Overcoming Life Distractions

Dallas Mavericks Original Logo used from 1980-...

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.

Why Your Current Plan For Spiritual Growth Doesn’t 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.

Best of Christian Life Hacker – Quiet Time Has Got To Go

Since the past month and a half has been pretty intense here on Christian Life Hacker, I thought it might be good to revisit some of the posts that epitomize the Christian Life Hacker faith style. This is one of the first post from back in December:

Quiet Time Has Got To Go

I have a confession to make. I don’t have a quiet time. That’s right, the standard for evangelical spiritual growth is not in my vocabulary. Not because I dislike the idea of having a time of the day set aside for being quiet but because the term “quiet time” has turned into something powerless and reeks of church speak (terms that have very little meaning outside the church).

I am sorry, but my time spent talking to, listening to, and learning about God and his kingdom needs a term that packs a little more punch than “quiet time”. This term sounds like something I would do to my daughters to punish them or settle them down before bed.

Also, for anyone who has grown up in the church, the term has been used so frequently and with such “preachiness” that it instantly conjures up feelings of guilt in individuals who have failed to live up to all the requirements of a ‘quiet time’ (at least 15 minutes, first thing in the morning, chapter a day, etc.). I don’t know if I can come up with a better term, but the one that I have started using is “Spiritual Enrichment”.

To me, the term Spiritual Enrichment accomplishes two things. First, it helps explain the goal of the activity – to grow, to be enriched, improved. Second, it reminds us that what we are doing during this time is a spiritual activity and not just a time when we try to be alone with our Bible open. We are spiritual beings, that is part of the life that God breathed into us in the Garden of Eden and later at Pentecost. Evangelicals get nervous when talk turns too spiritual but denying our non-physical side is denying what makes humans unique and what made God so proud in creating us.

So, on this blog at least we will not use the term “quiet time” but will replace the idea with the term Spiritual Enrichment. I am not sold on this term so if anyone else has an idea on what we can call it please let me know.

When To Have Your Spiritual Enrichment Workout

Now that we have established what should be included in your Spiritual Enrichment Workout we now have to discuss when we should do it.  Most preachers will tell you that you should pray and read scripture very first thing in the morning. They have turned this into some kind of modern day legalism – “by not taking the time early in the morning things will not go right for you the rest of the day.” Don’t we all feel guilty enough by our limited prayer life and intolerance to Bible reading? Do we really need another aspect to make us feel guilty and why should a 24 hour period be reduced to such a short time window?

Some practice evening prayers just before bed as a precursor to the next day’s activities and a good night’s sleep. Others spend time during the day to ward off apathy and depression and some do it early in the morning when there is no one up and their home is quiet. The point is to find the time to do it. What I have described as a Spiritual Enrichment Workout takes me anywhere between 12-17 minutes. Just small enough time to practice while you wait to pick up your kids from an activity, or during a scheduled break at work, or even in the bathtub. The point is to practice Spiritual Enrichment not to fulfill some rigid prescription as to what counts and what doesn’t.

So quit beating yourself up about missing your morning quiet time and find a time that works better for you.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Recap

So we have the four elements to our workout:

1. Warm-up – Fixed-Hour Prayer (3 minutes)

2. Core – Scripture reading (4-5 minutes)

3. Strength – Prayer (3-5 minutes)

4. Cardio – Devotional reading (1-2 minutes)

I have placed the estimated time it takes to go through each element in parenthesis. On most days this takes me around 15 minutes, sometimes more, sometimes less and we certainly don’t want to be rigid about this as we need to be responsive to the Holy Spirit. If you have never tried an organized devotional time or have tried it in the past and are returning to it let me give you a few words of caution.

Reject the temptation to do more. This is what dooms most exercise programs, we try to do too much and are not realistic with our time, ability to be consistent, and attention span. Thus, once the newness wears off we cannot sustain our lengthy and involved program. Personally, when starting out, I would choose two of the elements above and do those for a week and then evaluate how it went.

Don’t worry if some days are dry. God seems to operate in a slow manner when it comes to our growth and pursuit of Christlikeness. Sure, we will have days where the words of scripture seem to warm our heart and fill us with inspiration and power but there will be others where are prayers are mechanical or we have to read things over and over because we can’t pay attention. Know that even on the dry days the Holy Spirit is working on you and guiding you along. No time spent concentrating on God is wasted.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Cardio

Some of the benefits of a real cardio workout are increased energy,  lowered stress levels, and better sleep. In other words, positive side effects that carry on throughout the day. My spiritual version of cardio is also designed to benefit you throughout the day and not just during your Workout.

