Daily Devotions

Becky: Growing up, our family always spent a lot of time reading and studying the Bible, and praying, every day. Whether at church, in our school curriculum, or at home with the family, each of us kids got a good dose of "devotions" every day. I remember that, when you and Mum gave me a Bible for a confirmation gift, you expressed the desire that I spend time in the Word on my own, every day - and thus was introduced to me the concept of "personal, daily quiet times." However -- and I blame this mostly on my second-child, lack of consistency at all, ever -ness -- I did not develop the habit of daily devotions until I had just turned 15 years old. Mrs. Hickle, my youth group leader at that time, was primarily responsible for this, and I'm forever grateful for her weekly encouragement to spend time with God each and every day.

Yes, I am getting to the question. Be patient.

So I was wondering - what do you do about personal devotions? Do you typically have a book you go through, or just read through the bible cover-to-cover, a certain amount each day, or something else entirely? What have you found works for you, and why?

I'll share what I've done in my 2.5 years of experience, and liked and disliked, once you answer. :)

Dad: It's great to have outside circumstances to blame for how we turn out, now isn't it. Your mother and I are also second children, and thus can blame that for our own inconsistencies in developing good habits. Truthfully, everyone can come up with excuses, but they don't produce the life God desires for us.

This area of quiet time / devotions / Bible study has been a blessing and a curse for many Christians. As with any biblical command, principle, or even good idea, it can quickly turn from something God wants for us to enrich our lives and relationship with Him, to a legalistic requirement to make us "good Christians." I say this because we so easily turn something relational into something required. If we are already Christians, then we realize there is nothing we can do to make ourselves right with God. All that is required has already been done by Jesus. All we need to "do" is to accept his finished work. The law doesn't go away, but instead of serving to beat us down to show us our sin, it is there as a standard that motivates us to live closer to the God who saved us from our sin.

Devotions can be an area like this. Many of us have faithfully spent quiet times for both reasons. We may at times be merely checking off our list so we feel like a good Christian, or at other times, it has become a time of real growth in our relationship with our savior. In my experience as a saved sinner, we never get past the temptation to try to earn God's approval, so the struggle to spend personal time with Him will always have an element of legalism; that is, I feel like I get points for doing this. However, as we mature in our faith, we will discover the blessing of this time, especially when we are working through life's difficulties. The Psalms are good examples of David doing this. If you are wondering if you are spending time in devotions for the right reasons, try to see why you are motivated to do it: trying to please God, being able to raise your hand if a group is asked who read their Bible today, or from a desire to grow in your relationship with God. Keep in mind, our motives will never be 100% pure until we are in Heaven, but being aware of the struggle, and confessing our sinfulness along the way, helps keep us pointed in the right direction. Basically the point here is that we want to be motivated more and more by a desire to grow in our relationship with God.

There are so many things you can do for quiet times that I won't try to set up the ideal plan. It would be a mistake to attempt it anyway, because we are so unique. It is better for each of us to discover these things on our own, like a friendship developing naturally. I will list some of the things you can do that have been helpful for others:

Reading the Bible
Some read the Bible all the way through every year. Wow, what an accomplishment! I've done that maybe three times in my life-time, and it's a blessing, but I'm not sure it would be the best thing to do every year, at least for me. Many read the Bible through over a period of years, just so that they read it all. I've done that too, and it is more relaxing than the one-year plan. What I do when I read the Bible through is to underline things that surprise me, or that I hadn't noticed before. Plus, I have a few symbols I use to mark specific concepts, like parenting helps, the trinity, evangelism, the divinity of Christ, key ideas, etc. For me, the discipline of that approach is helpful every few years, but not as helpful if I do it every year. I think it would become more and more legalistic for me. Another Bible reading approach that is not so challenging, and possibly more personal and helpful, is to chose a book of the Bible and read it through. Before you begin each day, pray that God would teach you something for today. Stop each day when you come to a verse that says something that seems to be for you today. Read it again, and ask God to help you use it today. The next day, begin from that point and read on. This is simple, yet it can be a profound way to hear from God each day.

In some way, include prayer. This can be something as simple as what I just mentioned above in your Bible reading. It can be much more. Personal prayer takes a life-time to develop because so much of the prayer Christians experience is formal corporate prayer, and sometimes written for an occasion. Personal prayer is more like a conversation with a mentor. It can include various tools like P.R.A.Y (praise, repent, ask, yield), or A.C.T.S. (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication). Prayer can be telling God that you are upset, jazzed, confused, etc. I talked to someone once who said that most of his prayers lately were telling God he was mad at Him. That's prayer, just talking with God. Be bold in prayer. Pray for miracles. God is in the business of action in our lives, not just watching and hoping we turn out okay. Prayer needs to include listening to God as well. He will speak to you in some form if you take the time to listen.

Devotions books
These can be very helpful especially in groups with a variety of ages or maturities, for focused study, or if you feel the need for help or dealing with a specific issue. Some of them are excellent, and some are sappy. They definitely have their place, and can be a good tool. I have used so many of these that I often just turn back to the Bible and see what God has to say to me.

