After moving to St. Paul, I didn’t think I wanted to put anything more on my plate. I calculated my to-do lists: read these fiction submissions, apply for another job, do a bible study with Mark, go to work, plan dinners and work lunches, go to the grocery store, listen to this podcast, do the dishes, set the coffee, budget to pay off debt, finally get that new driver’s license.
And when asked if I want to join a bible study, I rarely if ever say no. So when my mom-in-law asked if I’d like to read through this book called Habits of Grace by David Mathis and reflect on some questions, I said yes. To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed at first. Add another item to that to-do list.
But I’ve found that when it comes to reflecting on your relationship with God, saying yes to those opportunities for extra study is usually exactly what you need to be studying and thinking about.
The study is three days of questions a week. (It took me two weeks to actually get through it. Whoops.) And the main premise of the book is pretty much the subtitle: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines. We can experience grace and joy in God through prayer, fellowship, and the word; having his ear, hearing his voice, and belonging to his body, the church. We can position ourselves to continually accept and receive grace in our lives.
For this week, how can we position ourselves for the “means of grace”?
Here are some of my rambled thoughts.
I really picked up on that first line, “The essence of the Christian life is learning to fight for joy in a way that does not replace grace.” This has been really difficult to practice and accept lately. I feel like maybe I’m fighting for joy in all the wrong ways, through perfection and worldly preparedness like making sure lunches are packed by the time we go to bed and everything is set for the next day. Maybe I’m positioning myself in a way that tries to put me in control and leaves no room for accepting grace.
My prayer for this study is to learn how to fight for joy and learn what grace means practically, again. The past few years, going through school, has been difficult in that area, seeing what grace means, what accepting myself means. I’d love to practice those three principles the book talks about: word, prayer, and fellowship. All three have been pretty absent for some time. Grad school can be hard on your walk with Christ. I want these habits again like I had in undergrad, while in Cru. Word, prayer, and fellowship were staples for my joy then, and I hope they will be now in this fresh phase of life.
I think I focused in more on the question, “Why is it inadequate or not ultimate to say the goal of Christian disciplines is spiritual growth or godliness or holiness? What danger do you face if your focus becomes your own transformation rather than knowing and enjoying Jesus?”
We like to measure growth in our culture, every company and organization wants more growth and if growth doesn’t happen then we scrutinize ourselves, hack off a few limbs or employees to make us more efficient or more curated to meet those growth goals. We want to be able to measure our own personal growth too, from physical training and exercise to our following on Instagram. So if our goal is spiritual growth then we kind of miss the whole point of who we are as people, what we’re made for. We’re not very open to the doors God opens for us and the paths he’d like for us to follow in. Sure we may be doing x, y, and z, but that process is more focused on the self rather than God himself. It could lead to a lot of pride, and does, rather than enjoying the journey and growth that God is allowing to happen in your life. We miss out on joy.
At this moment in life, I engage with God’s word through a video study Mark and I do and I try to reflect on and write about what I’m learning from each study. I also engage with this and write about/reflect on God’s word as conflict arises in marriage or between me and the world. Other than these things, I’m not sure that I engage in God’s written word often. We study the word at church, passage by passage. I sing to worship music in the car during my commute to and from work. We may be joining a weekly study group at church soon.
But me actually opening the bible and reading the word directly is not often a reality. And I’m left wondering if the things I do “count.” But instead of counting my efforts and desires, maybe I’ll say that I’m inspired to grow in that last category. Some practices that come to mind are writing a note to put into Mark’s lunch bag of a verse or having a devotional verse and commentary to read during a short break during our work times. Also, placing verses and passages around the apartment. I could do the phone screensaver verse thing again.
Knowing Christ and the gospel have always felt “more important” than scripture itself, even though all three are tied together, obviously. I think with my non-faith/religious background, I often view the bible as a tool that many people use for harm or argument rather than for just knowing God himself.
So to apply what I’m thinking and learning about, it’s probably the time to share my story of how I became a Christian. I still struggle with a lot of the corporate-ness of Christianity as a religion as maybe some ex-atheists do. (Watching upsetting documentaries about the Catholic Church probably doesn’t help.)
But I’ll talk more about that soon.