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New Life Ways 3: Devotion

“Man’s best friend” we call them. It would be difficult to disagree that dogs delight in their devotion to their masters. They walk by our side. They greet us enthusiastically. They lay their head in our laps. Google “devotion” and you might just find a picture of a canine. You might find a picture of Hachiko.

Hachiko was an Akita born in 1923 in Japan.[1] A professor at Tokyo University bought Hachiko as a present for his daughter. He named him Hachi because his legs were bent like the Japanese kanji that represents the number 8, which in Japanese is pronounced Hachi.

When the professor’s daughter grew up, she married and moved away, leaving Hachiko with her parents. Her father, Eizaburo Ueno (weno), had grown fond of him and decided to keep him. Every day, dog and owner would walk to the train station together. Every afternoon, when Ueno returned, Hachiko would be waiting for him at the station for the walk home.

One day while he was teaching at the university, Ueno suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage and died.[2] Hachi waited for the return that never happened. But his devotion did not end that day. In fact, for the next nine years, nine months, and fifteen days, Hachiko would show up at the train station at precisely the time the professor should have returned, waiting for him.

The story became popular and inspired many to look for Hachi at the train station and give him treats. He became a symbol of devotion that humans should aspire to within their families and networks of friends. Eventually, Hachiko himself died on March 8, 1935. A statue was placed at the train station to commemorate his devotion to his master.

We might erect a commemorative statue for the first church. “Devoted” is a word used to describe them too. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

The Greek word for “devoted” is the word “proskartereo.” It comes from “pros”/to/towards and “karterero”/to be steadfast. Put together it carries the following meanings:

  • to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one
  • to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing
  • to continue all the time in a place
  • to persevere and not to faint
  • to show one’s self courageous for
  • to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly[3]

Apparently, being devoted to something is not a flighty thing. It is something that happens over and over again. It is something that endures. Like a dog that shows up at a train station every day on time for over nine years.

Acts 2 isn’t the only time we find this word in Luke’s writing. In chapter one “They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Here the word is translated “continually united.” They were devoted from the start to each other and prayer.

Then back to chapter two we find that “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house” (Acts 2:46). There was a pattern to their lives of meeting in large gathered groups and then in smaller groups in their houses. Notice it did not happen just whenever they had the time for it. “Every day they devoted themselves…”

When a dispute arose between the Greek Jews and the Hebraic Jews, the Twelve gave the ministry of settling the issue over to some who were “full of the Spirit.” The role of the Twelve was, they said, to “…devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The Twelve were steadfastly attentive to their role in the church.

Later, we find the word used in a story about Simon, a sorcerer. When he heard the gospel we are told “Even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he followed Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed” (Acts 8:13). Here the word is used to describe how he “followed” or “continued on” with Philip. Devotion has staying power.

The final time the word is used in Acts, it is found in a story about Cornelius, a Gentile centurion who saw an angel in a vision. We’re told that “When the angel who spoke to him had gone, he called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, who was one of those who attended him” (Acts 10:7). The word “proskartereo” here is used to describe those who “attended him.” Other translations say they were his “personal attendants.” The idea is that they are continually there with him to help and aid him. It wasn’t a part-time job. It was a full-time one.

The early church was known for their devotion to practices and habits that would draw them near to God and each other. The modern American church? If we are like the average American, we are devoted to screens.

That’s right. “The average American spends nearly half a day staring at a screen” says a report titled “Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time, and growing.”[4] Not just one screen. Just about any screen we can find—“tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs”[5]—to the tune of ten hours and 39 minutes a day.

Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University, breaks our time usage this way:

  • We start with 168 hours each week.
  • The work week takes up 40 of those hours. That takes us down to 128 hours left.
  • 7 hours of sleep every night takes up another chunk, taking us down to 79 hours.
  • Personal care another 3 hours a day. Now we’re left with 58 hours.

That’s 58 hours to do everything else there is to do: hobbies, sports, time with children, time with your spouse, time with friends, reading, exercise, participating in a faith community, house maintenance, volunteer work. Gentile says that “If people are spending over 50 hours a week with media for entertainment purposes, then there’s really no time left for any of the other things we value.”

The early Jesus followers did not have screens to compete for the attention, but they surely had other things. And yet they became devoted. How did that happen? There’s a clue found in Acts 2:38 that tells us how they turned their lives away from whatever took up their time to becoming devoted followers of Jesus.

Peter has just preached the first sermon to what is to be the church. He tells them that Jesus, who they crucified, has been raised from the dead. He tells them Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah and Lord. They realize the dilemma and ask him what they are to do. Here’s Peter’s answer:

“Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them. Acts 2:38-41

Two important words turned these people from being people who crucified Jesus to people who were devoted to Jesus: repentance and baptism.

“Repent” is the translation of the Greek word metanoeō. It means to “change one’s mind for the better.” Here’s an example: One night not long after moving to Tomball Karen and I were in The Woodlands. This was before apps on our phones that could tell you where things were in The Woodlands that you could not see from the road because of the woods.

We were talking while I took a left turn onto the street we wanted to be on. We noticed some headlights coming towards us. “They’re driving on our side of the median!” I said. To which Karen replied calmly, “No, you’re driving on their side.” I repented and cut through a break in the median to the other side.

That’s what repentance is. It’s like the senior citizen that was driving down I45 when his wife called his cell phone. “Herman, I just heard on the news that there’s a car going the wrong way on I45. Please be careful!”

“It’s not just one car,” said Herman, “It’s hundreds of them!”

I hope Herman repented. Repentance has to do with thinking in a new way and behaving in a new way. An entirely new world had opened up for those people in Jerusalem that day. They began to think differently about Jesus and their way of life.

We need to think differently about our devotion. What we are devoted to shapes us.

The disciples demonstrated that change of thinking in their behavior. They were baptized. They said they believed in who Jesus was—Savior and Lord—and wanted to be immersed in his life and ways. New life ways.

That’s what changed. They started thinking differently and they started living differently, in a new direction. There are no Gallup surveys from that time so we don’t know what they were devoted to before that day but we do know what they immediately became devoted to: “the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

They wanted to know more about Jesus. They needed to spend time with each other as they began thinking and living differently than the world around them. They shared tables with each other. They prayed together and for each other. They did these things because they wanted to think and behave like Jesus and be immersed in his world: the world of the Father, Son and Spirit.

There was no casual, consumer Christianity when the church began. There was no getting up on a Sunday morning and thinking, “Hmmm…wonder if we should go to church today?” There was no deciding not to show up at a gathering because the usual worship band or speaker was not going to be there. No learning about life from Oprah or Deepak Chopra. There was no disinterested approach to the Scriptures. There was no consumer picking and choosing which church to go to because there was only one.

There was devotion to God and devotion to each other. They loved God and loved their neighbor. “Where did that kind of devotion come from?” you ask? They believed in a resurrected Christ. And they believed their Master was coming back.

And so like Hachiko they waited. That Akita dog kept showing up where he believed his master would be when he returned. He did that for nine years, nine months, and fifteen days. He showed up at the train station because that’s where he expected to see his master.

The church needs that kind of devotion today. A devotion to love its Master with such a depth that we will wait until he returns. We will wait in the places we can expect him to be: in teaching, in fellowship with each other, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer.

The question is: When he does return will he find us devotedly watching for him there?

[1] https://www.animalwised.com/the-true-story-of-hachiko-the-faithful-dog-1474.html

[2] http://www.amusingplanet.com/2015/07/hachiko-most-loyal-dog-in-history.html

[3] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4342&t=ESV

[4] https://www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/index.html

[5] Ibid.