Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Come Away My Beloved

At least for posterity, it is worth it for me to take note of a devotional book that I have really enjoyed reading and have once again picked up off the dusty bookshelf.  More than just enjoy it, God has used it to speak to me.  It is a book called Come Away My Beloved by the recently passed Frances J. Roberts.

What makes this book so different from other devotional books is the way it is written.  Most devotional books I have read follow a common formula:  the author gives a Bible verse, the author explains it, the author uses a funny little anecdote from when they were five years old to illustrate it, and then the author gives some kind of exhortation, like, "So... let's give our cares away to God and trust that He will carry our burdens," followed by a short prayer.  Since daily devotions are intended to be short, usually to fit our busy modern lifestyle, you may not find tremendous depth. That is how most of the devotional material I have read goes.  That format is just fine -not picking on it, and not all devotional material is created equal.  Some people really have a way to express the heart of God with words, and some people have a gift for keeping it simple -even using this common format.

But what many devotional materials focus on is learning or recalling some idea or some piece of information.  Sometimes that may be convicting, or it may be very encouraging but in my experience it isn't always very personal.  Many of them feel a bit information-based, as if what we need is just some more information. 

On the other end of the spectrum, there are devotionals that are beautifully written and attempt to be very personal, but it is almost difficult to not become caught up more with the beauty of the language than with the God the language is intended to point us to.  I must confess, when I read things like C. H. Spurgeon or the Valley of Vision book, sometimes I am more caught up with the beauty of the ideas and the wording.  It has that "old" flair to it, with poetic and beautiful language.  With those, I often feel connected with the living faith of men from a bygone era -not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it may be distracting.

But Roberts' contribution to the devotional-material mountain is different from anything else I've experienced, as admittedly limited as that experience is.  Rather than lifting me up with particularly beautiful language and rather than merely engaging my mind with information and practical anecdotes, Come Away My Beloved reads more like a personal letter to me from God.

I realize that some folks may not be comfortable with this format.  How can a mere human put together a letter from God to us?  Yes, in that regard it should be considered imperfect.  However, the words, the promises, the speech, the wooing, the heart, the character, the emotion, and the truth come straight from God's Word.  You can hear God in His Word speaking through the words of these devotionals... echoing, resonating, whispering.  In that, in the closed-door, isolated silence of my time before my Maker, it becomes personal.

And this is what I believe a "devotional book" should do.  It should engage the heart by revealing the heart of God to us, enlivening our faith to respond to what we "see."  It should be personal, it should point us to a Person and be a pathway for bringing God's Word to us for the purpose of that personal, Spirit-bound, intimate connection.  That is what devotion is, is it not?  All information and beauty are meant to serve that end, and if they don't they are lost... they become empty idols. 

And as a plus, like almost all things worth reading, it was penned by someone who has now passed from this world into the arms of her Savior.

Here is are two short samples:

"I have commanded that you love Me with a whole heart, and that you serve Me with undivided loyalty.  You cannot serve two masters.  Purge out the old leaven, therefore, and clean the vessels... I long after you with a love that embraces Eternity.  Though you go astray, I will surely draw you back.  Though your love grows cold and your heart indifferent, if you will listen, you shall surely hear My voice.  When you turn to Me, I shall bridge the gap.  Although you have strayed, I have not left you..." (from Cleanse the Sanctuary)

"O My children, what do you need today?  Is it comfort?  Is it courage?  Is it healing?  Is it guidance?  Behold, I assure you, whatever it is you need, if you will look to Me, I will supply.  I will be to you what the sun is to the flower; what the water of the ocean is to the fish; and what the sky is to the birds.  I will give you life, light, and strength.  I will surround you and preserve you, so that in Me you may live, move, and have you being, existing in Me when apart from Me you would die... Be done with petty things.  Be done with small dreams.  Give Me all that you have and are; and I will share with you abundantly all that I have and all that I am." (from You Shall Not Be Earthbound)

Enough for my lavish praises of this book, which I happen to have in the bonded leather edition (woo hoo!).  I realize all people are wired differently and all people are at different places, but if you should pick it up, I pray it will personally stir you in the presence of God's heart as much as it has for me.

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