Spiritual Disciplines for Slackers Part 2

It seems to me that a series on Spiritual Disciplines should begin with exploring why (or why not) we should engage in any Spiritual Disciplines in the first place.

We’ll take the “why not?” question first.

Reason One: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to earn favor from God

You’ll never meet anyone who wants to please God more than me. Really.

The problem is, many times I desire to do so for the wrong reason. As a recovering Pharisee I want to please God because I think I have to do so. I mean I am better about it than I used to be, but I still find my motivation for pleasing God is one of earning favor more often than I care to admit to.

This, of course, is completely contrary to the message of the gospel.

There is nothing anyone can do to make God love them more (or less) than He already does. Nothing.

Reason Two: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to simply acquire knowledge about God.

It’s fine to learn about God. That is what Theology and Doctrine are all about and they are good things. But they are ALWAYS intended to point to God, and never intended to be ends in and of themselves.

The problem with most of us is that we already know too much – more than we can ever put into practice.

The other problem with Theology is that it only goes to a certain point then it poops out. I mean, Theology can answer the question “Can angels fit on a pin head?” (yes) but it cannot answer the question “How many angels can fit on a pin head?” (who knows? no one!). And it never will be able to do so.

When the emotions aren’t there, Doctrine and Theology are the bedrock that keep me sane. But having said that, I will also add that I’ve never been hugged by a Doctrine.

Reason Three: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines as a bargaining chip to manipulate God.

God doesn’t need you.

He uses you, but He doesn’t need you. He was doing fine before you came along and will be just fine after you are gone. Peter in the book of Acts tells us that “God is not served by human hands as though He needed something”.

You can’t make God cooperate by giving Him things He needs because He needs nothing.

Reason Four: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines out of guilt.

The only good guilt is guilt out of having done something wrong which drives you to the cross to get forgiven. Beyond that guilt serves no purpose.

If you use anything other than the forgiveness of the cross to try to ease your guilt it won’t work and you’ll feel even more guilty.

Reason Five: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines out of fear.

Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those of us who belong to Christ.

The unbeliever is at enmity with God, but not the believer. There is no condemnation. None.

If you belong to Christ, because God poured out all of His wrath on Jesus on the cross, God will never ever be angry at you. Oh, He might be disappointed with your sin sometimes. He might chasten you (Heb 12) but He will not be angry at you in a wrathful way.

If He ever is, then He didn’t punish Jesus sufficiently for all your sin. And we all know Jesus said on the cross, “it is finished”. That means it was done and all of God’s wrath was satisfied.

So if you are engaging in the disciplines because you are afraid of God’s condemnation then you don’t know Him and you don’t fully believe what Jesus did was enough.

Reason Six: You should not engage in Spiritual Disciplines to “keep up with the Joneses”.

I’ve heard a lot of manipulation used in the past to try to get people to engage in the disciplines. I’ve heard preachers use guilt to motivate. I’ve seen blog posts about so and so who used this reading plan to get through the Bible in such and such time.

And I, myself, am going to suggest some tools you might want to try in a later part of this series.

But be clear of one thing: please do not engage the disciplines just because everyone else is doing it or says you should do it.

Now that we’ve seen some reasons not to engage in the disciplines, in the next part of this series we’ll look at some reasons that we should. Stay tuned.

Questions: So what are your motivations for doing any Spiritual Disciplines? Do you feel guilty because you don’t do what you think you should be doing? Why? Do you feel pressured by others to “perform” in the area of Spiritual Disciplines?

What To Do With Your Regrets

Do you ever have regrets?

I’ve been sitting here thinking about how different things would be in my life if I had only studied a little bit harder in school, used a little more discipline, acted in a different way, stayed away from Hurricane Andrew when I lived in Florida, been a better husband, not moved to Atlanta, been more obedient, been …

I don’t know about you, but when I’m a little down or something hasn’t gone exactly the way I wanted it to, my mind always goes to what might have been. I know. I know. It’s a sin to dwell on the past. After all, I’ve been forgiven and God is sovereign. Nevertheless, on occasions I’m guilty of having a pity party and doing traffic with the demon of regret.