In our fast-paced lives, this can be a most helpful discipline. "Be still, and know that I am God." Our schedules are not God. I am not God. My troubles are not God. My profound thoughts are not God. My emotions are not God. He is God. Sometime silence is our way of giving up our lesser priorities to remind us of the one true highest priority.

Here I'm referring to the narrow definition of worship as using music to praise God. (There is a book to be written about a life of worship.) For many this is a key part of their time with God. This can be singing, listening to praise music, or just having it playing quietly in the background as you read or pray. The only times I use this tool is when driving, or if no one is home. Making a joyful noise can turn a personal time into a time when others in the house may wonder, "What's that noise?" However, the car is like a "cone of silence." (If you're driving, sing with your eyes open.)

Many have found that writing is a helpful exercise in time alone with God. I did a lot more of this when I was in college. What is helpful here is that you can look back and observe what God has been doing in your life, plus it is also a good way to collect and process thoughts into a usable form. Many profound thoughts and prayers have come from time writing.

Generally speaking, I have three main suggestions: First, do something. Don't worry if your are doing the best thing. Do what seems best at the time. Add or revise your routine as it seems necessary. Second, variety is good. This can help you move from requirement to relationship. If you went on a date once a week and you always went to the same places and did the same things, it would get boring. Maybe God gets bored when we do the same things with Him. Third, do what works best for you. Everyone is different, and that's good. God gets to spend time with billions of us, and yet he knows each of us personally. Be personal, and be yourself. My life varies so much every day that it is difficult for me to have a routine. I use car time for some of my focused time with God. (I don't read while driving.) Find your best way to spend time with God, and then do it. What ever you decide to do, keep your motives in check. God doesn't want "good Christians". He wants us. He wants you. He wants me. Today. Every day. All day.


The Skinny on Fat

Dad: It seems that young people, particularly girls, have a real variety of eating habits - everything from those who eat constantly, and are obese as a result, to those who eat very little, and are bean-poles. Putting aside kids whose metabolism allows them to stay thin no matter what or how much they eat, what are your thoughts on the whole teen weight issue? It seems that there are a lot more really fat kids than there used to be, but still lots of really skinny kids. What do you see the overweight struggling with? Are they turning to food as an escape, or do Americans just have bad eating habits? Don’t they realize it’s unhealthy? And, are the skinny trying to be thin because of TV models, poor self-esteem, or a true desire to be healthy?

I don’t expect you to have right answers to these questions, but I’d like to hear a young lady such as you share your observations on this subject. Simply put, why are a growing number of young people over-weight, and at the same time, why are some so skinny?

Becky: Wow, sorry to let this one go so long without a reply. I'm not avoiding the issue - just having a rather hectic end-of-school-year/beginning-of-summer transition! However, I've got to admit that this is a tough one. Weight is a tricky thing to talk about, especially in a day and age when, like you said, we see such a variety, and more people than before on each far end of the spectrum. I've been thinking about it a lot, so I have quite a bit to say - stick with me here, and definitely comment with anything that strikes you as odd, unusual, or right-on. ;)

The whole teen weight issue is hard to really lump into one category and deal with as a whole. There are so many different facets of it, from obesity to anorexia, etc. And, although you said "putting aside kids whose metabolism allows them to stay thin no matter what or how much they eat," we have to realize that can play a major factor in the struggles people have with weight.

So where to start? I guess with the issue of being overweight or obese. It has become an increasing problem, and I think a lot of people like to blame it on the advances in processed and instant food we have. While it is true that the newest innovations with food seem to be growing as far as general unhealthiness, we must also admit that, as Americans, we have a vast array of selections when it comes to our meal options. Yes, these unhealthy foods are readily available - but so are an increasing amount of all natural, healthy, wholesome foods. We have a choice in what we eat, and we, quite naturally, reap the consequences of those choices.

Now, I've always been very wary of blaming things on "environment" - as just stated, each person has choices that they make, and those choices are the primary factors in shaping who they are. However, the blame of the problem America has with overweight children and teens can be placed, in part, upon parents, and the family lifestyles that our culture supports and encourages. Let's face it - what family do you know who doesn't have their life pretty packed with activities? I know our family is very busy - and while we've always prioritized family mealtimes, with good, healthy, well-balanced food items. . . things come up, games and practices get scheduled, and we often find ourselves "on-the-go," grabbing whatever we can, when we can, to eat. More often than not, this results in poor eating habits - and this busyness can also, in many cases, result in in-activity and unsubstantial exercise for young and old alike. The combination of these two things can be deadly for children and teens who aren't blessed with great metabolism and such.

