One of the basic rules of life is that with age comes more responsibility. I am more aware of this on this particular day because it is my birthday. Just as physical growth brings more responsibility, so does spiritual growth. When I get closer to God I realize more of my own failings and how poor my response to him has been. I am convicted and want to respond in a way that will honor him and his love and mercy towards me. This makes sense and is appropriate right? So why does the added responsibility that comes with spiritual growth make us fearful?
Think about teenagers that you know or have worked with. Maybe even think about your own life as a teenager. Haven’t you noticed that many teenagers refuse to do what they are supposed to because if they start maturing and doing the right thing more will be asked of them? I used to work with inner city youth and remember one student in particular who seemed to want to just stay in one particular immature state because he didn’t seem to want to have to be held accountable for his actions. If this student would have just made small changes he would have realized that doing good wasn’t so bad and that more responsibility also comes with positive aspects such as pride, sense of accomplishment, respect, and fulfillment.
In a sense, we are often like spiritual teenagers, wanting to stay in a state of spiritual immaturity so that no one will expect more from us and God especially will take his requests and requirements someplace else. But just as we can learn to appreciate and love the new identity that we receive as Christ followers, we can learn to appreciate and love the new responsibilities that also come with Christlikeness. Fairly soon, these responsibilities will begin to feel less like duties and more like opportunities to respond to the great love of our Heavenly Father.
Article: Eugene Peterson – the Joyful Environmentalist
Study: Internet addiction can cause brain damage.
Blog: Soulgardeners – a beautiful looking blog about spiritual formation and missions.
Travel Destination: Thorncrown Chapel
Quote: “If you think of reading as a means of uploading data, then reading will ALWAYS seem too slow.” ALan Jacobs
My oldest daughter is convinced that she is a “germaphobe”. She is in that pre-teen age range that starts to obsess over identity. All of those labels that are so stereotypical of school start to surface during this time. So, my daughter has chosen “germaphobe” as her identity. I am sure she will graduate to more profound identities but for now she likes to tell people about her need to wash hands and avoid other people’s food germs.
The power of suggestion in these matters is very impactful. I remember in college how often friends jabbed me on how intolerant I was of things and that I was a little grumpy. I have carried a nickname, Sloth, for most of my life that carries a very distinct connotation as to what kind of person I am. Over time, these labels move from conversation starters and ways to draw attention to ourselves to levels of identity that we grow attached to. Into adulthood, I grew attached to my identity as someone who was aloof and standoffish and introverted. But as Christ began shaping me into something that more resembles him, I found myself becoming more outgoing, friendlier, and willing to extend myself. I remember even questioning myself at times as to what I was doing? “I am not supposed to be this outgoing!” “Why am I being so friendly?”
Maybe the aspect of spiritual growth that you fear the most is losing your identity, even if that identity is less than desirable. These attributes that we have carried around for years have a huge hold on us and to lose them, even if they are replaced with more meaningful and productive things, can be fearful. I am glad that God has made me a more loving, generous, and hospitable person and I much prefer this identity to the alternative but in the early stages of this particular change in my life I had to break the attachment I had to my unchanged identity.
Do you fear that people will look at you differently if you become more like Christ? Have you grown too attached to your unchanged self? May God give you a vision for the real you, the you that has been changed to more resemble his son, Jesus Christ.
The second thing that many Christians fear when they become more devoted in their faith is that they will lose the things that bring enjoyment to their life. What people don’t understand is that God knows better than we do what brings us enjoyment. He has our best interests at heart and if we will just trust him, he will provide times and things in our life that are more enjoyable than we could have imagined.
I have a very close group of friends that I have known since I was five years old. We still stay in contact with each other but we are scattered all over the country now. I am not the easiest guy to get to know and relate to; I am a little quirky and possess a strange sense of humor. But these friends share my sensibilities and interests and we can be together only once a year and it feels like we have never been away from each other. Over the last five years or so I can think of several occasions when our times together seemed more like a gift than anything that we could have arranged or organized. To me, it just seemed as if God was providing these times together simply because he knew how much I enjoyed them and how much it meant to all of us to be together. God had organized something that I enjoyed and provided for it in bunches.
