Do I Have “Torah” Written on My Forehead? (The Importance of Daily Devotions)

184589_bible_readingThe Divine Service is the main course of a wholesome, spiritually nutritious diet.  There’s nothing quite like the gathering of the saints—past and present—around Word and Sacrament.  This is no ordinary meal; it’s the very Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9)!  But just as we don’t wait an entire week between eating meals, neither do God’s people limit themselves to a single serving of God’s Word per week.  At best, this would leave our faith famished and malnourished.  At worst, we’d starve to death!  As central as the Divine Service is to our faith, it is equally vital that we let God nurture our faith all week long through daily devotions.  As Moses says in Deuteronomy 6:5–9:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Did you notice how intense Moses is here?  He describes a way of life that is totally saturated with God’s Torah (Word), inside and out—to the point of what many today would consider overkill.  The Word should be internal, “on your heart”, and on the hearts of our children.  God’s Word is an ever-present reality on the hearts, minds, and lips of His people, not just something we read or hear once a week.  It should occupy our conversations (“you shall talk of them…”) and actions (“sitting” or “walking”) at all times (“when you lie down, and when you rise”). [endnote 1]

Taking Moses’ words at face value, some of the stricter branches of Judaism required its adherents to literally write portions of the Torah on their forehead!  As Moses said, “You shall bind them on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”  Accordingly, passages such as Exodus 13:1—10, 11—16, Deuteronomy 6:5—9, and 11:13—21 were written on strips of parchment and put into small leather capsules called tefillin, which were worn on the forehead and the upper arm.  The Talmud (c. 200—500 AD) stipulated that the tefillin were to be worn at all times.  However, by the Middle Ages the practice became relaxed and tefillin were usually worn only during weekday morning prayers. [endnote 2]  Also during this time, debates over whether or not these passages were meant to be taken literally began to arise.

IMG_0619 (1)While Jesus never tells us whether or not we should write “Torah” on our forehead or risk losing property value by engraving  Hebrew words on our doorposts, the New Testament is clear about the importance of consuming God’s Word on a regular basis.  As Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).  Jesus’ disciples are those who abide in His Word (John 8:31), who keep their eyes fixed constantly on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), the Word made flesh (John 1:14).  As the first Psalm says, the righteous are those who “delight in the Torah of Yahweh,” who meditate on it “day and night” (Psalm 1:2).  In the Collect for the Word, the Church prays that God would grant us to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Holy Scriptures.  One serving per week just won’t cut it!

Spending time in God’s Word each day is an important part of a healthy spiritual diet.  The use of a basic, repeated liturgy in the home, like what Luther offers in the “Daily Prayers” of his Small Catechism can help keep God’s Word fixed in the heart and mind.  A slightly expanded version of Luther’s “Daily Prayers” can be found in the “Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families” section of Lutheran Service Book (p. 194—198).  Like a multivitamin, these short devotions contain the essentials and are simple enough for young children to use, while still being edifying for even the most mature Christian.  The daily prayer liturgies can easily be supplemented with a variety of other good devotional resources. [endnote 3]  Making use of the prayer offices (Matins, Vespers, etc.) is another great way to enrich your spiritual diet.

One of the Church’s greatest devotional treasures is Her hymnody.  Augustine is often credited with having said, “he who sings prays twice.”  If you aren’t comfortable singing, the hymns can also be spoken as prayers.  The hymns in Lutheran Service Book are based on Scripture and several Bible references appear at the bottom of each page.  The Church’s hymns can be thought of as poetic commentaries/meditations/prayers based on the Bible, and they make a nutritious addition to any devotional diet.

In addition to hymns, the Small Catechism is another menu item on a well-balanced diet of home devotions.  In it, we find the 4 “food groups” of the faith: Law (Ten Commandments), Gospel (the Creed), Prayer (The Lord’s Prayer), and the Means of Grace (Holy Baptism, Absolution, & the Sacrament of the Altar).  By placing Christ’s work of redemption at the center, the Small Catechism keeps the grace of God before our eyes continually (cf. Deuteronomy 6), encouraging us to repent, confess, believe, and live by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

In light of Deuteronomy 6’s encouragement to impress the Word of God on our hearts, it can be helpful to make use of short, repeated sections of the hymns and catechism in our daily devotions.  This will allow God’s Word to become more firmly fixed in the heart and mind.  The Small Catechism itself demonstrates a preference for quality over quantity.  Where the catechism is prayed daily, it can easily be memorized in a relatively short period of time. [endnote 4]

Outside of the hymnal and catechism, other good devotional resources include CPH’s Treasury of Daily Prayer (and supplemental volumes), For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and By the Church (Compiled and edited by Frederick J. Schumacher with Dorothy A Zelenko), To Live with Christ (Bo Giertz, tr. by Richard Wood with Bror Erickson), Meditations on Divine Mercy (Burnell Eckardt), and Meditations on Divine Mercy (Johann Gerhard), just to name a few.  Resources like the Treasury of Daily Prayer and For All the Saints are meant to be comprehensive, all-in-one devotional resources.  The works by Giertz, Eckardt, and Gerhard contain short, daily readings that could be used alongside of the resources in Lutheran Service Book.