While they might realize that their eating habits are unhealthy, I suspect that most teens are either a. too busy to take the time to change their lifestyle and address their eating problems, b. lack the motivation/consistency to do so on their own, and don't find their parents to be helpful in this area, or c. are too embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask for their parents' help. Especially in situations when the teen has developed a real problem with being overweight or obese, it can be very hard to ask for help in taking steps to fix it. Asking for help is admitting a problem, and that's something that even adults struggle with doing. And adults, especially parents, will shy away from the issue as well - either a. they know that they don't really have the time to address it properly, and so they ignore it; b. they don't want to damage their child's self-esteem, and act like it isn't a problem; or c. they don't actually see the problem at all - they are blinded by their closeness to the issue.

So where does that put teens, who find themselves overweight or obese because of the bad habits they have developed as a result of a busy lifestyle and inactive parents (inactive as in "not active in their lives and problems," not "failing to exercise") ? Well, here is where the "eating as an escape" and the eating disorder issues come in. First, eating as an escape. . . I actually don't have a lot to say on this. Everyone has different emotional escapes, but this isn't one of mine. I think, however, that it's something people tend to do more after they already have bad eating habits - they grow so discouraged about trying to lose weight, that they just give up. Dieting can be incredibly depressing - I'd imagine anyone who tried to do so would eventually turn back to food because they see that they were happier emotionally (although not healthier physically) when they didn't keep track of their food intake. I believe that there are also physiological factors involved, about eating being a pleasurable, and possibly even addicting thing, but I don't know enough about that to comment.

The other extreme seems to be developing some kind of eating disorder because of a weight problem (we'll get to eating disorders in people who don't have weight problems later on here). This is a pretty obvious one - the teen feels the pressure, desire, or need to be thin; they see that they aren't thin; they feel uncomfortable asking for help to lose weight; they realize that dieting is hard, and discouraging; they go the route of either anorexia, bulimia, or something in between, in a last-ditch effort to lose weight. My heart goes out to kids in this situation - so often, I think that lack of communication and relationship with parents is the root of the problem.

So what about teens who don't have a weight problem, and yet still seem obsessed with being thin? Obviously, we can see this is mostly a problem among girls. You asked if it's because of "TV models," and I laughed. Growing up in a Christian home and school meant that I got my fair share of self-esteem pep talks - the typical "God has created you in a beautiful way, and you don't have to try and fit the mold that the world has given when it comes to beauty." It was good stuff - as a result, I honestly don't look at models, celebrities, or entertainers as "the ideal" when it comes to weight, size, and shape. Just look at the cover of any magazine at Walmart, and you'll see a story about this or that actress who is in rehab once again because her weight is out of control - and looking at the pictures of that would make anyone turned off to their idea of "beauty." However, I can see that a solid diet of TV shows, movies, and teen fashion magazines could quite easily cause a teenage girl to see those women as the "norm," and to feel that she must be like that. And, because many of my peers have grown up in a culture where they are bombarded by this stuff night and day, I would say that yes, "TV models" do play a part in the development of an eating disorder, for many girls.

However, the area that I've found most of my friends struggle the most is among their peers. I've had many girls admit to me that, when around friends, they can (at times) be constantly comparing their size to the girls around them. And, when a girl sees that she is bigger than the girls she spends time with, she can start to feel discontent. I guess this would also be where low self-esteem comes in. If that girl doesn't get the kind of love and support she needs from her family and parents, and hasn't been made to feel beautiful, she can quickly begin to think that being thin is something that will cause others to love and accept her. Here begins what can be a life-long battle, always trying to be the same as her peers when it comes to weight and size, and thinking that, if she isn't, those around her won't love her as much.

I would say the main reason we see this problem with teen girls more than other age groups is because of the boy factor - let's face it, teen girls want to be attractive to teen guys. And, while we know that any boy worth our time won't judge us purely by outward appearance . . . we also know that guys are visual and do care at least some about how we look.

The issue of eating disorders then, seems to be more about emotions and self-esteem than it is about health. However, we can't totally discount genuine desire to be healthy among some who struggle with eating disorders, As with obesity, I think that the reason this is a problem is lack of communication. How can a kid tell their parents that they want to be trim and fit, and avoid being overweight, when their parents will either, a. be too busy to care or consistently help; b. brush it off with a "you don't need to worry about this;" or c. freak out, because they think their teen is starting to/already has an eating disorder. Most teens, because they don't have a good and comfortable relationship with their parents, will try to solve it on their own, rather than risk having to deal with one of the above parental reactions.

If a teen does develop an eating disorder, whether because of emotional or physical reasons, parents need to realize that it is almost impossible for them to find the strength to admit the problem and get help. Especially among Christian families - as I mentioned earlier, the steady diet of self-esteem seminars for young girls are helpful . . . but often, they paint eating disorders in such a terrible light, that when a teen suddenly and abruptly finds themselves in the middle of one, they feel guilty or wrong, as if they have let down family, or even God. And where do they turn, if their parents have not made a habit of being an active participant when it comes to the exercising and eating habits of their kids?

So, in summary, I'm going to have to say that the root of this problem in America, on both ends, is parent/teen relationships. Communication is vital, and parents have to take the time to make sure their kids are healthy. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I've heard. :)