Monday, 31 January 2011
In the past month or two, I have actually learned something that has been very freeing to me. You are so, so lucky because I am about to share it with you. Of course, if you don't think or believe as I do, then it might not benefit you 'two hoots' as we used to say in Indiana. Oh well, life is full of choices, isn't it, Honey?
A funny quirk of my personality is that I am kind of anal, can't see the forest for the trees, and nerdy, never up to date on what is contemporary or trendy and focused on inane details while motivated by lists.
Okay, so I just lost half of my readers, but for those of you who remain, I will continue.
I have suffered for years as a Christian because of my own tendency to boil my Christianity down to a list of some kind. In my exuberance to not be left out of whatever God happens to be doing (Just the charismatic sound of that is irritating the two of you who are still reading this.), I want to be current on my Bible reading, meditation, prayer, spiritual disciplines, etc.
You may think, "Wow, she's really spiritual because she is so disciplined." Wrongo, Bongo. The reason you are wrong in that assumption is that that is not how God works. Here is the honest truth, God is not impressed by lists, but by hearts that are seeking after Him. When my list becomes the goal, and checking things off of it gives me that great sense of accomplishment, I am further from God than I have ever been. Isn't that a terrible dichotomy? It leaves me with all kinds of knowledge about God, but very little relationship with Him. From the New Testament example of the Pharisees, we all know that this is a very dangerous place to be with God.
Although I would put myself in the charismatic category, I have never been haphazard or lackadaisical about my spiritual life. I would characterize myself as intense. Some 'less intense' charismatics make it sound as if the answer is never having a list and just being Spirit led about what they study. To me, that sounds freaky and too loose. For example, what if your dentist was just Spirit led about what to study at dental school? Would you be excited about someone who studied something that mattered in that way? What do you mean by Spirit led? It sounds to me to be too easy to blame a lack of discipline or focus on God.
What is the answer? Here is the cool thing. I found the answer in a little book recommended by Mark Connor, a pastor from Australia. He did not write the book; he merely recommended it. The name of the book is: Simplicity and Fasting by Jan Johnson.
The following two paragraphs are what helped me:
"Motives in fasting are so crucial that the first mention of fasting in the New Testament is a warning about motivation. It's easy to fast for wrong reasons. Fasting can become a spiritual trophy, an instant ticket to supposed spiritual superiority as others look up to us. Even if we keep our fasting a secret, it can become a source of self-congratulation as we compete with ourselves to "improve" our fasting record.
So what is the proper motive? According to Richard Foster, the only reason to fast is "an urging or call to it, a prompting, a sense of rightness." We hear that call of God because we have been connecting with God and we long to connect even more."
Making up lists to complete is not wrong, but it can be from a wrong motive.
Under the heading, How We Get Spiritual Disciplines Wrong, is this:
"Spiritual exercises must be done with the goal of connecting, not for any sake of their own or any desire to check them off a list of "to do" items. If you read your Bible just to get it done, or because you've heard this will help you have a better day, you'll be anxious to complete the Bible study questions or to get to the bottom of the page of today's reading. But if your goal in Bible reading is to connect with God, you may pause whenever you sense God speaking to you. You'll stop and meditate on it. You may pray certain phrases back to God, indicating your needs or your wishes or your questions. You may choose to read that passage day after day for a month because God keeps using it to speak to you.
After such a session, you will have a stronger desire to connect with God. That "little choice" you made to connect will leave you slightly different for life.
The exercise or discipline is beneficial because it helps you practice connecting with God. If you want to play the piano well or swing a tennic racket well, you have to practice certain exercises over and over...In life with God, we get good at connecting on an everyday basis by devoting time to developing the skills needed."
Those few thoughts and ideas have been extremely helpful to me. I still keep a list, but at the bottom of the list is a note to myself that the purpose of the spiritual disciplines that I give myself to is to connect with God. The list is not the goal; it is the means to the goal of learning to connect with the Lord.
At times, just a little tweaking of our inner motivations can make all the difference in our relationship with God.
Have you fallen into this trap of knowing about God without knowing God? What do you do to stay close to Him? What else can get in the way of your relationship with God? Do you have advice for the author's or other reader's walk?