Someone has said that life isn’t a dress rehearsal. That’s true but wouldn’t it be nice if we could do it over again and do it right? Wouldn’t it be great if we could only go back and fix it? Things would be a whole lot different.

Whenever I have these times, I have an exercise I go through, asking myself a series of four questions that usually will give me some peace with my present circumstances. I thought I would share the process with you just in case you have some regrets too.

The first question I ask myself is this: What makes you think that if you did it again you would do it any better?

Knowing my track record, I suspect that it could have been worse. The man who went to his employer because he was angry about being passed over for a promotion said to his employer, “He has only been here for two years and I have twenty-five years of experience with this company.” “No,” his boss responded, “you’ve had one year’s experience and you have repeated it twenty-four times.”

The second question: Do you think God made a mistake?

There is a wonderful passage of Scripture in Acts 16:6-8 where Paul was on his way to Asia. Luke writes, “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.” You see, Paul had Asia on his mind … but God was thinking about Troas.

Ruth Graham was once asked if God always answered her prayers in the affirmative. “Of course not,” she replied, “If God always said yes I would have married the wrong man … several times.”

I look back over my life and, while I would have done things different, God was in charge. I suspect if He had wanted me in a different place doing something else, He would have had me in a different place doing something else. He does, as someone has said, as He pleases and He does it right well.

The third question I ask myself is this: If things were different and you had fewer regrets, would God love you more?

I suspect that our regrets come when we try to measure our lives on a scale of zero to ten, with zero being the place where we create regrets and ten being the place where we do it right and have no regrets. But, you see, God doesn’t allot His love on the basis of a scale. God doesn’t love the pastors of big churches any more than He does the pastors of little churches. God doesn’t love the smart people more than He does the dumb ones. God doesn’t have a special place in His heart for the winner of the Miss America Pageant and He doesn’t give points on the basis of how far a man can throw a football. And, maybe more important, God doesn’t love the “good” people any more than He loves the “bad” people.

Jesus said that the well people didn’t need a physician and that He had come to call the sick and the sinners (Matthew 9:12-13).

If the only way I can know the Great Physician is to be sick, I’ll leave out the vitamins every time.

You know something? It is only at the place of regrets that I can really know God’s love. Love in response to goodness (or right decisions, or obedience, or wise actions) isn’t love. That’s reward. Love can only be demonstrated in the face of that which isn’t lovely. When I look back, it is the valley of regrets where I discovered God’s love.

The fourth question I ask myself is this: Where do you learn — in the places where you do it right, or in the places where you do it wrong?

It would be nice not to have any regrets. But, then, if I had no regrets, I would never grow. Regret is a sign of two things. First, it is a sign of God’s working in my life and secondly, it is a sign that God wants me to do it different next time.

What is your regret? Just go to Him and respond to His love. It makes whatever it was that caused the regret seem to be a gift of His love. You see, He will love you and clean up the mess.

Question: Do you have regrets you haven’t let go of? What will you plan to do about it?

Spiritual Disciplines for Slackers Part 1

Bible reading, Prayer, Scripture memorization, Bible studies, devotions, journaling and the like are all things we need to be doing. We hear it constantly from the spiritual among us that without building these habits into our lives we cannot grow in the way God wants us to as believers. I hear others constantly tout their favorite Bible reading plan, boast about how much Scripture they have memorized or muse about the day they are going to publish the journal they have kept faithfully for the last 18 years without missing a day.

Does it take pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps to ensure God can “use us”? Do we have to do things we do not like or be people that we aren’t so that God can use us?

I don’t think so.

After all, Scripture is full of stories of the lives of people who were anything but perfect. Look at Abraham, lying to save his own skin. David a man after God’s own heart, but also an (albeit forgiven) adulterer. Peter, who denied Jesus three times, still couldn’t stay out of trouble after Jesus was gone requiring Paul to confront him about his behavior. And Paul. What about Paul who got in such a fight with Barnabas that the two of them split up and went their separate ways?

