When I was a student at a Christian University we heard sermons about 4 (or more) times a week. We were privileged to sit under many good teachers and I know that my faith was strengthened during my time at school.
However, as students, we used to joke that the sermons only had one takeaway: READ YOUR BIBLE AND PRAY.
And of course, the holiest time of day to read-your-Bible-and-pray was first thing in the morning. Gotta start your day off right! Just you and Jesus!
This application was not new to me. I had been reading my Bible and praying every morning for 10+ years. In that department, I was a top-notch Christian. I knew the Bible really really well.
The thing is, I didn’t know how to apply it very well.
Sure, I was all over the “don’t sin” part (or at least I tried really hard not to sin).
And I read my Bible and prayed.
I gave money to the church.
I went on a few mission trips, did “ministry” around campus and around town.
I was spiritually disciplined.
My faith fit into a neat box. And it was a big box—it encompassed pretty much my whole life. But it was a box, just the same, a box that contained rituals that I thought were making me both a good person and a good Christian.
My sophomore year of college I was a prayer leader for my dorm. My job was to lead weekly Bible study and prayer times for 5 girls on my hall. The first topic of study I chose was “What is God’s will?” because, like every student at our school, I needed to know the answer to this deep, mysterious question.
So I studied. I fervently read my Bible and I prayed without ceasing. And something crazy happened.
Well, let me back up. I learned what God’s will was and then something crazy happened.
Here’s what I learned about God’s will: After a person chooses to follow Jesus, there are only two things we need to do: Love God and love people.
Anything that fits into those two categories? Spiritual growth.
My box started to fall apart and here’s the crazy thing that happened: I stopped reading my Bible and praying….
…at least in a prescribed I-did-my-devotions-check-that-box-I’m-good type way.
(The truth I learned at age 20 about loving God and loving others was so radical to me that when I look back at my faith story, I almost wonder if that was when I “got saved.” But mostly because I am influenced by my Baptist background and all good Baptists have to know the time and place of one’s conversion, because if you don’t know, did it really happen? Better come to alter again just to make sure).
So I stopped reading-my-Bible-and-praying and I started growing because, for the first time in my life, I started applying what I had been reading for years.
I laid aside my rituals and started investing in relationships with people around me, learning how to listen, to shed my judgment and stereotypes, to embrace, to speak the truth in love, and also to be a silent comforter in a person’s grief.
I’ve never gone back to morning devotions, mostly because I hate mornings. Right now, my kids have to be at school at 7:30 in the freakin’ morning. That’s 4 kids dressed, fed, lunches made and in the car by…an ungodly hour. I think I could have invented the phrase “ungodly hour” because that is the hour I am the most ungodly.
And I’ve been convicted about that recently.
I’ve felt God tugging at my sleeve about my mornings, urging me to do this one thing: Get up earlier.
Not to read my Bible or pray (though there’s nothing wrong with that) but so that I won’t be in such a rush.
Because, God knows, when I’m in a rush, I get snappy and irritated with my kids. In fact, I can be downright mean at times.
I hate being like that. I’m not loving my children well and to take it further, I’m not showing my boys how to follow Jesus well when I am being mean instead of kind and patient.
So I’m headed back to the beginning, wouldn’t you know. I’m trying to get up a little earlier, as a spiritual discipline, so I can walk in more love and peace—and less rush and angry—with the people in my life.
Reading my Bible and praying is still part of my life, but for right now, avoiding a second tap on the snooze button is the spiritual discipline that I am striving to put into practice.
I think it’s human nature to create boxes for ourselves; we like the safety and predictability of rituals and rules.
I’d like to say I’ve smashed all my boxes, but I probably haven’t. But I am trying to push out—out beyond religion and pat answers, stretching my hands further into relationship, even when it’s hard, just like He did.
How has your faith changed over the years?
What spiritual discipline are you working on right now?