Sometimes a steady diet of quality home devotions might seem like eating fruits & veggies.  They might not be as tasty as eating bacon all the time, but it’s a lot better for you!  God’s Word is always distasteful to the Old Adam (even more so than healthy food!), who can’t stand to digest God’s Word. [endnote 5]  God’s Law shows us how helpless and needy we are, putting the Old Adam to death (not a pleasant experience!).  Like the menu at fast food restaurants, there are a lot of devotional resources out there that might appeal to the Old Adam’s taste buds, but aren’t very nutritious.  Sometimes they might be the equivalent of candy (empty calories), but if you’re not careful, you might accidentally ingest spiritual poison.

Much as the Church’s liturgy ensures a quality meal for the saints each week in the Divine Service, the hymnal, catechism, and other good devotional writings will, when used properly, make for quality home devotions.  Spiritual health is no less important than physical health.  Faith craves the most nutritious devotional resources available, which, by the grace of God, will impress His Word on our hearts and the hearts of our children.  May the Holy Spirit keep you steadfast in His Word and Grace, that His Word might remain in your thoughts, on your lips, and before your eyes, now and always.

 

Endnotes —

[1] Pairs of opposites (such as what we find here), or merisms are commonly found in the Old Testament, where opposites are used to express totality.  Here, “sitting and walking” represents all human activity, and “lying and rising” indicates that all time (day, night, and everything in between) is in view.

[2] Jeffrey H. Tigay, The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 441—443.

[3] For example, devotions in my household often consist of the above-mentioned “Daily Prayers for Individuals and Families” or Matins, which my children have been able to learn through repetition despite being too young to read.  After we finish the family devotion, my wife & I dismiss our children and read a selection from a devotional book such as To Live with Christ or the Treasury of Daily Prayer.

[4]  The goal should not be to memorize the catechism as quickly as possible, but to learn it well (“inwardly digest it”), taking a pace that is comfortable.  It can also be helpful to memorize hymns seasonally according to the Church year.  On average, about 5 minutes a day has been enough for my family to learn about one verse (of a 16-measure hymn) per week.

[5] The angel warned St. John that his experience of eating God’s Word would be both bitter and sweet at the same time (Revelation 10:9).  God’s Word is bitter because the Law puts our sinful flesh to death, but sweet because of the new life the Gospel creates.


Comments

Do I Have “Torah” Written on My Forehead? (The Importance of Daily Devotions) — 19 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! I was raised attending LCMS schools my whole life but my family never had daily home devotions. As an adult on my own, it’s hard to know where to begin. I personally have decided to start with “Reading the Psalms with Luther” and “The Lord Will Answer: A Daily Prayer Catechism.” A psalm or two a week and a page a day of the devotional catechism are great for “inwardly digesting” God’s Word. I’ll have to check out all these other great resources you have suggested.

  2. I am another like you, Matthew. I know the importance of daily devotions but all too often it seems like life interfers and I get out of the habit. Thankfully, I am getting back in the habit once again and I can’t begin to tell you how much joy it brongs me. Both of the books you mention are great and I use them both. I am also using “Around the Word” a devotioal booklet by Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller. I highly recommend that as a good additional starting place for your devotional life. It is available either on line or in print format and it is well worth the few dollars in cost. I think you can probably find a link to it through BJS. Blessings as you grow in God’s Word.

  3. I have been blessed to have been reading through the Psalms monthly using the BCP 1928 since it has them broken into 30 “Morning and Evening” sections.

    I originally had fought having “devotions” since it had been used as a legalistic bludgeon by my legalistic Evangelical friends, “Have you done your devotions today Brother?” This was usually followed up by stories of Luther having a long day ahead and therefore spending an extra hour on his knees or stories of milk trucks breaking down beside orphanges because the administrator had been praying for food for the starving orphans. “And you can’t even take 15 minutes for GOD!”

    What this did was turn a very good thing, reading God’s Word, into a test of my righteousness! If you didn’t pass, then you were a substandard Christian!

    However, I finally quit listening to their legalism and turned my heart to praying through God’s word in the Psalms. What a life changer!

    I started reading and hearing the phraseology of Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22;1); “Into your hand I commit my spirit”(Ps 31:5); “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Ps 14:1).