Scripture is replete with examples of people who were weak and failed to live up to the “standard” quite often. The gospel itself is for people who can’t live up to the “standard”.

Of course the people who speak to us about the spiritual disciplines are, often times, the same folk who tell us that God is Sovereign over everything, which would include our spiritual growth. If God is really sovereign, then can He not bring circumstances into our lives that cause us to grow the way He wants us to without being perfectionists in our practices of the spiritual disciplines?

Sure He can.

Still, there is room for the case to be made that the spiritual disciplines are helpful and are things that we should pursue. We should read our Bibles, get involved in community, memorize Scripture, pray. These are things that are commanded of us for one thing and they may prevent God from having to use other methods to grow us.

Yet, as is so often done, we have a great tendency to hold these things over each other and use them at best, as measures of our spirituality or at worst, as weapons against each other.

You didn’t get through the whole Bible this year in your Bible reading plan? You only memorized 25 Bible verses this week? You wrote only eleven journal entries (eight of which were about how much you hate journaling) last year? Didn’t you know that so and so got through their whole Bible and they still had time to memorize the whole book of John? After all Jesus has done for you and you couldn’t even get through Genesis in your reading plan?

Feel guilty? You might. But you shouldn’t.

None of these disciplines were ever intended to be used as weapons by others or ourselves to make us feel guilty. Sanctification is a process and that process includes failure. And I’ll tell you something else… I suspect that fully 50% or more of the people who say they do all these things are probably ready to sell you some swamp land in the Everglades. They want you to buy into the games they play and buy their worthless swamp too. A friend of mine calls them the “evangelical jet set and theological sophisticates who look down their noses at those of us who are spiritual mortals.”

The question isn’t should we do these things, but is rather, how are we to engage them in a way that leaves room for grace to work in our lives when we do not do them perfectly. And even more important, what is the best form of motivation for doing them?

Over the course of the next few days (or weeks) I’d like to explore these issues in a series I’ve decided to call “Spiritual Disciplines for Slackers.”

Hope you will stick around and join me.

Question: What Spiritual Disciplines do you do? Why do you do them? Have you tried and failed?

Performance Reviews and the Gospel

I just finished up on delivering nearly 30 performance reviews to my team members. I am exhausted. The only thing more tiring than delivering that many performance reviews in the space of about a week is working in a “performance oriented culture”.

“Performance oriented culture” is a significant business buzzword these days. Kind of like “people are our most important asset”. That one got a lot of traction too, until someone realized that “assets” are things like filing cabinets, carpets and lightbulbs. You put paper in filing cabinets and then forget about it, you walk all over carpets and you burn out lightbulbs and once you do, you simply unscrew them and plug in another one. So the “people are our most important asset” phrase is no longer in vogue. And with good reason.

I suppose I cannot argue with the idea that businesses do have to perform to stay in business. As long as team members remember that they are performing against the competition and not each other, then it is somewhat healthy. With the provision, too, that the CEO understands that work force reductions are never to be the easy way out to doing their jobs. The problem I see so often is that companies turn this performance thing in on themselves with things like forced distribution ranking and rating systems for their people. Where senior management expects the performance of individuals on the teams to follow a “bell curve” with some at the top and some at the bottom – and they force managers to rate people accordingly.

There is not a day that goes by though, that I do not thank God that He is a “manager” who doesn’t use a forced ranking system. Oh, He is demanding. He is demanding of perfection actually.

You see the thing is, I have Someone to stand in my place that meets all of the demands God has placed on me. His name is Jesus. He was and is perfect and according to 2 Cor 5:21, He became sin for me so that I could become the righteousness of God.

This means that when God looks at my “performance review” I get perfect marks.

There is no “bell curve” for believers. All of us are at the top – not because of anything we’ve done you see, but because of what has been done for us.

If you work in a “performance oriented culture” remember that…. remember that until you die… or at least until the next “business buzzword” comes along.