I take a daily devotional book and read that day’s entry. Right now I am reading through A Year With God but I have also used classics such as Streams in the Desert and My Utmost For His Highest. Many famous authors or people of the faith have meditation books taken from their writings. These include C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and Mother Theresa. My wife really enjoyed Voices of the Faithful. Find any Christian book or email service that provides daily meditations or devotionals and close your workout by reading that day’s entry and taking a few minutes to consider its thoughts and challenges.

Just as I let the Holy Spirit guide me to a prayer focus during the Strength section, the cardio/devotional book reading is designed to give me a thought or a challenge for the day. I take the theme and emphasis from the reading and intentionally think about it throughout the day. Perhaps it is short enough that I can return to it during the day and read it again. I particularly like ones that include an activity or exercise related to the reading. Through the exercise, I am not simply going through a mental activity but I am making the theme or emphasis tangible and providing some evidence as to my current spiritual state on the matter.

The bottom line is creating some intentional carry over from my Spiritual Enrichment Workout to the rest of the day. We have all had those experiences where we closed up our Bible or said Amen and that was the end of our time with God not just for that moment but for the rest of the day. Our mission is to make our spiritual workout a time where we are reminded of who God is, hear from him in his Word and through his Spirit, and to take what we have heard and discovered as a challenge for the rest of our day.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Strength

In a physical workout or a spiritual workout I am all about focus. If you want to get the most out of a strength workout you set aside one day to focus on your lower body and one day to focus on your upper body. In the Spiritual Enrichment Workout the strength portion is my time of focused prayer.

Despite our best intentions and our desire to cover all of our prayer bases, we need to have a clear intention or focus when we sit down to pray. If we don’t then we will start with world peace and never get to the simple practical prayers that are more pressing in our lives. So, what I do is pay close attention to what the previous two  sections of the workout have brought me. Remember the Warm-Up helped me begin focusing on the nature of God through readings from the Psalms and the Core Workout involved listening to what God may be saying to me through scripture. I find that if I am paying attention, there is a theme or emphasis that the Holy Spirit is guiding me to through the fixed-hour prayer and the Bible reading. That theme is the focus and basis for my prayer time.

Maybe there is a sin that has been brought to my attention to confess, a concern of a friend who has fallen away from God, or a fruit of the Spirit that has been non-existent in my life. Whatever it is, listen closely and talk to God about it. Save your prayer requests list for driving in your car or lunch break or shower and use this time to focus on where God has led you during your Spiritual Enrichment Workout. Trust me, your prayer time will be much more meaningful and you will be more aware of what God is doing in your life.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Core

Core Workout–  My favorite physical workout involves an emphasis on the body’s center, or core. The idea being that it is from this center where the rest of your body’s movements originate from. In our Spiritual Enrichment Workout, the emphasis is on hearing from God and letting him focus our faith commitment. The best way to do this is to read scripture. But just as a good workout plan will start slow and build up to more repetitions and sets, our spiritual workout starts slow. I limit myself to five verses of whatever book of the Bible I am reading and five verses from the Gospels. I will discuss the value of five in a future posts. Some simple questions that you can ask when you are reading are: What is it saying? What am I hearing? How should I respond?

I always remember this quote I heard from John Ortberg, “I do not want to just get the church congregation through the Bible but the Bible through the church congregation.”

Tomorrow we will look at our version of a Strength workout.

My Spiritual Enrichment Workout

Because I am a son of a coach and been around sports my whole life and now am at the stage of life where working out is something that is a necessity for a healthy life, I tend to make natural parallels between a fitness workout and a spiritual workout. My Spiritual Enrichment (my name for “quiet time”) involves four main components. This week, I will explain each aspect of the workout:

1. Warm-Up

2. Core Workout

3. Strength

4. Cardio

First let me explain the Warm-Up

Warm-Up.  A reading from the Divine Hours. This is a manual to what is known as fixed-hour prayer. Basically, if we all lived in a monastery, we would have various times during the day when we would stop what we were doing and join together in prayer and worship. The Divine Hours provides scriptures, Psalms, songs, and prayers covering just a few pages. This is a good warm up for me because it reminds me of where the focus of spiritual enrichment should be – God and not myself. Also, for hundreds of years, the Psalms were the prayer, praise, and worship book  of the church and each one of the fixed-hour sessions offer heavy doses of the Psalms. Look here for an example of a morning session. Two words of instruction, first, when you see an asterisks that means you need to pause and second, I always get more out of it when I read through it out loud as if I were trying to memorize some of the readings.

Tomorrow we will look at the Core Workout section.