    Then, Rod Rosenbladt stated in a video designed to speak to Evangelicals like myself that when Luther was made into a Theologian by the Catholic Church, He started his studies with the Psalms! This was a rreal turning point for me! I have been following the same path as Luther! Though this may sound strange, it made me more interested in what Luther was saying! Now I need to buy “Reading the Psalms with Luther!”

    Question though, does it break it into 30 days also? Or is there another LCMS devotional that does so?

    In the Lamb,

  4. @Matthew #1 You’re welcome! Those are great resources, too. I appreciate any other suggestions for good devotional resources the readers of BJS may have. I only mentioned a few of the many helpful things I’ve come across, and in particular those resources I’ve been using lately.

    I think reading through Giertz daily has made me a better preacher. He has a knack for unfolding the text in a way that it really comes to life and sinks into the heart. I often use Eckardt’s book to open meetings at my church, who has a very strong sacramental emphasis in his meditations. The daily readings from both of those books are short (and so are easy to fit in on a daily basis), and are often profound.

    I especially liked today’s reading (Monday after Easter) from “To Live with Christ.” In discussing the significance of the risen Lord’s opening of the eyes of His disciples in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:35), Giertz says, “In this story, Luke captures what makes Jesus come to life for doubting and distressed disciples throughout the ages. The Risen One comes and walks with us again. He doesn’t come to us in a diffuse way. Rather, He has specific means through which He works and in which He is present. He comes to us in the living Word, Scripture, which He Himself interprets for us, causing our hearts to burn when we hear His voice and see His image. He comes to us in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. In these Sacraments, He is recognized even today.”

  5. risk losing property value by engraving Hebrew words on our doorposts,

    I appreciate the article in favor of devotions, but I don’t know why you wrote the above.

    The Jewish people who put the Torah “on their doorposts”, actually do so by putting verses in a little metal box on the door frame, as some others hang a fancy chime or door knocker. I’ve seen them on apartments, and I’m sure they remove them and putty over the evidence when they leave, as others do with nail holes from hung pictures.

    [Yes, I know what it says, but as you pointed out, few wear tefillin all week now.]

  6. @helen #6 Helen, that comment was meant tongue-in-cheek, not to imply that’s what the Jews literally do (any more than do they literally write “Torah” on their foreheads!). Sorry if I caused any confusion there!

  7. @helen #6 It’s also worth noting that the practice of affixing mezuzah to the doorpost didn’t begin until the Second Temple period. According to Jeffrey Tigay (JPS commentary on Deuteronomy), “it is certain that Deuteronomy 6:9 means literally to ordain the writing of God’s instructions on doorposts and city gates. The verse was understood that way even by the Samaritans, who rejected the precept of tefillin, and the practice is attested at Qumran and in literary sources of the late Second Temple period.”

    If you’re interested in more on this, there’s an excellent excursus on this topic in Tigay’s commentary. The Lord bless you!

  8. Are most all the devotional books on the CPH site good or is there another site I can check out that would enrich my time with God. I currently read the Portals of Prayers and the devotional book “Reading through the Old Testament in a year” both CPH. Always looking for other solid doctrinal devotionals.

  9. @Binny #9 Generally I like CPH’s devotional materials, especially the Treasury of Daily Prayer and the OT & NT companion volumes. They also have a nice volume called “Reading the Psalms with Luther.” Here are a few other places you might check out:

    Concordia Catechetical Academy: http://lutherancatechesis.org/

    Emmanuel Press: http://emmanuelpress.us/

    Repristination Press: http://www.repristinationpress.com/Repristination_Press/Greetings%21.html

    I also like the devotions in “Around the Word” (mentioned above): http://www.aroundthewordjournal.com/

  10. Some time ago, I and two colleagues went to the Princeton Seminary bookstore. I was looking at a daily prayer book (Roman Catholic) and Ron saw this and asked, “Schroeder, do you pray the Psalter daily?” “No.” “You should you know”. I started praying daily prayer. When I was active in the Society of the Holy Trinity, we would go on 4 24 hour retreats per year, per the 4 seasons of the Church year and pray the daily prayer offices. I have never seen nor heard of what Pr. Andersen has rightly encouraged here, nor what the Society still does, encouraged by either the ‘bishops’ in the ELCA,when I was still there, nor yet in a district or the Synod. The encouragement to daily prayer must begin with the pastorate of the LCMS doing such together using the Lutheran Service Book.

  11. Will try my question again:

    Question though, does it break it into 30 days also? Or is there another LCMS devotional that does so?

  12. @Joyful Noise #18
    But if you go to the Concordia Catechetical Academy website, you can find a schedule for reading/praying the psalms over 60 days. The Book of Common Prayer also divides into 30 days, morning and evening, so I use that one as a 60-day schedule: Day 1 morning = Day 1, Day 1 evening = Day 2, etc. It’s a little more manageable to do it over 60 days, I’ve found, and less frustrating in the end.

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