Have you trusted God for your enjoyment? Have you told God how much you enjoy certain things and asked him to provide these things in the best way he sees fit? Are you willing to not take matters in to your own hands and work against God, knowing that He has your best interest at heart and wants to give you special gifts of enjoyment? God is a God of good things and he loves to shower these on his people. All we need to do is lay ourselves at his feet and trust that He knows what he is doing. Times will not always be enjoyable but when the good times come they will be so rich and rewarding that you will bemoan the times you tried to manipulate situations on your own.
Image via Wikipedia
I have always been a terrible swimmer. Two years ago, I tried to remedy my poor swimming status by sheer practice. I failed miserably. I seemed to be attacking the water rather than gliding through it. One lap down was a chore that left me out of breath and hurting. I was frustrated and annoyed at myself. Is there anything more frustrating than having a goal and then failing so emphatically?
But this past year, I discovered a swimming method called Total Immersion and I decided that I would give my swimming attempts another try. I rented a DVD and began learning some drills and practicing them. I tried to take the process step by step and gradual with the idea of learning slowly and effectively. Not all of the drills have been easy and my fear of failure surfaces each time I grow frustrated but I have to fight through it and find small success and celebrate improvement. My goal is to become a better swimmer not perform in triathlons. I have started to enjoy my swimming sessions because I am improving and accomplishing something that has been frustrating in the past.
So what does this have to do with Christian Spiritual Formation? The same fear of failure that has dogged my pursuit of better swimming has hampered my spiritual growth. I fear that I will fail to understand a passage of scripture so I don’t even read, or my prayer time will end with me dozing off so I don’t even pray, or that service to others will show how truly selfish I am, so why bother? But here is what I have discovered as I work through my fear – spiritual breakthroughs are just around the corner and it is usually not in the reading of scripture or the praying that I discover them but through the fact that I have been reading scripture and praying.
When I am committed to following after Jesus and learning from him, then my whole day becomes a laboratory for spiritual insight and growth. Prayer builds off of scripture, encounters during the day begin to show a theme, and every moment is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to draw me closer to the truth about Jesus. Spiritual exercises that seemed so mundane and fruitless while I am doing them slowly gain momentum and success as my life progresses and the Holy Spirit reminds me of what I previously discovered during the exercise.
What are you missing by fearing spiritual failure? What could you discover if you pushed past your fear and realized that you don’t have all the answers or even much ability but you have your attention and right now your attention is so focused on others things. Place your attention on becoming like Christ and let your life not be ruled by fear but by slow progress and tiny achievements.
Christians are living in a state of fear which leads to frustration. We know that our lives can be full of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We have seen glimpses of it in our lives and in the people around us but fear keeps us stagnant.
I believe that there are four things that we are most afraid of when it comes to making the effort to grow in our spiritual life.
2. Losing Enjoyable Things
3. Losing our Identity
4. More Responsibility
What we fear doing most is often what we most need to do – Bible reading, silence and solitude, memorizing scripture, eliminating distractions. Our culture is screaming for people who know the word of God, who meditate on scripture day and night, and who are not sucked in by hurry and busyness.
Starting tomorrow, I will focus on one fear a day and discuss how that particular fear is keeping us from making progress in our spiritual life.
Blog Post: 13 Tips to developing a spiritual rule of life.
Column: How busyness is a form of sloth.
Tweet: @johnortberg Solitude is the great laboratory of the spirit. Introverts naturally love it extroverts think it would be ok if they could bring friends
Blog Post: Jan Johnson gives up television.
Quote: “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking” ~ Jerry Seinfeld
Image via Wikipedia
Have you noticed that you doze off easier than you used to? Is staying awake in church or in meetings more difficult than it should be? Does your prayer time often lead to your eyes getting heavy?
