I read the Bible almost every single day. At least five out of seven days, and usually it’s more like seven days a week. It’s a fun thing to say, and it sounds good coming out of my mouth – but the truth is, I am kind of a cheater. My job requires me to be in God’s Word; reading it, interpreting it, discerning what it teaches, and relaying that information to a world that is in desperate need of it. Asking me to read the Bible every day is like asking a scientist to review the periodic table or an athletic trainer to workout. It’s just a necessary part of the job. The fact that it makes me sound like a good Christian is just an added bonus I guess.
That however, is probably where the bonus’ end, and the guilt begins when it comes to me leading by example in the all important realm of spiritual discipline. There are many things that can be included a list of spiritual disciplines. Great, important, powerful, life altering things. Things that I personally, like I’m betting most of you, struggle with. Things like, prayer, quiet time, group study, worship – just to name a few. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it can feel condemning if we aren’t living up to the standard we see others holding out for us an example.
For instance, when I was a young pastor, I worked in a place where every Thursday after lunch, there was a prayer meeting amongst staff and many retired church members. When I say meeting, what I mean is that we got together at 1PM and shared the requests of the people and the church. Then, for 90 MINUTES, people prayed. Some wandered the sanctuary praying aloud. Others sat in chairs and prayed quietly. Still more laid hands on one another and prayed fervently for healing, God’s presence and much more. I, sat in the sound booth and cycled through some worship songs on my iPod. Sure, I made a list of people and things to pray about, and I DID pray about them, for about 10 minutes, and then my mind wandered and I was distracted by all that was happening in the room. I spent the rest of the 80 minutes that others were praying, feeling guilty about what I wasn’t doing.
Even worse perhaps, is the guilt that I STILL to THIS day feel as a Pastor, when from time to time, people will approach me with issues, needs, questions or concerns – and my initial response is to come up with all sorts of well-intentioned ‘advice’ that they can use to fix the problem. We talk, I try to listen, and I share logical and tried and true solutions, so that people can address the things they’re facing. Often, only AFTER they’re walking away, or someone else joins in on the conversation, do I think to myself – “I SHOULD’VE PRAYED WITH THEM!!!” I wish it was my first thought, my response in times of anxiety or trouble, and something that I could do for hours on end if time allowed. But the reality of my life so far has been that prayer is something that I struggle to REMEMBER, much less actually do.
I also wish this was the only discipline with which I struggled. With two kids under 7 at home, quiet time isn’t readily available, and when it presents itself, I have made a habit of closing my eyes, or turning on a television. I love to listen to worship music, especially in the car or while I work, and sometimes I even sing along – but truly worshipping God is something that I know I don’t spend enough time doing. I have a lot of time in my life devoted to leading or guiding small group study and discussion, but often find myself wishing that I had more time spent with peers or those more devoted and mature than myself, so that I could learn and grow with more expedience and intentionality. The reality seems to be, that my spiritual disciplines aren’t all that disciplined at all.
But believe it or not, I did not sit down to write this post, ONLY in an effort to self-deprecate and make you feel better when comparing yourself to a pastor. For all my failings, I do believe I have something to say about the things and the ways that we grow in faith and spirituality as well. So let’s move on to the positive.
I don’t think our list above includes ALL the ways in which we as Christians are called to discipline ourselves. In fact, the word discipline – is a lot like the word DISCIPLE – which means ‘to follow or be a student of something or someone’ – in our case Jesus. Did Jesus pray, and have quiet time, and worship? Surely. But that was not all He did, and those are not the only ways in which we can be like Him.
Jesus showed care and compassion for those in need, and there are MANY in my life in need. Over the years, I have grown in my ability to recognize their need, and my heart has truly changed to desire to help them. Jesus taught many people who were asking, about a God they didn’t know too much about. While I don’t know even close to EVERYTHING about God, my experience and study has given me enough ammunition to offer many SOMETHING. Jesus also was the perfect example and demonstrator of the fruits of the Spirit – things like peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. As a parent, pastor, and friend, I have tried and actually succeeded in seeing myself grow in those areas as well – and I have noticed myself becoming more intentional and aware of them on a more regular basis. Perhaps the most important thing Jesus ever showed us, was selfless and sacrificial love, through His death on a cross. While I have not been asked to lay down and physically die yet (I pray I would be willing to), I have had NUMEROUS opportunities to die to self, and give up my own ambitions and ideas, for the sake of those around me, and to better serve my God. All of these, and probably a lot more, count, and are important, in my effort to become more like Jesus.
Here’s a bottom line view. There are an incredible amount of things I could do better, spiritually speaking. I have plenty of room to grow. For the ways in which I lack, there have never been more tools. For instance, I have this app called ECHO which allows me to create lists things and people to pray about, and it reminds me every three hours to do just that. No matter what your spiritual vice is, I am guessing there’s something out there to help. But what’s most important is that you fight against the apathy that creeps in, and intentionally strive to discipline yourself towards being a disciple of Jesus. Just a little more like Him each and every day – in any way possible. It’s all important, and it’s definitely and definitively – worth it.