“I didn’t get a thing out of that.”
These words were spoken by a resident of a nursing home some years ago when I was in college. A group of students went to a local nursing home every Tuesday evening to sing with the residents and lead them in a short devotional time. One week after the Bible message, a man who was hard of hearing turned to his neighbor and announced rather loudly, “I didn’t get a thing out of that!” We laughed about it then, and it still brings a smile to my face now. Clearly, he meant he couldn’t hear the message. But have you ever felt that way after church or a devotion? Like you didn’t get anything of substance out of it? And that begs the question, is it even worth it?
The other day I read an amazing devotion on Hebrews. I’ve never really understood the whole order of Melchizedek thing, but this devotion explained it really well, and it was an “aha” moment for me. I love it when that happens. Whether it’s a great sermon in church or an insightful Bible study or even a study note at the bottom of the page, I love those light bulb moments. Some years ago, I read a commentary of Leviticus like that. (Yes, Leviticus!) It explored the details and significance of all those Old Testament sacrifices and tied them in to Jesus’ ultimate once-for-all sacrifice. It was fascinating. I looked forward to my devotional time while I was working through Leviticus. It’s exciting and invigorating to have moments of insight, and it makes devotional time fun.
More often than not, my devotions aren’t filled with “aha” moments. As bad as it sounds to say it, sometimes my devotions can be rather mundane. Tedious, even. As wonderful as it would be to have amazing devotions all the time or mountaintop experiences every Sunday in church, the simple fact is that that won’t always happen. Sometimes you might feel like you’re plodding through devotions; like they’re just one more thing to cross off your to-do list. Some Sundays you’ll think you didn’t get anything out of church. Maybe you’re already upset about something and your kids are whining and fighting through the service and you barely hear a word of the sermon. Maybe you leave church mad at your entire family and thinking it would have been better had you just stayed home. (Ahem.) What then?
Take heart, dear friend. The good news is that it’s not about you or how you’re feeling at any particular time. The results are up to God, not you. His Word is not dependent on your emotions. His Word has power. God promises that “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Wow. Now that’s power. And when we read the Bible or hear it proclaimed in church, we reap the benefits of that power in our own lives, whether we feel it or not.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that we have to get some sort of emotional response out of church or it’s not worth it. They may argue that they can’t recall the Bible readings or sermons from weeks past, so it’s a waste of time. So let’s look at this another way. What did you have for Christmas dinner? Chances are, it was something pretty special. You likely had multiple side dishes and a fancy main course. It was probably fairly memorable. But what about dinner two Thursdays ago? How about last August? Can you recall? Probably not, but it’s a safe bet that it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as Christmas dinner. Yet it still nourished your body. Sure, maybe meatloaf and baked potatoes aren’t as exciting as a turkey dinner with all the fixings, but your body was fed nonetheless. Even though you can’t recall what you made a month ago, it still accomplished the purpose of nourishing you. If this is true of something as mundane as food, how much more so does it apply to God’s Word, food for your soul?
The next time you read a devotion that sort of seems to fall flat, flip to Isaiah 55:11 and Hebrews 4:12. Remind yourself of God’s unfailing promise. The next time you come home from church feeling defeated and frustrated, remember that you did get something out of church. You received the forgiveness of sins. God’s Word was read and proclaimed, even if you didn’t hear much of it. If it was a communion Sunday, you received the body and blood of Christ for the strengthening of your faith and for forgiveness. Turns out, you got quite a bit more out of church than you originally thought.
Even when you feel like you didn’t get a thing out of that.