Joe is a typical modern Christian living in a fast-paced world. At some point, he has decided he is tired of running on empty, so he decides to make God more central in his life. He’s not exactly sure what he’s hoping for, but he knows it has to better than the life he lives now.
He longs for life to be different.
So he begins to develop certain “Christian habits” like reading the Bible and praying. He gets plugged into a group to talk about ways to connect his faith to everyday life. And for the first 3 weeks, everything is awesome.
But then Joe begins to fade. He begins to lose the “mind over mattress” war when the early alarm goes off to remind him to pray. He slogs his way through his Bible reading plan and checks off the daily reading, but he’s getting behind. At some point, the guilt of not keeping up weighs too heavy, and Joe quits reading the Bible.
Joe has missed the point. How do I know?
Because “Joe” is me.
The question becomes, what should “Joe” do about it?
What are spiritual disciplines? More importantly, how can normal (i.e., busy) folks make them work for them?
The first step might be to re-name them! “Discipline” sounds great for our kids, but if we’re honest, most adults shy away from the term. Perhaps it’s due to the memories of the Principal’s office, or that high school coach who harbored secret dreams of being a military drill instructor. Or, the pinnacle of all discipline, the nun in Catholic school!
Spiritual disciplines are simply a means to stay plugged into everything that God has for us. They provide an avenue for The Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, producing great things like the list in Galatians 5:22-23.
- It emphasizes God’s ultimate desire… grace! (Not a duty-bound drudgery of following the law)
- It points out that these are means… not ends!
Means, not Ends!
This phrase is key to continuing practice and understanding of the ultimate goal of the means of grace. Let me give one example from “Joe’s” life: the practice of Bible reading and study.
How many out there have encountered the following when trying to stick to a Bible reading plan:
- Slogging through a bunch of reading where the biggest satisfaction becomes checking it off your daily to-do list
- Not understanding something, but pressing on because you’ve got to finish the daily reading
- Finding a gem in Scripture, but not having time to savor it, because you’ve got to finish the next 2 chapters
What do all these issues have in common? All of them fail to ask a simple, but central question:
Why am I reading the Bible in the first place?
If the answer is to check it off a list, or get through a reading plan, we have made Bible reading an end… not a means. When our goal is to “get through it” then we’ll get just what we asked for: we’ll get through it.
But will we be changed by it? Will we hear from God… fall in love with God… be transformed by what we learn? I would argue these things only happen when we recognize that reading the Bible is a means for God to work on us, and through us.
What if we gave ourselves permission to “fall behind” on our reading plan in order to look up some information, or talk with someone to gain additional understanding of a confusing passage before pressing on? What if we gave ourselves permission to stop and meditate on that verse that just rocked our world, and perhaps capture some of our thoughts in a journal? And maybe it’s so profound that we spend a whole week meditating, reflecting, and journalling!
Notice I’m not saying we stop reading. We continue on when we feel it has finished it’s work, or we have gained an adequate (but perhaps not complete) understanding of a passage. We give God the power of the pause so that God can work in us.
Which approach sounds like it has the power to transform you?
I’d go for that one!
I hope you’ll join me for a series starting in June via blog that will talk about ways to use the means of grace in the midst of our modern, busy lives.
What “Christian habits” do you struggle to maintain? Where have you seen God transform you the most?