I don’t live in a monastery. Not even close. As serene and picturesque that a farm can be, it often feels like our life is set up to not be able to do anything regularly, most especially devotions. Routine is something that is always held just out of reach. It’s not just the 6 kids with an age range that has me simultaneously juggling football practice and nap time. My husband also has a very seasonal job, which fluctuates between seasons of 3 day weekends, and him being home at 5pm, to seasons in the thick of harvest when I’ll go to bed at midnight and he’ll still not be home yet for a few hours.
It’s easy to blame my kids or random work schedules for the lack of routine, when in fact, managing this brood of kids requires a lot of family discipline, and has grown my own discipline more than any other factor. I’ve always been strict about bedtimes, as I know after a certain hour my patience is done. Food allergies mean that certain methods of cooking and cleaning must be maintained or any semblance of normalcy disappears.
Daily devotions are never easy, and whenever I think I’ve finally reached “habit” status, it falls apart. Sickness, childishness, sleeplessness, and misbehavior disrupt me. I haven’t found a magic time of day for consistency. If I’m honest, it falls apart because of me.
I could be “more spiritual” if I weren’t so…me.
If only I was better at ____________ I could be closer to God, or at least feel closer to God. (Fill in the blank. For me, I could fill it with:
getting up early,
managing my time,
going to bed at night,
putting down Facebook, etc.)
So I dream of getting away from regular life. (Who doesn’t want that? Even Jesus went up on a mountain to pray! It’s not bad!) I dream of going on a retreat, then another. I dream of re-living the years of my life in Bible school, doing inductive studies for 2-3 hours a day. And yet, too often it feels like things like that are for the privileged. It roots me in discontentment as that kind of life is out of reach. Retreats are for those who can afford them. Deep inductive studies are for those with childcare, or don’t have to work overtime to make ends meet.
I dream of an undistracted life. A holier life. But that’s not the life I have.
We know that Jesus is for everyone. But spiritual disciplines? Too often we reserve the daily practice of remembering God, and living out all that that can mean, is for those who can.
And not everyone can.
We know that Jesus is for everyone. But spiritual disciplines? Too often we reserve the daily practice of remembering God, and living out all that that can mean, is for those who can. And not everyone can. Click To Tweet
And to be honest, some of us aren’t very good at all this spiritual discipline stuff.
I’m reading an interesting book right now called The Divine Embrace by Robert E. Webber. It’s not new. It probably never was a best seller. It’s a book written by a quiet seminary professor. It reads academically. It’s full of history, which gets me all excited, but I’m a nerd.
Webber repeats himself over and over that the Biblical spirituality is one that is centered on God’s story. It should root us in God’s word. It should remind us, and assist us to live out Biblical truths. And yet, our practice of spending time with God often is steeped in horrible theology.
In fact, our heretical theologies are often revealed in our spiritual life.
For instance, if we hold true to the gospel, that in God’s story he reached down and rescued us, not because of our own works, but through his completion of the law, then why do we spin it around and make our daily relationship dependent on us?
God never, ever gives us a plan to depend on ourselves. The gospel message will always, always point to his sufficiency, and us abiding in him.God never, ever gives us a plan to depend on ourselves. The gospel message will always, always point to his sufficiency, and us abiding in him. Click To Tweet
Webber writes: “While monastic spirituality and especially the rule of St. Benedict has made a significant contribution to the spiritual life of the Christian church, there are two ways it differs from the spirituality that is rooted in God’s story. First, it presents a retreat from ordinary life as the primary and superior way of achieving union with God. Second, spiritual union with God is not always seen as a gift but appears to be an achievement gained through striving.”
I think no matter the denomination, no matter our church, there’s something in us that wants to be strong enough to be the savior. And like the Benedictines, even in our striving he has compassion on us, and even in our imperfect motives, our contact with his word cannot help but bear fruit, because he is that good.
He also addresses Gnostisim, Dualism, Pelagianism…and on and on. It’s strange how these particular ancient heresies have been on repeat throughout church history, and are revealed through our spiritual practices.
How we address our spiritual life says a lot about our theology.
