Do you consider yourself a disciplined person? Do you like to dig in, practice, train in all kinds of weather, study, work hard to get better and understand more? I learned a phrase from Eric Weiner (Man Seeks God): “Insights unearned don’t stick. It’s our sweat and blood that provide the glue, preventing these wisps of clarity from floating off into space.” One morning this week I read from my Daily Bible, from 1 Chronicles 28, where David was moving his son Solomon onto the throne to succeed him as the king of Israel. He gave Solomon lots of advice:
Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord. This was a call to intentional living, to not merely float through life. Applying yourself to know God’s word and be careful to do what it said was not as an academic exercise but a way of life.
If you seek him, he will be found by you. Sometimes it feels as if God plays hard-to-get, but he wants us to seek him. David, for all his problems and mistakes, sought God his entire life.
Be strong and courageous. Throughout the Bible followers are encouraged to not be afraid, but stand up in strength.
Do the work. While it’s true that salvation through grace is absolutely free, the Bible also tells us to work out our salvation. It takes work to go deeper; work is the stewardship of free grace.
I just finished reading Natalie Goldberg’s newest book, The Great Spring. I’ve read almost all of her books because she inspires me to be a better writer, and to be more honest and transparent about my faith. Her book, Writing Down the Bones, was the first writing book I bought. I remember standing in the bookstore in the mall and showing the book to Cyndi, trying to talk myself into buying it. Cyndi encouraged me to buy it right then.
It wasn’t that I was afraid to spend the money, or that I didn’t read books, but it was my first move toward a life of writing as an ongoing activity. It was the beginning of my study and pursuit and discipline. Somehow, as I stood in the bookstore, I knew I was at a crossroads. Buying this book was a step over the line, moving from curiosity into serious pursuit.
When I read Goldberg I am struck by her description of Zen practice. She will sit for days in silence listening to her own breath. It seems fruitless and mind-numbing to me; yet the hard-core discipline invested into spiritual understanding is attractive. I wonder, what do I do to intentionally draw myself closer to God? What are my meditation-on-the-pillow practices?
Several years ago our Iron Men group went through Calvin Miller’s book, Into the Depths of God. He wrote, “We would like to appear to be like Jesus without the discipline of really being like him. Reading several dozen fill-in-the-blank self-help manuals, we talk ourselves into a spiritual reputation we never really earned.”
Maturity requires going deep into spiritual formation, disciplines and practices, intentional engagement in a relationship with God, setting aside time and energy to pursue God, repeated behavior to convince our own self we are serious. It isn’t because we have to prove anything to God, or earn his acceptance. There is nothing we can do to make him love us more. But we do it in order to change our own thoughts, dreams, feelings, so that we have the desire and capacity to love him more.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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