In our fast paced and constantly stimulated society we are so used to having our mind occupied and our attention titillated that the minute our mind concentrates on one thing or has to sit still for a few moments it shuts down trying to get the rest it desperately needs. I have heard many friends at the university where I work talk about falling asleep during prayer or times of solitude and silence. There are three ways that getting more sleep would help our spiritual life:
1. Improves relationships. Most of us are grumpy when we are tired; even more grumpy than we get when we are stressed or hungry. If we were better rested, we would have more energy to handle uncomfortable situations and handle our relationships better.
2. Shows our trust in God. Many of us, myself included, don’t get enough sleep because we feel as if we need to be getting up and doing something productive. We see sleep as a hindrance to our level of achievement and success. Sleeping more means we are interested in our well-being and willing to trust God for results. We work hard but we also let go of control of every situation.
3. Improves our focus. As I mentioned earlier, if we cannot concentrate while reading the Bible or fall asleep at every moment of stillness, then we are missing out on times with God and lessening our chance at growth.
So, get a good night’s rest or take a nap but don’t drain your body of the rest it needs. Your spiritual life may be depending on it.
Image via Wikipedia
Yesterday, I talked about the need to formulate a plan for spiritual growth. It is ironic that I was discussing this when my Spiritual Enrichment Plan has been highly disrupted over the last month or so. The culprit? The Dallas Mavericks. I have followed the Mavs since I was a kid and have been overwhelmingly swept away by their run to the NBA Finals this year. I have stayed up until 1 a.m. some nights after wins, catching up on Tweets from the game and rewatching decisive moments. Some mornings, I have been so distracted that I scour the internet, wanting to read reaction to the games I have been watching. I am obsessive compulsive when it comes to these types of events and it has taken its toll on my time, energy, and focus. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed every minute of it and thank God for the sheer enjoyment and fun that these playoffs have provided but I will be relieved when it is all over.
When it is all over, hopefully with a Mavs win, I plan to take a week long sports fast to cleanse myself of my obsessive tendencies. I plan to finish a few books that I have been reading. I plan to return to a more normal routine of time with God and focus on what he is doing in my life. The key point is I am returning to my plan and refocusing myself on what is most important to me, becoming more Christlike. You see, if we are going to treat our spiritual life much like we treat our diet, exercise, or education, we have to avoid the tendency to let life’s distractions derail our plan. We have to simply shake off the rust and return to what we started or we have to rethink the way we are doing things and start anew. Too many times, we want to abandon our plan when we have a few hiccups and failures. Don’t abandon your plan just because you become distracted. You can start over and make it work.
Dieting with just the notion of eating better doesn’t have deep impact, you must have a plan. Going to the gym and working out without a set idea about what areas you need to work on will result in little overall improvement. And learning a language by just opening up a non-translated book will not get you very far if you have not created a method to learn the language. How far does your money go if you don’t have a budget?
The reason that most of our current plans for spiritual growth do no work is because we have no plan for spiritual growth. Some days we pray a little, some days we read our Bible, some days we sing a few praise songs, and some days we forget all together. But there is no regular pattern, no plan, nothing written down that holds us accountable and reminds us of what we are trying to accomplish. Often times, we are not lacking in good intentions but we fail to put those intentions into action. A strategy for spiritual growth will serve as a motivation tool for us and keep us out of the haphazard practices that often fail.
In this space, I have recommended and detailed the Spiritual Enrichment Workout. When completed, this only takes 15-20 minutes and covers scripture reading, prayer, worship, and silence. You can choose to follow this plan or create one on your own but the point is to have a plan for spiritual growth. If you don’t, you will have the same frustrating experiences that have marked many of our half-hearted attempts at getting healthier or learning a new skill. I know it doesn’t sound very spiritual to be regimented about your spiritual life but Christian history dating back to Jesus has shown us example after example of the value of intentional spiritual practices and strategies.