A Personal Devotional Experience
Dr. Ella S. Simmons, recently retired, outlines her prescription for consistent spiritual growth in her daily devotions, even in busy seasons.
It seems this world is busier and more troubled than it has ever been. This is certainly true for the world around me. So, I often receive questions querying what I do to keep growing spiritually each day. Many ask what I do to achieve and maintain a balanced life as a woman in leadership. Perhaps these questions come expressly because I am a woman and there is an automatic assumption that women must juggle more and more varied responsibilities than their male counterparts. Society gives men permission to focus solely on their careers or ministries, while women are expected to balance career and ministry with home duties at equal levels. This reflection will not address the pros or cons of this thinking. However, it will share my prescription for consistent spiritual growth and balance in my life while juggling the responsibilities of career and ministry and home duties each day.
Scriptural wisdom tells us to make God’s kingdom and His righteousness priority in our lives. Matthew 6:33 is my constant guide. Jesus calls us with a promise to “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (Matthew 6:33, NLT).” For me that means living in a constant state of prayerful communication with Him under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I need specific times for private prayer and also times for prayer with my husband. But then there is the need also for constant communion with God as I move through the day. For me this is a state of mind, a worldview that God is always present and active in my life, communicating with me, influencing my thoughts, and guiding my steps. It is an intentional approach to all things—home life and family dynamics, ministry and service to the church and community, and career and professional pursuits. This intentionality contributes to my spiritual development and helps maintain balance in my life.
Specifically, this requires daily devotional activities which usually begin each day with a brief private reading of a passage of scripture, sometimes just a significant verse or two for reflection. Then with my husband, I study the Sabbath School lesson and a chapter or few chapters of scripture as we read the Bible through with analytical commentaries. Then we read the devotional book of the year or, as in the case for this year, our devotional readings are from a selected book on a given topic. Predictably we are reading The Retirement Years, a compilation of Ellen G. White’s counsel on the subject, and we are supplementing it with related literature and sermon or seminar videos. These help to ground me. One writer (Christina Desmarais, Inc. com, 2016) has listed nine descriptors of those who are grounded. These traits include:
- They are unshakable.
- They are reliable.
- They possess an unwavering moral compass.
- They are humble.
- They have a healthy self-esteem.
- They don’t worry.
- They stand up for what is right.
- They don’t conform to make people like them.
- They encourage others to succeed.
Constant development in these grounding traits help me not only to demonstrate but to maintain spiritual integrity and bring balance to my life. Grounding for me is what some describe as being anchored in the Lord. Paul counsels us in Colossians 2: 6-7 (NLT), “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” The language used here suggests being fixed with continued stability, being built up in the Lord who is the foundation and anchoring force of our spirituality. Paul suggests that this kind of progress in life is possible only as we approach God with a grateful heart. My grounding is Jesus, and I must be intentional about living as one anchored or grounded in Jesus, as one who is ever grateful for His sacrifice for me. Again, this is not artificially contrived or choreographed behaviors, but rather is living in intentional consciousness of God’s grace and blessings. Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NLT), “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.”
Intercessory prayer is also an important part of my/our daily walk with the Lord. My husband and I begin and end our day with intercessory prayer together. Our prayer list is long. It is important to pray specific prayers for real people who are dealing with real problems in real life situations and to rejoice with those who are benefitting from tangible blessings from God in answer to specific prayers. This aids in my growth as much as it has potential to help those for whom we pray. All prayer, especially listening prayer, is edifying, and balancing for me. Prayer brings the vicissitudes of life into proper perspective.
Then to round out my prayer life for the past year, we have participated in a prayer line each evening with members and visitors of our church from around the country. This is a thirty-minute telephone meeting in which participants call to share and hear prayer requests and praise testimonies. Here we pray for each other, encourage each other, and celebrate each other’s blessings either aloud or silently. This draws us together in support of each other and most report a certain spiritual strengthening from participation. Since I have been required to speak so much, I am blessed by just listening and praying silently as others rehearse specific needs and share blessings aloud.
Following the prayer line meeting once weekly is my church’s Wednesday night prayer meeting in virtual format. I must confess this is the first time in a long time that I have been faithful to the mid-week prayer meeting at our local church. In times prior to this, I was either travelling outside the area or in meetings and could not schedule to travel to the church in time. Of course, the Sabbath church service caps off my week of worship, study, and prayer. All these contribute to my spiritual development and to my ability to live with balance amid the turmoil of life and challenges of multiple responsibilities of leadership, home, and community.
It is important, as well, to believe and consistently practice the principles of our health message. This includes the spiritual, social, and physical aspects of healthful living. Wholesome food, sufficient water, vigorous exercise, and adequate rest and sleep, along with loving and respectful relationships with family, friends, and colleagues are all important for life balance. Forming and regularly practicing healthy habits is essential for spiritual development and balance in life. Without these my life would spiral into imbalance and consequently I would experience both spiritual and professional disequilibrium.
Of all the components of a healthy balanced lifestyle exercise has most often eluded me. While I enjoy exercising, protecting time for exercise has been my greatest challenge. It is simply difficult for me to find the time for exercise in an overly demanding schedule, but this is an absolute necessity for me to achieve balance. My most consistent form of exercise over the years has been walking. I can do this almost anywhere and walking relaxes me while allowing me to think through or discuss problems and ideas. There have been times when swimming was my exercise of first choice, but that has fallen by the wayside as my responsibilities have grown and my free time has diminished. Weight training and stretching for core development and strengthening are still on my agenda but have not always been consistent. I feel the difference when I neglect these.
Through all, however, it is the recognition that God is in charge of my life and that He controls all circumstances of my life, that puts all things in perspective and brings balances to my life. For me this is a faith choice, and even my faith is initiated and developed by God. It is faith in God that keeps me growing spiritually, gives me peace, and transforms my thinking to bring balance to my life when imbalance threatens. Isaiah reminds us that peace is promised to those who make God their focus: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (26:3, NLT). Paul teaches that it is in the mind where this battle of transformation is won and cautions us not to become self-confident, but rather by faith to rely on God. He says in his letter to the Romans:
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” (Romans 12:1-3, NLT).
It is God who balances my life. I just choose to allow Him to sort things out and enable me to live in ways that produce balance in life. Remember, it is not our organizational skills that balance us, while they are important. It is not our management abilities that balance us, while they are important. It is not our strategic planning insights that balance us, while they, too, are important. It is not even the ways in which we worship God, our devotional style, our study techniques, and prayer postures, though all of these, also, are important. We have been endowed with a wide array of skills and have different styles, techniques, and postures as suit our personalities and circumstances. Yet, it is God granting us wisdom for right choices and the Holy Spirit working in us and through us directing our steps in worship and work moment by moment that grow us spiritually and bring balance to the complexities of our lives. As our minds are constantly stayed on God and renewed in Him that we are balanced within so that we can in turn live in balanced ways.
May God continue to grow you spiritually and bless you with a balanced lifestyle as you rely wholly on Him.
By Dr. Ella Smith Simmons, Retired General Vice President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
Portrait courtesy of the General Conference
Photos by Sixteen Miles Out/Unsplash.com
Published in Mosaic newsletter, 2023 Q2