“If you do not fall in love with God, spiritual disciplines will become legalism.”
Through tears of shame, a ministry worker confessed to me: “I hate reading my Bible.” Staring at the ground, she painfully explained the vicious cycle:
1. She feels guilty for not wanting to read her Bible.
2. She finally reads her Bible to relieve the guilt.
3. She feels even more guilty because she doesn’t get anything out of it.
4. Rinse and Repeat.
I had to smile because she confessed as if she was the only Christian who’s ever experienced this. (But, I’m pretty sure most of us have gotten stuck in this legalistic spin cycle at some point.) She got a little annoyed at me for chuckling, until I shocked her out of her irritation by suggesting: “Why don’t you just stop reading your Bible for a bit?”
Now, hold your horses. Don’t click off this blog. The inspired Word of God is essential to our relationship with God. What I was worried about was her approach to her spiritual practices. Rather than question her foundational attitude towards them, she simply concluded she was a bad Christian and unfit for ministry. What a horrible angst to secretly live with! God intended her devotional times to be a space of grace with Him, instead, each had become a brick in a wall of shame between them. I was certain we could knock that wall down if we exposed its faulty foundation.
Examine your foundational approach (or attitude) to spiritual disciplines. Can you find yourself in one, two… or all of these?
Self-Centered Approach – This is like going out to coffee with someone who only talks about himself. Sure, he’s interested in what you have to say, but only if it’s advice for him. Little does he know, if he quieted down and got to know you, he may not only find friendship… but new perspectives on his own ideas, identity, hopes, and fears. As we grow in our faith, our devotional life will become less self-focused – less driven by getting something from God – and more about being with God.
Factual Approach – Ever watch an old couple sit in total silence at a restaurant? It’s awkward. It’s obvious they’ve run out of things to talk about. But, ever seen an old couple holding hands on a park bench in total silence? It’s beautiful. It’s obvious they know everything about each other, yet they love the other’s presence. For all believers, there are seasons where you feel as though the Scriptures aren’t as fresh. Lucky for us, this isn’t the ultimate point of reading the Bible. Relationship is. (More in Part 4.)
Formula Approach – Less carbs + More cardio = Fitting back into your skinny jeans. It’s a formula that works for most. But, it’s not so healthy to approach our time with God like this: Prayer + Scripture + Church = Blessing and Growth. Obviously, good things reap good reward… until they don’t. Until, we hit a plateau and wonder, “Why is God silent?” “Why am I still battling with this sin?” “God! Why aren’t you fixing me!?” God’s very patient with our formulaic approaches, until we’ve reduced relationship with Him down to a check list. Then, He’s likely to mix things up by forcing us to seek Him in new ways. (More in Part 2.)
Striving Approach – Do you spend the first part of your devotions trying to feel the presence of God? Expressing guilt for distance that grew between quiet times? Combating shame or inadequacy? Consider this quote by Greg Boyd: “The center of Christian life is to have a time where you stop all performance and do nothing… just rest in the truth of Christ and the truth of who you are.” (More in Part 3.)
Healthy Approach – Spiritual practices are a consent to the slow process of God’s love shaping us, healing us, bringing us back to life. They’re a practice of communion with our Trinity family. They are anticipation: We are becoming more like Christ, more fully human, and more fully ourselves. (Albeit, ever so slowly!) Simply put, they expose where love is not, and they put it there.
“When religious spirituality lacks vitality and meaning, it is not usually because of lack of spiritual discipline. More often than not, it is because of a lack of attentiveness to the spiritual foundation.” Dr. David G. Benner
For the next three weeks, I’m going to explore three contemplative Christian practices which tend to this spiritual foundation. I’ll explain how to do them and why they are transformational.
We will practice:
• Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) – which cultivates encountering God in our first language of images and senses
• Breath Prayer – which cultivates God-awareness and self-awareness
• Centering Prayer – which cultivates inner silence (the rich soil from which prayer and God-hearing are grown)
Why should you give them a go?
A Bible teacher, Pastor, and life-long believer spent 10 weeks immersed in these practices, after which she asked in a voice choked with emotion, “Is it really so easy?”
I considered, then I responded, “Yes.”
Although both life and being a disciple of Jesus are hard, your Christian practices should be a space for resting in your beloved identity…which is the birthing place of freedom, healing, obedience, and righteousness. “What is man’s best gift to mankind? To be beautiful of soul and then let people see into your soul.” – Frank Laubach
Jesus really did mean it when he said, “I came that you might have life… and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). His burden is easy, and his yoke is light. Has your devotional experience become a weight? Does it mostly inform but not really transform?
What attitudes have you approached your spiritual disciplines with?
Do you encounter shame, guilt, striving, or boredom in your devotional life?
Or, is your desire to encounter your Trinity family in new ways?
Journal about this and turn it into prayer.
In the Meantime:
Check out the Pray as You Go App – a daily Scripture meditation rooted in Ignatian spirituality