Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Here we stand on the brink of a new year. I thought we’d have flying cars by now, but I guess I’ll have to live with that disappointment. Many of us like to set resolutions for the coming year: get skinnier, get richer, and maybe yell at the kids less. We might even write down our resolutions in a journal, though many of us never look at them again.
I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions lately, mainly because I’m so terrible at keeping them. I used to have this practice around the end of the year where I’d sit on my porch and journal and reflect. I’d set some new resolutions, and they’d just sit there on the page. I think I know why.
We don’t need fresh goals so much as we need a life trajectory. That’s why our goals fail. Even though our goals might be helpful, in the frame of eternity they’re often silly. But a trajectory—an orientation for our life toward that which matters—that’s something worth striving for.
You Read Your Bible Too Much (Said No One Ever)
Much air time has been given to legalism in the recent past. We want to avoid being like the Pharisees: outwardly pious, but inwardly rotten. It is easy to focus on behavior and not the heart, so we must be careful. But this mindset can be taken too far, and I fear we have lost our grip on the importance of spiritual disciplines.
Spiritual disciplines include but are not limited to: prayer, reading of God’s Word, silence and solitude, worship time, journaling, etc. Although this might be too loose of a definition, consider a spiritual discipline anything you do on purpose to experience the glory of God by getting near to him.
I have never warned a friend they’re reading their Bible too much. I have never cautioned a brother or sister that their prayer life seems excessive. And no one has warned me of these problems, either. We don’t err on the side of legalism; we err on the side of spiritual laziness.
The reason we lack discipline is not that we are weak. We lack discipline because we lack motive. Spiritual discipline is borne out of a desire to hold fast to the Lord (2 Kings 18:6). What is interesting about spiritual discipline is that when we engage in the study of God’s Word and prayer, we tend to see the glory of the Lord more clearly and thus we grow in our desire to seek him through the disciplines. It’s a circular relationship in a good way.
Means, Not the End
Legalism happens when we pursue spiritual disciplines for their own sake. For example, if we were to pray to be seen praying. Or if we were to read our Bible so we can be proud that we read our Bible. Being educated in God’s ways is helpful, but be careful—even the devil can quote Scripture.
Spiritual disciplines are a pathway to the knowledge and presence of the Lord for the purposes of worshiping him for who he is. That’s a mouthful, so let’s break it down.
The disciplines (prayer, solitude, etc.) are pathways. They are not competitions or exhibitions of holiness. Their result is glorious—holy even. But the beauty is not in our practice of them, but rather in the magnitude of the God we are pursuing through them.
We do not pursue spiritual disciplines so we will be disciplined. We are disciplined so that we can form habits of overcoming our sinful laziness by building habits of the pursuit of the Lord. We are, as I once heard, voting against ourselves.
Where to Start
I read one chapter of my Bible a day, praying beforehand and afterward. My prayer beforehand prepares my heart to receive the supernaturally magnificent Word of God and my prayer afterward applies what I’ve read and allows me to worship, repent, and petition the Lord. Put simply, I talk to God about reading his Word and then I talk to him about what I’ve read.
Start with something, but start with God’s Word. You don’t have to understand every aspect of it. There are many methods to reading your Bible, and I recommend you learn about them—but begin as a child, curious and helpless and eager.
Also make sure you incorporate prayer. Make sure you talk to God. Talk to him not as a genie who can give you stuff you want, but as your Father. As your Savior. I realized recently my prayers were rote and a little stale, and the reason became clear: I was praying to God like a vending machine. Instead of praying to get, pray to worship. Pray in awe. Yes, make your needs known to God. Petition him. But let the thrust of your prayer be joyful worship of his name.
Here is the deal: I read the Bible and pray not because I’m pious, but because I’m not. I need God’s Word in my heart, because without it only my thoughts and motives remain—and my thoughts and motives are not what I want ruling my life. I make a bad king. When we immerse ourselves in the presence of God, we exude his light and drip his glory. As we get more of him, we are changed in the process.
So as you look toward the new year, consider the trajectory of your life. What are you striving toward? Where are your efforts spent? Where is your money spent? Where is your time spent?
Strive toward godliness by striving toward God.