life is heaven’s secret to being full of God daily. It should come as no surprise that life fights this habit ferociously—the enemy will not let us have it easy, knowing well what will result from it. There is no want of obstacles and challenges to spending time with God.

Four Important Obstacles and Challenges

Reasons abound why believers find it challenging to maintain a healthy devotional life. With little to no difficulty, we can name the top 2 or 3 reasons we often go for days or weeks without praying or reading the Bible. Rather than enumerate these diverse reasons, I will examine the common factors, often hidden in plain sight, beginning with the elephant in the room, which is time.

1. The Time factor 

The devotional is, in essence, time—time with God—and our time is precious and limited. Sometimes, our schedules are so overcrowded that time is a problem; similarly, some believers have such hectic schedules that kill not only their health but the health of their families or relationship with God. 

However, contrary to common assumptions, insufficient time is hardly the primary reason many struggle with the devotional life. We know full well how to make time for what we value. Rather than limited time, a lack of perspective is the most critical problem.

2. The perspective of our needs and priorities 

An average Christian reads the Bible to guide them on what to do, or they pray only when they have a challenge and need God to intervene. This thwarted perspective is the hidden reason, the  part of the iceberg (nine-tenths) below the ocean; most other reasons are simply the tip of the iceberg seen on the surface.

While the average believer sees the Bible as simply a “manual for life,” God sees His Word as their life (Deuteronomy 32:47, Matthew 4:4). So there is a wide divergence in perspective. God sees His Word as our life and commands that we meditate on it day and night. But the typical Christian does not agree in practice with God—although we might confess the contrary—that His Word is worth meditating on day and night as He thinks. For many, reading the Bible once in a while or when our schedules allow is sufficient.

When our eyes open to see that time with God is our life (a lifeline, an umbilical cord), we suddenly realize we need little to no encouragement to spend time with God, just as a hungry person hardly needs any encouragement to eat. The hunger of a hungry person will make them creative to look for ways to satisfy their empty stomach. Similarly, if time with God is a priority in our value system, we will make it happen. Sometimes, it might be as simple as turning off the TV or our phones. 

3. The wisdom problem

Closely related to the perspective problem is the wisdom problem. We need help apportioning our time and resources; we need divine wisdom to discern our most essential needs and set our priorities right. Moses rightly said in Psalms 90:12:

“So teach us to number our days, That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, KJV) 

Additionally, Solomon  said wisdom is the principal thing, which certainly applies to the devotional life. Wisdom enables us to discern the major from the minor and to know what belongs where. For example, when Jesus visited Mary and Martha, Mary sat at His feet while Martha was cumbered with much serving to prepare dinner for Jesus. Preparing dinner for Jesus was not wrong; it was just not the best thing to do from Jesus’ perspective at the time He was in their house. That could have been the last time Jesus visited their home—Martha, like us today, needed the wisdom to know her seasons and times.  

4. God’s work dilemma

Ministry paradoxically can destroy ministers. Working for God can erode our intimacy and relationship with Him. How easy it is for us ministers to be so absorbed by the demands of ministry that our prayer life is extinguished.

As the early Church grew, quarrels arose about the distribution of food between Hebrew and Greek-speaking believers. The believers brought the matter to the Apostles, expecting them to oversee some food distribution committees. Thank God for Peter, who responded by God’s wisdom and said:

“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3–4, ESV)

Peter knew what priority for them as apostles. This is a lesson for every pastor and minister today. Also, we read of Jesus regularly leaving the people to be alone in prayer. 

Enemies Of The Devotional Life 

Besides the obstacles mentioned above, there is a distinct group I term “enemies of the devotional life.” These are things that resist and oppose any attempts to pray or read God’s Word. I will enlist just four here: the flesh, distractions, the religious spirit, and the crisis-seeker. 

The flesh

Our human nature enjoys the things of the world and detests the things of God. An example will suffice: try getting up in the morning to pray, and your body and mind will give you a million reasons you should not. That same body can stay up all night watching our favorite movies or TV shows. The fleshly or carnal Christian, one still ruled by the flesh, cannot maintain a healthy devotional life. They have a bigger problem—mortifying the flesh and yielding to the Spirit.

Distractions

Distractions interfere with the time we set aside to spend with the Lord. They can be good, legitimate things. For example, Martha’s preparing dinner, or going to work to have bread on the table. Others are optional things like entertainment. Whether legitimate or optional, distractions are a significant adversary to the devotional life.  

The religious spirit

We should be careful not to make a religion out of the exhortation to spend time with the Lord. There is a risk of traditions and empty religious practices whenever there is a commandment. 

Crisis Christian Attitude 

The crisis mindset makes us seek God only when there is a crisis. Crisis always demands unusual responses, but the crisis attitude only prays or reads the Bible when there is a problem. It sees little to no reason to seek God when everything is rosy. Our relationship with God is more significant than our problems. We need God, but not merely to remove our mountains.

Conclusion

The devotional life is a spiritual treasure; therefore,  its adversaries are many. As anything worthwhile in life, it demands a commitment to overcome obstacles. However, once established and ongoing, the joys that come in the morning will make us forget the struggles of the night. 

Which of the challenges and obstacles above have been problematic for you? Any success stories to share and inspire others? Please use the comment form below to share your comments. 

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