The pious woman wakes up when it’s still dark. She creeps out of bed and puts a robe around her shoulders. She sits in her chair and lights a candle. She opens the well-worn Bible and starts to read the familiar words. Her prayer is eloquent, and yet personal. After 30 minutes or so, she closes the Bible, and gently starts to wake up her family to start the day. This time has strengthened her, and made her ready to be patient and pleasant for the remainder of the day.
That woman is not me.
I would love to be her, though. Some days I’m a bit like her, if I’m really on my game. I set my alarm to wake up in the morning. When it goes off, I press snooze about five times. I eventually get up, but the alarms have woken up my kids and an already chaotic day has now started too soon. Everyone is cranky.
On rare mornings, my kids don’t wake up with my alarm. I tiptoe to my chair in the corner of the bedroom and open my Bible. I try to focus. I want to be good. God, show me something. I don’t understand this. This part is good, I guess. That’s a good word. I’ll read two chapters, since things are going unhindered today. I close my Bible, say a short prayer, and then put a sticker in my journal on the “quiet time” line to show that I have completed a goal for today.
I’ve now ensured a wonderful day. I paid the dues.
But then children awaken and temper tantrums with them. Little voices interrupt each other and interrupt my thoughts. No one else seems to be as holy as I am, or care. This frustrates me to no end. I just need my family to get it together! The holiness hangover lasts about 10 minutes, and then I’m just praying for more coffee and wondering if my time would have been better spent sleeping. If “quiet time” isn’t going to change my day, then why am I doing it?
For many years, if I got enough of these good mornings lined up, I would start to feel like I had mastered the “spiritual discipline” of being disciplined about being spiritual. Then it would stop. I would get sick, or someone in my family would get sick. Anything could throw me off this discipline, really: vacation, holidays, a late night out, kids, dogs, work, laziness.
I feel disappointed in myself again. I just can’t do it. I’m not a good Christian.
I’ll try reading in the evenings when my mind is more alert. Fail. There was that kids’ choir concert that one evening that went late. I’ll try during nap time. Shoot, they didn’t sleep. I don’t get my sticker.
I have tried bribing myself with scones, little muffins, a coffee pot by the chair in my room with a fancy teacup waiting for me when I wake up in the morning. I’ve tried planning ahead. It works...sometimes.
I am not a disciplined person. I don’t even think I’m that great at disciplining my kids. And if I can’t do that...how can I be a “good” Christian woman?
I used to think that if I had more time to give God, I would be more spiritual. But then I realized it was like saying that those who have more money to give to the church are more spiritual. God measures differently—as he points to the widow giving the pennies and calls her the most generous. What is this world Jesus described where the poor and weak are closer to God than the rich and strong? It doesn’t feel that way.
This is not a book of wisdom nuggets. This is not a diet plan for your spiritual life. This is not a method or formula that will ensure a happy life. God calls Christians to faith, not formulas.
I hope this doesn’t disappoint you, but this book isn’t about self-discipline. I won’t talk about checklists, goal setting, or achievement charts. Stickers don’t sanctify. There’s nothing wrong with practical tools; achievement isn’t inherently connected with the spiritual disciplines. When I get stuck in the repeating cycle of quiet time, chaotic day, oversleep, guilty day, and over and over again it goes, I don’t need a sticker chart. I need a soul at rest. I need the living God.
This book is for people who are tired and weary of charts and checklists, or more specifically they’re tired of failing at all of that. They don’t want to add to their pile of partially-filled-out planners. This is for people who are ragged. This book is for the people who are tired of the guilt and have started to believe they don’t have the personality or aptitude to be who God expects them to be. Time with Jesus doesn’t quite fit into the day—let alone is it foundational. They’re tired, and they don’t know how to fix it, besides mumbling a guilty resolution: “I should probably do better.”
Sometimes we treat our time with God like a beautiful ball we would like to attend. We are Cinderella, and our stepmother says that if we just get our work done, we can go. If we just work hard enough, and don’t misuse our time, and be good stewards and all, then we can get some God-time. If we are strong enough, resolute in our goals, and have the resources, we can get closer to God than those weak-willed people can.
But we do misuse our time. We do sleep in and forget to read God’s word. We pray, but talking to him and talking to ourselves gets blurred, and we don’t even know if it’s “working.” The needs and demands of others flood our day, and at the end, we are too tired to think deeply about spiritual things. So, we watch a movie.
It’s our fault, or our family’s fault, or our job’s fault. Life becomes an endless stream of guilt and anger because of the dissonance in our lives—what we say is the most important to us doesn’t appear to be the same on a day-to-day basis.
If only we could have gotten out of bed at the first chime of the alarm. If only we didn’t have to deal with our sin, or the sins of others, we could be good, disciplined Christians!
Can God reach us—the lazy, the floundering, the tired—too? Or must we get ourselves together in order to experience the incredible grace of our Father on a daily basis? If we believe in God, shouldn’t that mean we are able to do all of this? So, if we are unable, does that mean we have a faulty faith?
We have the best intentions. If the toddler hadn’t broken that thing. If your mom hadn’t called about grandma in a panic. If your boss hadn’t kept you late at work. If your dog hadn’t gotten into the trash. This broken world is against our carefully laid out plans. So why even bother?
You don’t need tips and tricks. You don’t need a new organizational system. You’ve probably tried many already. You want to depend on God and be a godly person, but you don’t even know how to lean on God. Depend on God? What does that even mean? Does it mean sit back and do nothing? But what if God has called you to do something? Are we resigned to fatalism? Is it godly to be lazy and just “let God?” (I think the Apostle Paul would say, “by no means!”)
You don’t need permission for apathy any more than you need a flawless system. You and I need a paradigm shift—a fundamental reordering of our affections and approach to daily living that is oriented to the majesty of God. We need foundational, strong theology that provides us with a framework for all of our chaotic desires within us to get our spiritual lives in order. We need a fresh vision of what “order” looks like.
We need to know that the question of “how much time with God is enough?” is completely the wrong question, and we need to discover the right questions.