Spiritual formation is more than a passing fad or the latest interest in the church. Spiritual disciplines are absolutely necessary for development and growth. Guest post by Rhesa, Kraig, and Lance have helped us see that. Yet, many of us continue to struggle in practicing the presence of God. And there’s one reason: Boredom.
Boredom is your biggest hurdle engaging and being shaped by spiritual disciplines. Some great practitioners of spiritual disciplines, will bristle at that, but it’s true. While they now faithfully practice prayer, solitude, silence, fasting, etc…, they didn’t start that way. For most of us, what enlivens and excites us now about spiritual disciplines began as drudgery.
A Quick Story
Years ago when I played golf, I spent lots of time at the practice range. Rochelle and I were childless at the time. She had a number of friends and hobbies to occupy her, so frequently, I’d grab my clubs and spend a few hours at the range. Each week my skills got better. Until they didn’t.
I wondered why I was spending two nights a week, hitting 100 golf balls each night yet petering out in my development. It was then I read an article about Tiger Woods. I learned that while I was hitting 100 golf balls twice a week, Tiger was hitting 100 golf balls with each club every day. Then he would play a practice round…or two. I thought, “There’s no way I could hit 100 balls with each club. That would get boring.”
Spiritual disciplines are kind of like that. To become blessed by them, to begin to drink deeply from engagement with God, you have to fight through some initial boredom. In a fast-food, microwave, ten-second download world, that’s tougher than it sounds.
Daily Bible reading, journaling fasting, tithing, and other disciplines begin shiny, but quickly show wear. At least three times as a boy, my family started to read the Bible in a year. We started out strong. Genesis and Exodus are great, exciting, and, well bloody, but by the time Leviticus rolled around, we were done. Plus, baseball season was starting.
But spiritual disciplines don’t have to degrade into boredom. If you can make three mental shifts about the nature of knowing God and experiencing God’s daily presence you will find that boredom flees and engagement increases. Here are the three mental shifts:
From Information to Formation. A major problem for Christians is that we believe our faith is information based. We think a book will solve every problem. Our bias toward information is the reason some preachers will take an entire year to preach the book of Acts; it’s why most Sunday school classes are consumed by “What will we study next?” and why so many people think merely reading their Bibles will have great affect.
Formation is an entirely different activity. A few years ago, the church I was serving was charged to read Luke 10 every day for a year. Do you know what upset most people? It was “boring.” Most folks couldn’t see the point. Once I’ve read the passage, I know what it says, it’s time to move on to new content; that’s the way most of us think. We love “content.” We’re content junkies. But down deep we know content isn’t transformative…not on its own. Western Christians are educated far past our level of obedience. We bought into the idea that exploring ideas leads to transformation. (Tweet that). Moving from information to formation forces us into the realization that it’s lots of time over time that matters, not simply the consumption of content.
From Christian to Disciple. Dallas Willard reminds us that the word “disciple” is used in the Bible 269 times and the word Christian only 3. A disciple is different from a Christian. Christian is a status, a box you mark on a survey, but a disciple is a student. A person can become a Christian in a moment, but discipleship is a lifelong commitment to learning the way of Jesus (Tweet That). As many of us have experienced from other learning environments, when you’re a student you either use it or lose it. A disciple is someone who enrolls in the school of Jesus, learning to do everything as He did it and taught us to do. And while I don’t mean to be harsh, if you and I aren’t using what Jesus taught us we are losing it.
From Enjoying “It” to Enjoying “God.” Let’s face it, most of us are religious consumers. We go to churches we “like,” with preachers we like, that has music we like with a style of worship we like and join small groups populated with people like us. Plus, we get all bent out of shape and perturbed when the church changes something we like into something we don’t like. We treat our religious experience like a trip to Best Buy, “I’m here to get what I want then I’m outta here.”
Spiritual disciplines have to work a certain way. First, they are disciplines and there’s no real way around that. Second, sometimes in the midst of practicing the presence of God, God jumps up and smacks us in the face. In addition, two events are bound to happen while practicing spiritual disciplines: 1. God will reveal Himself to you and/ or 2. God will reveal you to you. Neither of these occurrences is entirely comforting. If our goal in practicing spiritual disciplines is to “get something out of it,” or “enjoy it,” then we will ditch our practices at the first sign of turbulence. God doesn’t show up “On Demand.”
Rather, our aim is to enjoy God. Enjoying God is not unlike all our relationships with people we love. It requires time, attention, listening, speaking, arguing, reconciling, and commitment. Anything less will leave us wanting. Should we make such resolutions the payoff is knowing God, not merely tinkering around with thoughts about God.
So, now it’s time for you to make a commitment. What practices of spiritual discipline can you adopt?
Here’s a quick list of baby-steps to get you started:
- Use The One Year Bible Compact Edition NLT – Each day you read one prescribed selection and you’re done. I’ve added journal writing about one phrase or word that I found interesting to meaningful.
- Breath Prayer – Pick one frequent occurrence in your life (chiming of a clock, stopped at a red light, check Facebook or e-mail) and formulate a one-sentence prayer to say each time that occurrence takes place. For instance, pray, “Lord, show me today to whom I may be a blessing.” Do that every day and before long, God will transform your engagement with others.
- Pray the Proverbs – There are 31 Proverbs, as is the case in most months of the year. Simply read the Proverb each day that corresponds with the day of the month. Proverbs 1 on the 1st, 2 on the 2nd, 3 on the 3rd, and so on.
- Dwelling in the Word – Select one passage and read it every day for an extended period of time. Currently, I read Ephesians 2 every other day. In June, I will switch to Luke 10.
There you go. Now go get started.