I’ve come to believe the church in America is starving.
Not for bread. Not for money. We have wafers for the first and checkbooks for the second, though I’m sure we could use more. Not for the Word of God. There’s a Bible on every shelf.
No, we’re starving for a simpler thing that eludes us — discipline.
There’s a reason we don’t grow. We don’t eat.
Consider the following:
We love the Word of God, but we hardly ever open it.
We enjoy worship, but we don’t do it between Sundays.
We believe in prayer, but we don’t continue diligently, expecting an answer from a God who loves us.
We respect the older, wiser men and women of God in our churches, but we don’t invest in relationships with them in which they could disciple us.
We love our friends, but we don’t spend enough time with them to actually support their lives.
We think nice thoughts about every one of the above. We value them. But we rarely do them.
Instead, we chomp a nice, unsteady, relatively bland diet of —
1. Pray before bed, unless we fall asleep.
2. Now and then before meals, except when we’re really hungry.
3. Read the Bible when it crosses our minds, which is when the pastor tells us to open to a certain page.
4. Listen to a Christian song on the radio in the car. When we’re not in the country mood.
5. Oh, and say “God bless you” when someone sneezes.
I shudder to think if we kept a stopwatch how much time we’d actually see we invest spiritually.
We are starving — we know it. And that’s why we don’t grow.
Is there any other area in which we would do this? Would we forget to eat for a day? Yet, spiritual food, to many of us, is more important.
The statistics are interesting…
31% of practicing Protestants read their Bible every day.
11% of practicing Catholics read it every day.
100% of practicing Protestants and Catholics eat every day.
And I am a little reluctant to believe the first numbers, because it’s likely a person’s desire to read the Bible would cause them to answer in a better light than reality.
By why is this? Is our hunger for God shrinking? If it is, it’s because our stomachs are shrinking by being starved.
Try that with the plants in front of your house, sometime, by the way. Don’t water your petunias for a while and see if they raise their petals in the Hallelujah pose. What, they look a little wilted around the edges? Isn’t that exactly how most of us feel?
Listen, I’m talking to myself here. But God is too. That’s the analogy he used. “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” Isaiah 61:11
And — “I (Paul) planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God was causing the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:6
Let’s switch all the names around and apply some context for fun, shall we?
My Dad planted the seed, I kinda sorta left it alone for a while, and God (gets to keep his name) has been trying like crazy to keep it alive.
Still tweet-worthy, right?
Yep, the gap between what we believe and what we do is an infinitely small, simple thing called — discipline.
I know, I know. Boring. I can hear the dissenters now. “That’s not very spiritual.” “What we need is revelation.” We live by grace, not works.”
Okay, um, let’s fix that. Discipline is defined as “Control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior.” Control.
And the fruit of the Ho0oly Spirit is… “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control.” Self-control.
So wait. The Holy Spirit’s revelation he’s trying to give us, the power he supplies, is all about bringing us back to the simple ordered self-control he created in us in the beginning before the fall.
Ladies and gents, in my Bible, that’s grace. The opportunity to work — cultivate, grow — our faith, like he wants us to*.
(*fine print about how works don’t save you and all that jazz).
Discipline. Fine stuff, yo.
We pray all the time for peace and joy. And love. Perhaps we should pray for self-control. Maybe if we watered our slightly metaphorical, yet slowly, steadily wilting plant, we’d find it grows much faster. Out from despair (not metaphorical). Out from depression. Purposelessness. Hopelessness. Hard-heartedness. Bad-stuff-ness lists.
Because spiritual growth isn’t sucked up by osmosis.
It isn’t imparted by revelation upon hooping and hollering at an altar. It comes from the silence of a heart and mind reflecting on God’s Word, worshiping Him daily, engaging with loved ones on how awesome He is.
It comes from the fruit of a life lived in Him that takes practice. Daily, nourishing, hopefully-not-oversaturating-and-blowing-my-analogy watering. Of Word, worship, and everything found in Him.
It’s the fruit of a very well self-controlled, yet still fresh, alive, and new relationship with the Lover, Jesus.
A disciplined one.
1. So get up a little earlier and read your Bible. I like the One Year Bible reading plan because you’re getting a little OT, NT, Psalms, and Proverbs every day in fifteen minutes.
2. Spend at least ten minutes sitting before God worshiping him.
3. Sing some songs to him each day. By yourself. With Pandora. Try the Hillsong channel.
4. And connect with an old friend from church you’ve neglected.
It’s simple, really. It’s just not easy. But if you can brush your teeth twice a day, you can do it.
Especially this Holy Week, approaching the Cross and Redemption, set aside something you’d normally do, a simple comfort or distraction or even a meal (but not brushing your teeth), and focus on Him. You won’t regret it.
Hey, I’m talking to myself here. I’m guilty as the next guy. In fact, I am the next guy. Maybe I’m the only guy. But if it just so happens you are too, we’ve got some faith to do. And by that I mean, um, actual work.