In my writing and teaching one of the primary concerns and aims I have for God’s people is that we would truly become men and women of the Word. If we are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27) we must learn to truly study and reflect and meditate and pray through God’s Word. It is a true lament that modern Christians make so little time for engaging the Bible, and that the time we do schedule for God’s Word is often distracted and inconsistent. We cannot expect to meaningfully mature in our Christian faith, our love of God, or in the exercise of our Christian duties if we do not increasingly grow in our love and knowledge of God’s Word.
The challenge of course lies in developing new habits. Bad habits are very difficult to break, and new habits are even more difficult to begin. Yet the meaningful study of God’s Word is a habit and discipline that every Christian must diligently apply to their life. In the classic book The Imitation of Christ we read of what happens to the person who attempts to develop new habits.
“Habit already formed will resist you, but it shall be overcome by a better habit. The flesh will murmur against you, but it will be bridled by fervor of spirit. The old serpent will sting and trouble you, but prayer will put him to flight and by stedfast, useful toil the way will be closed to him.”The Imitation of Christ. Book II.
When you seek to develop new habits, you will find old habits resisting your new effort. The “old serpent” will distract you with every tool at his disposal because he knows the power that is unleashed in a person who deeply communes with God through the daily discipline of the Word of God. Prayer is the Christian’s greatest tool against such lies and deceptions.
For all those who are aiming to develop new more godly habits, there are a few lies and traps that you must be aware of. None of them are overly complex or difficult to understand, yet I have watched each of these traps derail the best intentioned Christians time and time again. You must know about them, pray against them, and actively fight against them.
The Lie of Desire
First – the fall has altered our desires. Adam lived in perfect harmony with God in the garden. But once he sinned, a relational schism was created between him and His master. And his desire for God was impacted. Augustine in his famous work Confessions wrote:
“I was astonished that although I now loved you . . . I did not persist in enjoyment of my God. Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged away from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world . . . as though I had sensed the fragrance of the fare but was not yet able to eat it.”St. Augustine
One of the pitfalls you will have to watch for is that you are not always going to desire to perform the disciplines. The world we live in is full of other things we could be doing, other people we could be spending time with, and other temporal joys we could be momentarily satisfied by. We have to recognize that it is the fall of man that has altered our priorities and our desires. But discipline is not concerned with our desires. Disciplines is committed to that which will form the likeness of Christ in us most powerfully even when our desires do not perfectly match the work of the discipline.
Psalm 119:32 reads, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!” It is often through a godly commitment to the practice of the disciplines that we discover over time God changes our heart and we begin to truly desire that which we formerly only attempted through discipline.
The Lie of Entertainment
The second lie is the Lie of Entertainment. Only two years ago the Atlantic reported that the average American watches nearly eight hours of television a day. When you add to that, our time on Social Media and in front our phones and ipads, we have essentially merged our human existence with screens. The problem with this kind of persistent screen time is not superficial. There are countless journals and scientific studies to demonstrate exactly what is happening to the brain, but I want to draw attention something else. When we constantly fill our brains with the exciting images and storylines of television, we slowly erode our capacity for sitting quietly before God. As we allow our minds to be regularly filled with new information and new imagery and new thoughts, we simultaneously train our brains not to be content with the slow progress of a book, or the quietness of a game of cards in front of a fireplace. And most importantly, the slow, steady, and methodical study of God’s Word seems too ordinary to satisfy our minds. We slowly corrode our ability to actually hear that still and silent voice of God whispering in our ear, and all for a story on a screen.
I believe that we must confess to an idolatry of entertainment. This does not mean we must throw out every screen, though for some a very real physical action of removal of temptations will be required. More importantly though it means we must at the very least retrain our brains to be satisfied by the ordinary. We must retrain our brains to be able to sit for thirty minutes on our knees before God in silence. We must retrain our brains to be content with allowing a text message to go unresponded to for thirty minutes while you engage with God undistracted. Christians must fight to live an undistracted life before God.
The Lie of Legalism
Finally, we reach the Lie of Legalism. Whenever I teach on the Spiritual Disciplines I usually have at least one person suggest that it is legalistic to commit to disciplines when our heart is not truly excited for the activity. They will usually follow up to that with the idea that the grace of Jesus Christ has made their faith is far more “fluid” and that making such a system of our faith would be to return to a more law-based Christianity. In short, they feel that committing to a discipline is legalistic in nature. To this I respond as Paul often would respond to silly attacks on Biblical truth, “By no means!”
Legalism is the simply the idea that we earn God’s favor through our actions. All through the New Testament legalism is condemned and put on full display against the reality that nobody can earn favor with God through religious obligations and duties. Rather, favor with God is earned by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and by the Christian faith He assigns each of His children. Obedience out of gratefulness for what Christ has done on our behalf is not legalism, it is simply a way of saying “thank you” and honoring our King. If our motivation for the study of God’s Word is to prove something to God, then we have slipped into legalism But if our motivation is gratefulness to God and a love for God, then we are simply acting faith and obedience.
I close this post with a simple challenge. Paul told Timothy in1 Timothy 4:15, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” The Christian faith is one of seeking progress, not perfection. A life of discipline does not happen accidentally, it is an every day choice to respond to Christ’s pursuit of us through a personal pursue of Christ.