Remaining Faithful to What God Sets Before Us
I sat in a wing-back chair by the blazing fireplace, surrounded by friends on a Wednesday night; our weekly life-group meeting was underway. As I read aloud from Acts 2, I caught myself pausing when I came to verse 42: “…and they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, NIV). It was as though a knife pierced my heart with that one phrase: they devoted themselves.
I immediately remembered the painful church split we had all walked through just a few years earlier. And in that moment, God challenged my heart with a gentle question…where is your devotion? The church split had been one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I had ever walked through, and I knew it had affected my attitude toward my fellow believers. The Lord began to bring to mind numerous situations where I had withheld devotion in order to protect myself. After the split, two new congregations quickly re-formed and my husband and I prayed diligently about what to do. We chose to stay with one of the two groups, and, although I physically showed up, I pulled back emotionally both from God and from others.
After seeing many precious relationships torn apart by the church split, I constantly battled an inclination to tuck tail and run from my fellow Christians as far and as fast as I could. In reality, I was battling a devotion to self; I was giving my all and pouring out all my best energies … into my own preservation. What I wrestled with — though I didn’t know it then — was the struggle to give up this “right to protect myself from pain.” Like the Bible describes, even while I worshiped the Lord, I was serving my idols. (See 2 Kings 17:41.)
The Latin word for devote is dēvoveō, meaning literally “to vow.” As in marriage, a vow with the lips is only the beginning. The actions that follow are what cause the vow to work for a lifetime. So, in the context of being a Christian, I began to wonder: what was my vow, and what did it require of me? Being devoted is “giving ALL, being constant, steadfastly attentive, and giving unremitting care to something; to persevere and not faint, to show oneself courageous for, and be set apart unto something.” The more I studied this word the more I realized it didn’t describe a human capacity at all. True devotion is utterly godly.
We can only be as invested in something as we are devoted to it. I was very invested in me and my needs, but I reserved my right to be optionally devoted to the church and God’s people. Maybe you are like me, and something happened in your life that led you to view church and its attendees as a place of optional devotion. Like me, maybe your satisfaction with church has depended on your personal rating scale: Well, if the worship is good, we will stay. It’s too early in the morning. Nobody has even said hello to me yet — I can’t believe how unfriendly this church is. Why am I still here?
Our culture promotes a spirit of independence and the importance of personal choice. Through one experience or another, we all eventually realize that people can be unreliable, often providing further reinforcement for this independent thought process if not guided and tempered by God’s Word. When other people — especially Christians — disappoint us, we tend to turn inward and withhold from giving to others because doing so comes with a personal cost to ourselves.
But God clearly tells us that self-preservation must not rule our lives.
As I have studied the book of Acts, I’ve come to realize that the early Church’s commitment to being together wasn’t born out of pleasant circumstances or perfect church services. As the Bible describes the early Church, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God…” (Acts 2:44-47a, NIV). Their sacrificial giving to each other, of both the physical needs and the emotional, was born out of a devotion first and foremost to Christ — a devotion that did not waver in times of difficulty, but rather, was strengthened. This is what makes the Christian set apart!
Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of true devotion. When He was given the cup of suffering He asked that it might pass from Him, but in His devotion to the will of His Father, He embraced the suffering of the Cross for the joy set before Him — the joy of our salvation. And He gave and He gave and He gave, right down to the shedding of His very blood.
Jesus is still giving of Himself with unwavering devotion. And He gives us the ability, through His indwelling life, to do the same for others. By His enabling grace, we can remain devoted to our Christian brothers and sisters — even when we get injured in a church split; even when we want to withhold; even when friends betray us and we want to pull away in order to preserve ourselves. Grasping the right motivation for a devoted life is one of the first steps to leaving behind a type of worldly devotion that depends on human strength and willpower to perform.
Through my three-year battle after the church split, there were some Church members who clung together and poured their lives into seeing the brokenness healed. They taught, they prayed, they gathered together — first in this building then in that one, and then they had regular potlucks, they organized communion, and they led worship. I was a reluctant participant the entire time, just waiting for the ball to drop, waiting for someone else to let me down. I deeply regret what I lost in that time. I preserved myself instead of serving them out of love for Christ.
A heart of praise and givenness to Christ explains why those believers — as in the early church — were able to continue through great difficulty in devotion to one other. They took seriously the urging to “consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together … but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:24-25 NIV). This is an amazing picture! I see now that they were living out exactly what the Bible described the early believers doing, and I love them for it.
We shouldn’t devote ourselves to our fellow Christians or to our commitments for the sake of those things, but for the sake of Christ. If my devotion to church, family, friendships, a job, or anything else is based solely on the value of the thing itself, then there will come a time that I will surely falter. But if I do these things because I am motivated by a loving devotion unto Christ, then my actions can withstand the consequences of human folly. And when my selfish nature instructs me to withdraw, a life given to Christ can instead do the counterintuitive thing and choose to give, and give, and give.
Devotion to Christ says, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). The church I almost gave up on is thriving today, and God has given me a supernatural love I did not used to have for His people. Each and every day I am grateful for the faithful people who continued to devote themselves to gathering together. And now when I join them, I ask the Lord to give me what I do not naturally possess — a life of selfless, unconditional, Christ-like devotion to all He sets before me.