Saturday, September 17, 2011

Daily devotions not for all, Tim Ross says in new book 'The Nearest'

Do you struggle with a daily devotional time? If so, Tim Ross wants you to know you are not alone.

In his just-released book “The Nearest: Devotion Not Devotions” (O Books, 175 pages) Ross makes the case that while Bible reading and prayer are important, Christians shouldn’t beat themselves up if they have trouble with them. Ross himself, a retired Methodist minister in the U.K., found it difficult to set aside daily time for prayer and Scripture when he first became a Christian in his late teens.

He began to realize that it is one’s entire life that is a devotion to God and not just daily devotionals. Using one’s spiritual gifts is an act of devotion: helping a person in need, etc. And the short prayers uttered throughout the day keep one in contact with God no less than an hour devoted specifically for that purpose.

So how did we come to believe that a certain portion of time sequestered from the outside world was vital for recharging spiritual batteries? Ross says the medieval monastics led the way setting themselves apart to focus on their relationship with God, and over time lay people began to model that behavior with daily devotionals.

And while certain time set aside for devotions are beneficial to the spiritual lives of some, they aren’t for others.

“ The heart of my problem, I knew, was one of self-discipline,” Ross writes. “I am not a person who is happy in routines. I am not one of those people who have no problems with keeping to patterns and habits, just the opposite, in fact. Which raises another relatively serious question about patterns and habits of prayer. Just as there is an implied relationship between the frequency of prayer time and the presence of God, it is easy to make a connection between spirituality and discipline, which again risks exchanging the grace of God for spirituality by merit.”

Ross makes sound theological arguments, and his humor and personal stories make them easy to understand. His encouragements are worth a look to anyone who has ever wrestled with doubts over his or her ability to dedicate a set-aside time in prayer. He notes that his ideas aren't new, but they can be revolutionary for people who have spent years feeling inadequate in their spiritual walk.

(Disclaimer: A free review copy of this book was provided by the author. Read my interview with Ross about the book here.)