I have started recognizing some horrible theology in myself just through practicing brutally honest prayers about something as simple as Bible reading.
“God, I know I probably should…”
“God I’m getting better. I probably won’t need you so much anymore.”
“I’ll get better. Don’t you worry.”
“I’m trying. Be patient with me. I’ll get there (on my own)”
“I’ll get my act together.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway.”
“I’ll get up tomorrow morning for sure.”
“I’m a failure at this.”
“It’s never going to get better.”
None of those prayers reveal the sufficiency of Christ’s death and resurrection. They are totally and completely dependent on me, and my works.
My spiritual life reveals that my theology is that experiencing God is all up to me. I must go to him. I must get it right.
What’s the missing ingredient? Humility. Admitting upfront that anything good in us is from Christ. Admitting that we are horrible at this on our own. Admitting that we need so much more help than we care to admit.
I do not always live a gospel-saturated spiritual life. I too often live a striving, shame-filled, guilt-laden, failure of a spiritual life.
Too often, I view spiritual disciplines as me getting my act together, instead of anticipating God’s gentle discipline and sanctification in my life.
So what does this look like, practically? It’s simple really. Ask God for help. Ask God to give you the desire to be in his word, and ask God to remind you to pray. You can even ask God to wake you up in the morning. Hand over to God as much of the logistics as you possibly can.
Just. See. What. He. Will. Do.
“Thy will be done.” Is there a prayer that is more simultaneously terrifying and comforting?Failing over and over is often the path that we need to take before we realize that we need God to take over of our spiritual life. Click To Tweet
Failing over and over is often the path that we need to take before we realize that we need God to take over of our spiritual life. We can’t do it. We have too narrow of a vision of what it should look like, and we are restricting ourselves to that vision. “It has to be 30 minutes, every morning, before my kids get up, and I have to read through the Bible in 1 year, and I need to memorize this much a day…”
We make up rules he never gave us.
We are obsessed with our own goals.
We are obsessed with our own rules.
We are obsessed with our own works.
We’d rather skip the humility that God is the one doing the work–so we set ourselves up for failure.
It’s like we are trying to organize his grace into a tidy law to follow.
Hebrews 12:2 says that God is the author, and finisher of our faith. He’s not just the author, and we take it from there. He is the author, and the completer.
Philippians 1:6 (ESV) says “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Are you trying to do devotions on your own strength? Are you trying to read the Bible drawing only from your own discipline? As Elyse Fitzpatrick says in her book Because He Loves Me “In our pursuit of God have we forgotten Jesus?”
What is your goal in having daily devotions? That is your theology. Are your spiritual disciplines reflective of your belief that God is doing the work, or are we taking all of the credit as we reach for “super Christian” status?
It’s ok to tell God that you can’t do it. It’s the spiritual discipline of confession. It’s ok to tell God you need more help than most people to get into his word. He will not shame you for it. It’s ok to tell God you need some attitude adjustments, and you need help with hunger for the right things.
I’ve prayed that, and he was more than willing to make me uncomfortably hungry for him, an appetite I couldn’t seem to conjure up myself.
Do you waste more time on social media, and yet you can’t seem to find time to dig into the truth of the gospel, found in the Word of God? Ask God to make you so uncomfortable while on social media, until you are satisfied with your daily bread found in him. Just ask him. See what he will do. (The truth of it, is that we’d rather come around on our own, in our own time, in our own way, than face conviction as he disciplines us and shapes us. He knows this.)
He knows. He just needed to make sure I know.
A spiritual life rooted in the gospel doesn’t start with a perfectly laid out devotional time with sticker chart and reading plans. There is nothing wrong with those things, unless we expect them to be our savior.
It starts with the confession that we can’t do it on our own. It starts with humbly asking him to help with our embarrassing prayers of insufficiency, and obstacles we can’t seem to overcome.
He knows. Now that we know, just watch and see what he will do.
April W saysSeptember 9, 2019 at 8:25 am
Thank you for speaking what has been on my own heart for years! Thank you for letting me know that I’m not the only one who struggles with this! I’m thankful for a dear sister in Christ who I’ve never met but love dearly.