Question: Do you find yourself “performing” for God to gain His approval? Do you have difficulty separating the need to perform on the job from the lack of need with God? What about your motivation for doing things for God? What are you doing about these areas?

Grace and Hope Are Everywhere… If You Know Where to Look

I mouthed off at Laura yesterday. Well, I guess you wouldn’t call it “mouthing off” but I did an “I told you so”. I do that a lot. I am trying to be rid of that nasty habit…er.. uh… sin…

Anyway, we have an agreement that when things like that happen, we call each other on it. And she called me on it. My first reaction, as always, was defensive, telling her that even though it was an “I told you so” at least the information that I was providing was correct. That only made it worse.

Thing is, even if the information was correct, she didn’t need it. She already knew it. And even if she didn’t know it, she didn’t need me to call it up.

“I told you so’s” are just another form of control that we use on others when we don’t see things going according to our plans. You see, you and I will do anything to get what we want. If you violate my agenda for myself, I will even “murder” according to James to get what I want.

Our hearts can be so desirous of control. It points up many things that are wrong with us. For one thing, it is a failure to trust God – you see we do not trust God that He will work in the other person’s life without our pointing out their faults. We do not trust God with control over the situation so we feel the only thing appropriate is for us to take control ourselves. It is actually a form of idolatry. All of sin is a form of idolatry.

There is hope though.

  • Hope in God the Father. You see because God is in control, we don’t have to be. It is such a relief not to have to be God when you come down to it. Right? I mean who would really want to carry that much control and responsibility? Yet we try to do it in our lives and in the lives of others all the time.
  • There is also hope in Jesus. Because of the work Jesus did on the cross there is forgiveness and grace upon grace. Jesus provides the grace we need when we cannot be in control. And the hope that one day, control won’t even be an issue. Jesus will come back and balance the books for everything we’ve done wrong to others and ourselves, and everything others have done wrong to us. And He will do a far better job of setting things straight than we could ever do.
  • There is finally hope in the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit that led me to repent and tell Laura I was sorry and it was the Holy Spirit that led her to forgive me even before I asked.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit pour grace upon grace on us who know Him (yes Him… there is one God, in three persons). Because of God, we do not have to be in control, we do not have to be right, we have nothing to prove. We just have to rest in His grace and love. When we do that, we can be free. Being free means not having to be in control, worry, doubt, or fear.

Those whom the Son sets free are free indeed (John 8:36).

On this Christmas eve, I hope that if you do not know Jesus that you will finally trust Him and that if you do know Him, you will rest in the grace that God deposits all around us.

Question: Where have you experienced His grace and hope in your life recently?

Dealing With the Unexpected

This is a guest post from John Fischer. John is an author, speaker, and musician. He is the author of several books, including, 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me). You can sign up for the daily emails John sends out, free of charge, at The Catch, Connecting Life to Faith.

Everybody should be allowed at least one computer day a year. By that I mean a day you didn’t plan on losing to some form of technological breakdown in your high-tech arsenal of electronics necessary for twenty-first century communication.

Mine turned out to be six hours in the Apple store yesterday getting Marti’s iPhone to sync with her calendar and contacts. Forrest, Michael, Mandy and I are all on a first name basis now, and given how hard they worked to try and help me, I have no complaints in their regard. I understand this is part of the nature of the beast. Six hours. And I had Chandler with me as well. In fact, it started out as a one-on-one session with Chandler to help him get the most out of his computer, and the poor guy never got his shot. I never would have made it as far as I did if they didn’t have video games he could play in the store.

How did I do? Well I definitely could have done better. I could have seized the opportunity to find out what this experience was all about. Instead of fighting it I could have gone with it and looked for what meaning I could find in the futility, and gain through what appeared to be a random sequence of malfunctions. I could have asked, “God, what do you have me here for right now?” (There’s nothing random with God.)

I’m writing about this so that those of you who might be going through a similar experience might think to ask God the question, “what do you have me here for right now?” Actually, we could all stand to ask ourselves this question many times a day.

What do you think God is doing in your life at this moment in time?