As important as it is to start the day with prayer and Scripture, I do my best to avoid calling such time “devotions.” Maybe it’s just a weird personal tick, but to me, “devotions” sounds like achieving an atmosphere and aesthetic more than doing the needful.

Devotions conjures pictures of quiet reading spaces with candles and a stack of “devotional” books. In some circles, it might be that a devotional time includes more reading of devotional titles than Scripture itself, more time reading the spiritual thoughts of others than actually praying oneself.

Even if our morning devotions are primarily filled with prayer and Scripture, we easily add extra requirements onto the time that are extra-biblical.

The problem with morning devotions

When we want to be sure we’re spending time in the Word and starting our day with prayer, we very easily slip into idealistic vision-chasing.

We imagine our morning devotions should

  • be the very first thing we do in the morning
  • be done before the kids are awake
  • take at least thirty minutes, but maybe sixty
  • include a stack of books
  • be comfy-cozy with warm light, a hot beverage, and earth tone midliners and a gentle candle flickering

So then when our mornings begin by being tossed from bed by a crying infant, when we don’t have ten minutes together without being interrupted, when we never make it to our candle-lit reading corner, we wind up never actually beginning the day with prayer and Scripture.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t need to have the perfect setting before we can fly to the Lord for daily sustenance. Such desperate, mid-action flight is more biblical than a cozy morning corner with scented candles, too.

Devotions in Scripture

The Bible is not silent on the topic of morning prayer or of turning to Scripture.

The Psalms are filled with exhortations to pray in the morning, such as Psalm 5:3:

O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.

Sacrifices, in fact, were supposed to be offered by priests with incense every morning in the old covenant — how much more in the new?

Throughout Scripture we see the principle of offering to God the first fruits of what He gives us in this life, and many commentators throughout Church history have drawn the line from that principle to giving — devoting — the first hour of the day to Scripture and prayer.

That is, the idea of morning devotions is not an invention of modern evangelicals. It goes all the way back to David, and you’ll find exhortations to it throughout church history.

In his commentary on Genesis, Matthew Henry (1662-1714) wrote:

It is our wisdom and duty to begin every day with God.

John Calvin (1509-1564) said something similar:

Although…we should ever aspire to God and pray without ceasing, still, since our weakness is such that it has to be supported by many aids, and our sluggishness such that it needs to be goaded, it is fitting each one of us should set apart certain hours for this exercise. ..[These hours for prayer] are: when we arise in the morning, before we begin daily work, when we sit down to a meal, when by God’s blessing we have eaten, when we are getting ready to retire.

Calvin goes on to caution that these regular rhythms of daily prayer “must not be any superstitious observance of hours, whereby, as if paying our debt to God, we imagine ourselves paid up for the remaining hours.”

Morning devotions can easily slide into a superstitious observance, where we think that if we check the box at the right time, in the right way, we have earned a good day – which we assume means a day that goes our way.

So we turn to devotions not because we want to conform ourselves to God, but rather channel God’s power into ourselves.

However, just because morning devotions can become superstitious or even is taught in a superstitious way by others does not mean we should abandon the practice altogether.

When there’s no quiet for quiet time

Sometimes instead of calling a time in prayer and Scripture “devotions,” we call it “quiet time.” I think it’s a little funny that this term is commonly used by mothers both for their personal Scripture reading time and for their children’s nap time. I suppose both are essential ways of resting, but it makes me wonder if it shows what we think we need before we can come into God’s presence.

Does it have to be quiet?

No.

We can be like Charles Wesley’s mother, Susanna, who threw her blanket over her head to make a space for her to collect herself and pray for the grace she needed to manage her teaming home.

Although our hearts should be quiet before the Lord, our home doesn’t have to be quiet before we can pray first thing – or any time.

What needs to be quiet is not the environment, the situation, but our hearts and minds. Prayer is giving up our distractions and our worries to focus on Scripture, on God’s excellence, on God’s good care.

It doesn’t matter if the kids are already up, we can take ten minutes to pray and read a Psalm. Then we can listen to the day’s Bible Reading Challenge while doing our morning chores or eating breakfast, even if the kids are around.

It doesn’t matter if you’re nursing a babe in arms while you pray, it counts.

It doesn’t matter if you do in on the couch in plain view of the children, it counts.

The ideal personal devotional time ought not become a standard we require before we devote ourselves to God at all.

An hour in the morning…

Does it have to be an hour?

No.

Many of us are tempted by perfectionism, where we think that if our situation is not ideal, we can’t start. If we think we’re supposed to spend an hour in Scripture and prayer, and that seems impossible, we then spend zero time in either.

Perhaps we imagine that someday the situation will work out and we’ll have “enough” time. Yet, in the meantime, our tastes and affections are being drawn away from what should be our first love.

Our hearts will not jump from zero to sixty minutes of devotion as soon as conditions allow.

Ten minutes is a start. Ten minutes can still be a first-fruits offering. Ten minutes can begin to shape our desires toward our God so that we continue throughout the day to regularly turn to Him with our concerns and joys.

If we regularly give ten minutes, those ten minutes can grow as our circumstances shift. There’s already a placeholder and a habit in place.

Bring your children with you

When God has given us children who wake us up and stay with us, then God wants us to come to Him alongside them. They are not hindrances to us and we should not be hindrances to them. Let them see us. Let them sit beside us.

There is nothing more natural than for mothers to bring along their children as they go about their life — and our life should include Scripture and prayer.

There is no requirement that our time with God be alone and silent.

In fact, wives and mothers are walking metaphors of the church, which is corporate. So, it’s actually quite fitting that we bring others up with us as we offer our day to God and submit ourselves to His good work in our lives — a good work He will most certainly use those children to accomplish in us.

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