Is it still important for every Christian to set aside regular hours for private Bible reading, meditation, and prayer?

The rise of this practice among laymen came after the advent of the printing press and the Reformation. Each believer could at last read God’s Word for himself. What a thrilling experience this must have been initially. Now some Christians seem ready to discard the whole idea. Why?

At first glance, the decline of private devotions appears to be a product of our harried age. Although machines increasingly do our work, we have fewer spare moments than ever. Demands for action crowd in, and we tend to yield at the point of forsaking cultivation of the inner spiritual life. Real meditation becomes rare, and fasting is forgotten. Many whose profession it is to proclaim God’s Word readily concede that they spend precious little time feeding their own souls.

Mere lack of time, however, may not be major cause for rejection of the devotional tradition. There is increasing skepticism over its value. Indeed, to some the word “devotional” connotes superficiality. They regard it as antithetical to intelligent consideration of Scripture.

Although this complaint may be used as a rationalization to cover up sheer neglect, there is a measure of truth in it. Devotional material by the carload descends upon the Christian public each year and most of it suffers from shallowness. Much of such literature takes a lazy approach to important questions, appealing to the emotions rather than the intellect. As a result, many serious-minded Christians have been “turned off.”

But before devotions per se are dismissed as a waste of time, we should examine their role in the lives of great Christians. In our activist age, influential leaders ...

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