1. What initially prompted you to write this book?
There’s a lot of materials and teaching out there on how to be a better Christian, and how to grow in Christ. I want to grow in my faith, and I want to know God better, but I find that many of these programs are separated from sound theology for the sake of practicality. I think in an effort to get people to read their Bibles more, or to pray more, we stoop to spiritual manipulation. I wanted to write about spiritual disciplines without abandoning law and gospel distinctions, or the fundamental truths of our faith and the source of our righteousness.
2. The subtitle of your book is, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Spiritually Exhausted.” What are spiritual disciplines and how has your understanding of them changed?
When I was choosing spiritual disciplines to include in this book, I used the metric of things specifically mentioned in the Bible for the purpose of our spiritual encouragement. For many years I saw them as something that I did so that I could be a better Christian. They are actually something God has used to help me understand my continual dependence on him.
As I looked at spiritual disciplines from a church history perspective, I began to understand how individual-focused we see the spiritual disciplines in the modern church, when their purpose actually has a benefit that edifies the church as a whole. I started seeing how each discipline had a communal element to them that we don’t often talk about. We are not competing against other Christians. We are in this together.
3. In the introduction to your book, you talk about the pressure you felt to be a “good christian.” What is the problem you encountered with thinking about Christians as either “good” or “bad”?
We are saved by grace, through faith, and not of our works, but the gift of God. Our righteousness does not come from us – not ever. It comes from Christ. It’s ironic, then, that we attribute the growth of our faith to ourselves, and our own means. We rate ourselves, and each other by the metrics of spiritual disciplines, and when we do that, we lose sight of the fundamental doctrines of our faith. The disciples were always rating themselves, and comparing themselves in the eyes of Jesus, and in doing so, they missed the point completely of what he came to do.
4. In the book, you say that it’s important to think of spiritual disciplines outside of the realm of quantity. Can you briefly explain what you mean?
Questions like “How much Bible reading is enough?” and “How long should I pray?” or “How much should I give?” are the practical questions in life. Is the person who reads their Bible for three hours a day more holy than the person who reads for five minutes? Does your answer change when you realize the person in question is a parent or caregiver who neglects their vocation for the sake of Bible reading? Where does loving your neighbor fit into this? So we search for metrics and wisdom to make these decisions about our spiritual lives.
The problem is, it’s the wrong question. When you look at what the Bible says about quantity for any of the spiritual disciplines, it has qualifiers like “always,” “continually,” or “complete.” What this tells me is that spiritual disciplines aren’t something we start and stop. It refers to the Holy Spirit’s work in us, and he never leaves us, even for a moment. When we use terms of quantity, we view it as our work, not the Holy Spirit’s. So then I had to start looking at the role of the Holy Spirit in all of this, and what I found was so comforting, instead of exhausting.
5. You identify rest as a spiritual discipline, saying, “Rest is the practice of acknowledging our limitations.” How can rest help us better know our place in our relationship with God?
Rest is actually the first discipline that I address in the book, and that’s because the more I studied it, the more I saw it as a starting point for most of the spiritual disciplines. We have an addiction to being busy, and even see it as a virtue many times. To start from a place of rest helped me understand how we start from a place of grace. In rest we are given the opportunity to see what God does without us, and how the world does not sit on our shoulders.
It’s surprisingly foundational for many of the other disciplines. Understanding this has helped me get very practical in my service to younger women or people I’m teaching. It’s helped me understand that God doesn’t separate physical and spiritual needs as we so often do. The theme of “whole” and “complete” and “always” that kept coming up in my research applied to how God ministers to us, not just spiritually, but physically.
6. As you explore the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, and meditation, you mention that, “spirituality isn’t something we do or accomplish, but something we receive.” Why is this an important thing to recognize?
It’s easy for me to get caught up in performance for God, or trying to make my prayers sound extra holy, or try to be profound in my meditation, or win whatever Bible reading challenge out there. But when I do that, I’m actually hiding the ugly parts of me from God, in hopes that they’ll just go away. What I have found is that I’m bringing awkward, sometimes angry prayers to God. Confession isn’t just for sin we used to have, but sin we currently feel entrapped in. Every one of these things I’m bringing my sinful, broken, manipulative, self, who often feels stuck, and when I embrace that honesty before God, and confess my insufficiencies, he is very generous to give me of himself, and help me understand his grace for me in deeper ways than I had even imagined. There’s this exchange that happens. God already knows my struggles. But when I am honest about them, instead of coming to God in my pretense of a spiritual life, he is quick to show me how his grace is sufficient
Confession isn’t just for sin we used to have, but sin we currently feel entrapped in.
7. What is the role of fasting in the Bible? And how can we rediscover this spiritual discipline today?
I think a lot of our ideas of fasting have been co-opted by the diet industry, and the Biblical picture of it is closer to being at the end of our rope – really the end of ourselves. It’s tied very closely to lament, and I think part of our aversion to it is cultural. Culturally, we aren’t great at lamenting. We aren’t used to admitting we are at the end of ourselves, or that something is terribly wrong. We are told to never talk about a problem without bringing a solution. Nothing about it fits the self-empowerment message, or the silent, stoic person who pretends everything is fine.
It builds our faith in surprising ways when we tell God how deep our pain is, or how we just can’t see any options or any way out of a situation. When we say the scary things and reveal to ourselves, and to God that we are stuck, we find that God doesn’t leave. We find that God listens, and his grace stubbornly stays. He is not scared off by how dark it gets.
Nothing about this book is about our performance for God, but about the depth of God’s love for us.
8. Is there any advice or thoughts you want to share with potential readers?
I want the people who read this to understand the depth of “Christ for you” isn’t something that’s just theoretical, or empyreal. God sent his Spirit to be with us, and that is real, practical, and will root us in the reality of Christ in everyday life. Nothing about this book is about our performance for God, but about the depth of God’s love for us.