A means to an end
A man sees a woman from afar. He finds her very attractive. He asks around and finds people who know her. He learns things about her. The more he learns, the more he likes what he discovers. In fact, he begins to love those aspects of the woman he learns. From afar, he has already begun falling in love.
Then the day comes. He finally meets her face-to-face. Sparks fly. Everything he learned was right: she is awesome. Her aspects and character are a perfect match for him. Perfect. They fall in love completely. It changes his life.
He abandons all other loves and commits himself just to her. They get married and he’s thrilled. He tells all his friends about her. He plays with her, makes decisions with her, and spends every second he can with her. He simply can’t get enough of her. He says no to friends he used to say yes to. He turns down invitations to things that take him away from her. She is the object of his affection.
Then a little times go by. She notices that he doesn’t talk much anymore. He starts to fade away. After months, then years, of this they finally have a conversation:
“Honey, why haven’t we spent more time together? We used to be so close.”
“What? . . . Well . . . to tell you the truth, I’m just, you know, busy.”
“Yeah, busy. And, really, honestly, I’m just so tired of emailing and talking on the phone, you know. I’m just so tired of that.”
“You’re tired of talking and reading? Really? You’re telling me that busy-ness and not wanting to read or talk means that you’re done with me?”
“Oh no. I’m not done. I still love you.”
This is a parable. We’re the man; God is the woman. For too many, I’ve just described the love relationship we have with God.
This is the chief problem concerning devotional habits for Christians that I’ve encountered all my life (including myself): the average Christian thinks that devotional habits are the ends themselves, not a means to an end.
Do you understand this? Do you think that reading the Bible is the point? That praying is the point? If so, then you’ve totally missed the point.
That’s like saying I write emails to people just to say that I’ve written emails. That’s not why I write emails at all. It’s like saying that I have a conversation with my wife just to say that I’ve had a conversation with my wife. That’s not why I have conversations at all. That would be nonsense.
We read the Bible and pray in order to love God with our whole selves. We do it to get God. That’s why we do it. That’s what a love relationship is all about. It’s about getting the other person. Don’t you see that? Reading and prayer is just a means to an ends—getting to know and love God. That’s it. He’s the goal. He’s the end. He’s the object of our affection.
Imagine having a conversation with your spouse or friend and feeling so proud of yourself because you managed to converse for a few minutes.
“Do you love your spouse?”
“Oh yeah, we talk at least twice a week.”
“What? That’s all?”
“Yeah. That’s what a love relationship is all about—finding a few minutes a week to squeeze in.”
“No it’s not!”
If you’re burnt out on reading the Bible or having closet prayer it’s probably because you think that doing these things is the end or object or goal. That is, these are things to mark off your To Do List. This is just like—just like—being burnt out on a love relationship with a spouse or friend because you just don’t want to talk (your throat is too tired) or read anymore. Talking has become such a hassle . . . the other person is no longer worth it. Imagine abandoning your healthy, thriving love relationship because you’ve decided that time spent with the person is just a hassle.
God is the goal—God is—not a task, but God. A love relationship is just waiting to mature. And the way to have this love relationship grow—the way to get to know and love the God who is—is in regular Bible study, prayer, worship, and service.
Devotional practices are like a phone conversation. They are just a means to an end. That’s it. A means to an end. They lead you to God. And of course, being led to God changes us into His Son. We always change into the object of our love.
If you love your spouse, no one has to beg you to do things to nurture your relationship. No one. You’ll do whatever it takes to get to know him/her more.
If you love God, no one has to beg you to do things to nurture your relationship. No one. You’ll do whatever it takes to get to know Him more.