The word “devotional” is a tired and worn word. I prefer the term “meditation” because I believe that meditation is so critical to the Christian life and offers a fresh approach to what we’re trying to accomplish. The psalmist said, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:12, NIV). Since we are all more familiar with the term, “devotional,” that’s the term I’ll use in this article.
Students often express their appreciation for the devotions I start with in my classes. But usually it’s followed up with “many of my classes don’t have a devotional.” I want to encourage every faculty member to start every class with a brief devotion and end each class with prayer. I heard one instructor say, “but this isn’t a theology class and I’ve got a lot of ground to cover tonight.” For me, taking the time for a devotional is, in a way, like tithing. I never seem to miss that 10%. In fact, it seems that God does more with the remaining 90% than I could have done with the original 100. I believe that God works that same kind of math in our classes as well. Taking time for a devotional brings many benefits.
Benefits of starting class with a devotional:
- A Devotional Sets the Spiritual Thermostat
How’s the weather in your class? No, I’m not talking about the physical temperature and I’m not even connecting this to your physical classroom. I’m referring to the weather in your class, your body of students. In graduate school I had a professor in a preaching class who constantly referred to the weather in our churches. Was it stormy, was it peaceful, was it spring, summer, or winter? Was it cold, hot, or was the air charged with anticipation? He said the pastor is the congregation’s thermostat. The congregation will reflect his moods, temperament, excitement, or boredom. He often said, “If the pastor is bored, his congregation will also be bored.” I’ve noticed this frequently when I’m teaching “public speaking” classes. If the speaker shows signs of nervousness, the class tends to be a little stressed and nervous as well. If the speaker is relaxed and obviously enjoying the subject of the speech, the class reflects that mood as well.
Every instructor sets the spiritual and emotional climate for her/his classroom. In fact, you are the thermostat. By starting class with a devotional, the instructor can help build a sense of “fellowship” in the class. The Greek word for this kind of fellowship is Koinonia. Koinonia is a sense of esprit de corps, belonging, and a team spirit.
- A Devotional Opens Hearts.
I’ve been amazed at what some of students and faculty go through just to get to class. Most students and faculty have other jobs. Often the students look quite weary when we start, and with good reason; they’ve worked hard all day only to get off at 5 and get to class by 6. Many of them have families and some come from long distances to get there. We’ve had students travel to Tulsa even from out of state. For them and for their families, it can be a real sacrifice.
Starting with a devotional can give a sense of renewal. It can open hearts and minds. It breaths fresh spiritual life into our physical neurons. Our students need the transition time to move from their worries and work of the week to the focus of the class. If we neglect that transition time, we start our classes with students who are mentally “checked out.” While transitions can take lots of forms, when it’s a spiritual focus, hearts start opening. That’s not just my word, it’s the promise of Scripture. “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Eze 36:26, NLT).
- Devotionals Make the Secular Sacred.
By starting with a devotional, we invite a sense of transcendent meaning into our students. There is something (actually, Someone) much bigger than us. In a world where “purpose” is in short supply, our greatest opportunity at OKWU is to demonstrate to our students that following Christ opens up a brand new day. It’s like crossing the International Date Line. When you follow Him, you cross something like the Continental Divide; you get a whole new view of life.
When I lived in Japan, I fell in love with the Torii gates. You may not recognize the term “Torii Gate,” but you no doubt have seen them. The Torii are usually quite large and typically painted a deep red. It is an open gate topped with two cross bars (lintels). When you pass through these gates, it is symbolic of passing from the secular life to the spiritual life. Our devotion time is a kind of Torii gate for Christians. It doesn’t represent a geographical location as much as it represents a heart location.
- Devotionals Remind Us of Our Great Opportunity.
Paul Hawken, the famous environmentalist and entrepreneur, said this about Emerson:
“Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.”
Perhaps the greatest sin of humankind today is the sin of not seeing the glory in each moment. We live our lives according to some Gantt chart that culminates in a goal, and we think that when we finally reach that goal, we can be happy.
Lest you think I am just targeting the importance of devotionals in our ministry and theology classes, think again. These devotionals are even more powerful in our “non-religion” classes. Every subject we teach can be linked to the glory of God. Perhaps it would be a good idea for departments to call a meeting of all faculty in their department to discuss the kinds of devotionals that really fit our subjects. God is not the God of just churchy subjects. If you think your subject matter really doesn’t lend itself to an opening devotional, I invite you to reread the original TEXT BOOK and remember that all truth is God’s truth.