What does it do to us to do the right things for the wrong reasons? And what are the right reasons anyway? Is it better to build good habits while reinforcing bad motives and attitudes behind them, or is it okay to not pursue something when doing the "right" thing feels like drudgery? What are your feelings about the complex of words like "discipline" and "perseverance?"
I've lately been thinking about this grey territory . . . thinking about the attitudes that we bring to all the things that we're "supposed" to do. About pursuing God, and the paradoxical insistence of much of the church that we do that on our own strength . . . how stupid is that? It is God who pursues us and catches us and purchases at the unimagineable price of Christ's blood . . . it is God who reveals himself to us--and without that, it would be impossible for us to know him? Why do we so often act as if our relationship with him depends on our diligence?
See, we have many things we're "supposed" to do. We're supposed to eat our vegetables, limit our starches, get plenty of exercise. And I know that I, like many Americans, have very mixed feelings about all these things. I want to be healthy, trim, sexy, energetic. I want to feel good about my body. But I also want the freedom to feel good about my body even when I'm tired, overweight and ill. I don't want to get in shape out of guilt, or in order to be good enough. Fortunately, God tells me that I don't have to play the culture's game. He knows that he didn't me a body that would process a bag of Doritos effortlessly into rippling muscles . . . he tells me that I can enjoy the body that I have, and that if I choose to try to honor God with this body, that he will accept the offering and be honored by it . . . I don't have to be thin enough for the culture in order for my attitude to be transformed . . . indeed, for my attitude to be transformed, I'd best start by chucking cultural expectations altogether and starting with the recognition that this is about me and God.
I wonder how many of the same sorts of expectations and church culture attitudes we import into the exercise and growth of Christian life . . . how much of the sovereign specific of "more Bible, more prayer" for not being a "Better Christian" is like saying, "well, if they'd just exercise more, they'd be healthy."
It the thing--one of the worst things that ever happened to my "devotional" life was the unit I had in high school Bible class on "How to Have a Devotional." I was told just how much scripture to read--between 3 and 10 verses. Definitely not more. I'd miss something. Told how to think and pray and feel earnestly about it. How crucial it was to do this Regularly. We were then assigned a week's worth of devotionals to do as homework. That way. To be turned in and graded. And even though, after that week, I never did a "devotional" in that format again, it took me years to shake free of it enough to feel like it was okay for me to get to know God a slightly different way.
I want to read my Bible. I want to WANT to read my Bible. But I don't want to read it in itty-bitty pieces and then attempt to feel earnestly about it. I want to read it in great carking chunks. And yes, sometimes erratically. I want to listen to good music. To pray in the in between moments of my day, and pray while I'm playing minesweeper, and enjoy the long chunk on Sunday morning when I know that I'm not going to get interrupted with the kids. I want to throw great handfuls of all sorts of stuff into the rock tumbler in my brain--and see what comes out.
I want to build good habits to the glory of God. I want to shake free of expectations. I want to not do anything out of guilt. But I want the virtue of perseverance, whatever that means. I want to understand what it is that's shifted in my heart, so that I can start in on an exercise program and really not much care what anyone else thinks or if I lose a pound, though I would like to gain a little muscle and endurance so that I can hike that canyon. I want to teach and encourage my daughters and give them all the tools and attitudes and habits that they'll need so that they can have the lives that God wants them to have.
I want to live the life to the full, by the grace of God.