The past few weeks in the Gospel According to Mark we've seen Jesus address questions on spiritual disciplines (Mark 2:18-3:6). Andy and Angela Metzger deepen our discussion on this topic in the following two-part blog series. Don't miss next week's post where Angela talks about what this practically looks like for their family.
I pray much more now that I'm married with kids. It's true. "Lord, please let him go to sleep. God, please let us get some sleep. Jesus, I really need help (and sleep) right now because I'm losing it."
It sounds simplistic and maybe even disingenuous—but some of the most heartfelt prayers of my life have been spoken in the last few years. Why? Well, for me, it’s because I’ve come to realize that there are certain practices (i.e. spiritual disciplines) that I’m utterly dependent on to successfully make it through the week, the day, and…well…sometimes even the hour.
Let me rewind a little bit first, though, and share where I was previously coming from. Reading my bible, spending time in prayer, memorizing God’s Word…all of these are practices that I’ve been doing for (literally) decades. I was taught from a young age that these disciplines are an important part of the Christian life, but—to be honest—somewhere along the way I began to believe that the more dedicated and consistent I was in practicing these disciplines…the more God loved me. Here was my (subconscious) train of thought: the longer I spend reading my Bible today, the more verses I memorize this week, the more elaborate and impressive my prayers come across…the more He will love and approve of me. That’s what I believed.
Now, there are a number of really unhealthy things about this way of thinking, but from personal experience, I’ll just say that it’s really difficult to stay motivated—and feel like it’s working!—when God’s love, favor, and approval is dependent on your performance. It’s like being strapped to a treadmill and told “you can stop when the treadmill is finished!”
I came to realize, however, that both my motivation and my end goal had drastically missed the mark. I was going through the motions because I thought it earned God’s favor, and I had very few tangible expectations for what my input would actually produce. I just did it to do it.
As I’ve grown, I’ve begun to see that the wide range of spiritual disciplines the Scriptures speak to are much more than mere exercises in a spiritual fitness test, where our performance is periodically measured. No, they’re actually something much better than that. In fact, in my own life, I’ve seen them do two things: first, they remind me of how utterly dependent I am upon God for his help. Whether it’s a prayer for sleep, the desire to help a hurting friend, the longing for wisdom when life is at a crossroads, or dealing with fear, anxiety, stress, and all the other challenges we see each and every day—spiritual disciplines remind me that I’m not in control (nor do I need to be), yet God is and He is eager to help. Secondly, they allow me to get out of the way and let God’s Spirit step in to change the direction of my day. Without a doubt, my day is almost guaranteed to be substantially different if it begins with communing with God. Not because I was able to check it off some list, but because God loves to multiply the fruit of our obedience.
Let me be practical. My hope is that our church would be a disciplined people who faithfully follow Jesus as we grow in our love for him and others. Spiritual disciplines help us get there. They aren’t the driving motivation, nor the end goal…but because God’s favor has been given to us through what Jesus has done on our behalf, we now have the opportunity to practice these disciplines in a way that is truly for our joy. Therefore:
- We pray to God not because we have to…but because we find an overwhelming sense of comfort when we believe that He truly hears us and He cares.
- We read the Bible not because it’s mandatory…but because it is water to our souls, altering the way we journey through our days and relate to others.
- We memorize the Word of God not to earn His favor…but because by doing so, we inevitably find opportunities to speak this truth into the lives of others in such powerfully encouraging ways.
- We fast not to feel more religious or accepted by God…but because we want to be reminded of our desperate, inexpressible, infant-like dependency on Him in real, physical ways.
- We rebuke one another not out of arrogant pride or religious conformity…but because we deeply care for the well-being of others and want them to find their greatest joy in knowing and following the One who created them.
My prayer is that we would be a people who are disciplined in our faith, committed to the way of Jesus, and continual recipients of the grace He extends to us—when we are disciplined, and when we are not.