Going Backwards to Go Forward

When I was in high school, there was a week when my church group was studying this verse and challenged us to wear a string tied around our finger all week so we’d remember to stop and pray every hour.  I remember that week I started strong by diligently watching the clock at school and stopping to pray.  But as the week progressed, my diligence became less and less.  It was still a powerful week with a lasting lesson, but I also remember feeling a bit disappointed in myself at the end.  I think it’s easy to look at a verse like this through the lense of spiritual discipline and end up feeling inadequate – like as hard as I try I’ll never be able to be as good and faithful as these letters urge me to be.  For someone who is an achiever by nature (okay, an overachiever…), this was always a bit hard for me to grapple with, it felt like inevitable failure… and I really was not used to failing.  Sometimes I felt like the more I learned about who I was “supposed” to be in Christ, the more depressed I got because I just couldn’t do it.  And there’s nothing like parenting to completely humble you in the spiritual disciplines department.  However, I’m so thankful that as I’ve grown in my own faith and studied the Bible, the Holy Spirit has taught me a lot in this area.  If I look at these verses as commands, I’m one foot into legalism and the works theology of earning my salvation – which leaves me forever striving and never fulfilled.  If I look at them as a measuring stick of my faith, I’m one foot into the dangerous area of comparison and self condemnation for inadequacies or pride for strengths.  God had to take me backwards before He could take me forwards. Growing up in a Christian home, and coming to faith at an early age, I was eager to jump on the disciplines because my knowledge was deeper than my actual faith.  It was also natural for me to try to achieve in faith because of my personality.  So God has to take me backwards and deepen my faith at its core first.  Do I really believe that the Bible is true, that it is historical fact… every.single.word.?  From creation, to the flood, to Moses, to Jonah, to Daniel… to Jesus.  To the Holy Spirit.  Every miracle, every promise, beginning to end.  Do I really believe they are as real as my life now.  And if I do… then do I really believe who I am in Jesus?  There is no condemnation in Jesus, there is no box I need to check in terms of spiritual disciplines, much less a box for understanding or wisdom… it was finished on the cross.  Rather, these spiritual disciplines are words of wisdom, spoken by Jesus, by men who knew Jesus, who walked with him.  They knew what we would face, the trials, the temptations, the persecution… and they want us to be ready.  God has plans for us, plans to use us to further his Kingdom.  And we love Him so these are not hard disciplines, but we practice them joyfully because we know what they are accomplishing in us and that it will bless us.  So we do rejoice always because we know how everything ends, the work of redemption is finished and our joy is found in Him. We do pray continually because we know he is sovereign, he cares for us, and he is mighty to save.  And we do give thanks in ALL circumstances because we know we can trust him to work all things for the good of those who love him, this world is not our home and our eternity is secure.  And we can do all this both when it comes as an outflow of the heart and when we have to practice discipline knowing that we are loved and he promised to finish the work he began in us.  He is not finished with me yet.

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