A young friend recently described his frustration with his Christian experience. "I read the Bible and nothing happens," he confessed. "Same thing when I go to church. Same thing with my prayer time. None of it seems to have any effect. I want to be close to God, but whatever I'm doing doesn't seem to be working. Bible study, prayer, church — it's all so dry. I'm starting to wonder why I bother."
We met for coffee, and I pressed him for a little more information. It turns out that he was pursuing his relationship with God the way he approached microwave popcorn: a minute of prayer — and ding — intimacy! Unfortunately, what he got wasn't intimacy but a relationship as dry as, well, a mouthful of popcorn.
How is it that prayer, Bible reading, meditation, fasting and worship can become so "dry" that we avoid them? Occasionally I'll talk to people who, because of boredom, quit these spiritual disciplines entirely. I've gone through seasons like that myself.
I can't answer that question for everybody, but God doesn't want the disciplines to merely be a list of obligations I fulfill to keep me on His good side. He wants them to be ways to connect us — habits that serve to get my eyes off of me and onto Him. That's the point. The disciplines are not an end; they are the means by which we reach the end: an intimate friendship with our Creator.
Intimacy in any relationship takes time and patience, two rare commodities in our culture of instant everything. We crave the quick fix and immediate satisfaction. Want a meal? Drive through and you can be eating in 60 seconds. Want something from a store 1,000 miles away? Get on the Internet, and it'll be in your hands tomorrow. Want intimacy with Christ? A short prayer, a verse or two ... but it doesn't happen that way.
Our journey with God is not like popping corn in the microwave, but rather like growing corn in the field. As with any deep relationship — a trusted friendship or a solid marriage — a relationship with Christ must be nurtured, cultivated and tended.
Among the many provocative statements of A.W. Tozer was his observation in the 1940s that "modern" Christians have lost the idea of "cultivation and exercise":
So dear to the saints of old, [it) now has no place in our total religious experience. We now demand glamour and fast-flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God.
I can't imagine what Tozer would say of us today.
God reveals himself to us as we train ourselves through prayer, Bible study and other spiritual disciplines. When I see the disciplines from that perspective, I practice them with hopeful anticipation that the triune God, the God who loves me, will engage me personally. How could I not be excited about that?
I reminded my young friend that our well-intentioned routines can seem meaningless, and we may be tempted to give up. I advised him to remember that the point of exercising spiritual disciplines is a deeper relationship with God, and cultivating that relationship takes time.
The next time you sit down with your Bible or set aside time to fast, focus your heart on finding the One who is waiting to meet you there.
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.