May 22, Monday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, which was first posted on January 25 , 2016, is provided by Pastor Ryun Chang who serves as AMI Teaching Pastor.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Religious Formalism”

Acts 2:13-4

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose.  It’s only nine in the morning! 

1 Sam. 1:10-5

In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” 12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.”

The word “formalism” conjures up images of liturgical church (e.g., Lutheran, Episcopalian); but it can also be found in emotion-filled Pentecostal churches.   Once, as my wife and I were returning home from a Charismatic meeting where I spoke, she told me that someone had asked her whether she was a Christian.  During the prayer time when everyone prayed out really loud, the sight of my wife praying quietly was a dead giveaway to this person that she wasn’t saved: that’s formalism, which is a strict adherence to some behavior arbitrarily selected as most pleasing to God and then judging those who fall short.  

To those who saw the 120 praying out loud in tongues, they seemed drunk; Hanna seemed drunk to Eli because she wasn’t praying audibly.  In both incidents, the accused had to defend themselves: Peter said, “It’s only nine in the morning”; Hannah said, “I have not been drinking wine or beer.”   Were these good enough reasons to those who judged people based on some arbitrary criteria, supposedly more pleasing to God?  It appeared to be so for the Pentecost crowd and Eli, but for the hardcore formalists, such as the Pharisees, they wouldn’t back down: it was either their way or the highway.   After seeing Jesus heal a blind man, “some of the Pharisees,” who arbitrarily decided that that constituted work, said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (Jn. 9:16).  

What the formalists refused to understand was this: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).  Sometimes we pray out loud; sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we raise our hands while worshiping; sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we cry; sometimes we laugh!  But as long as we have the right heart, God doesn’t care.  

A renowned Bible teacher told a story of being offended by a man sitting in the front pew who kept falling asleep while he was preaching.  Later, the pastor learned that the man and his wife had driven from another city just to listen to him, but he suffered from a rare condition that made him suddenly fall asleep.  Ouch! Folks, avoid formalism!  


Father in heaven, I praise You and honor You today.  I thank You that I don’t need to shout to be heard, but at the same time, thank You for the freedom to shout and cry out, particularly when walls are caving in and I feel so desperate.  Thank You for always being there for me—always.  I love You, Lord.  Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Exodus 19

Lunch Break Study

Read Psalm 37:7a: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him . . .

Heb. 5:7 (ESV): In the days of his flesh, Jesus  offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

1 Cor. 13:12-3: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Question to Consider

1. In what way is the prayer of Psalm 37 different from the prayer of Jesus mentioned in Hebrews 5:7?

2. In what way is the emotion felt by Hannah and that of Jesus similar?  What was ironic about how they prayed in response to how they felt?

3. Ultimately, what does formalism and judging people based on some arbitrary criteria tell about us?


1. The prayer of Psalm 37 is a quiet, meditative prayer; the prayer of Jesus, referred in Heb. 5:7, is just the opposite—very loud.

2. They both felt anguish in their hearts.  Who can forget Jesus telling his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38)?  Hannah said, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled.”  But they prayed quite differently: one cried out while the other hardly made any sound.  Either way is okay.  

3. It means two things: First, those who judge people based on formalism are acting like they see everything when, in truth, they see only parts; second, judging others out of an assumption that they have the clearest vision is really because they lack love. 

Evening Reflection

Writing out a prayer can be a helpful aid if you don’t know what to say to God once you close your eyes.   I used to carry a prayer list to remind myself to pray for certain people on specific days of the week.  Now, I just memorize them as I add more people to it.  How is your prayer life?   Do you have one?  Whether you prefer to pray quietly or to cry out, just pray, but do prepare yourself beforehand.  Perhaps reading a Psalm may help or making a list.  You need to pray.

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