“If the enemy cannot deter you with destruction, he’ll settle for distraction. “
(paraphrased from Beth Moore)
“Are you listening to me?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Yup.”
Truth? I wasn’t listening. I was distracted. Physically present; mentally absent.
Lately, I have been in a season of distraction. It’s been a busy summer for our family with one daughter graduating from high school and our other daughter getting married, all within the span of 10 days. We have a few weeks to catch our breath and then we will move our youngest daughter to college 1,000 miles away. I have still been in the Word, doing my daily reading and regular “quiet time” routine in the morning, but my mind has not been as focused. I have been going through the motions knowing there is value in spiritual disciplines but battling disengagement.
We all have times when we are simply going through the motions and our church attendance, Bible reading, and serving seem stale and rote. We may question our disciplined activities: Is this really worth it? Is it making any difference? I guess it’s not a big deal if I skip church today. I don’t feel any different. What’s the point?
Though we should never base our faith on our experience, God often graciously does give us experiences that prove His trustworthiness. When God gives us instructions, it is always for our good even though we do not see the immediate benefits or purpose. As we learned in our sermon series on the spiritual disciplines, God works through spiritual disciplines in our lives to speak to us and make us more like Him. This proved true in my own life during my distracted season.
SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE #1 – BIBLE STUDY
Knowing I needed to get back on track, I determined to start a new Bible study this summer with a couple of friends. The study is in 1, 2, 3 John and begins by instructing participants to read through all three books repeatedly to get a thorough understanding of the context and what the Biblical author is communicating. As I dove in, one theme I discovered in 1 John is what we can know for certain, indicated by the phrase: “by this we know.” John also repeats the command to “love one another.” Our love for the saints is how we know we are believers and true followers of Jesus. This is how my study began. No new, earth-shattering information - just walking out the spiritual discipline of Bible study.
SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE #2 – CHURCH ATTENDANCE
Sunday rolled around and with it another spiritual discipline: church attendance. I dutifully go, help lead in the worship music, and sit in my “regular” pew (all good Baptists have one) as Pastor Zach began the sermon. He preached on the authority of Jesus and His Word. I walked away edified, but in all honesty, not feeling spiritually recharged or much different than when I walked through the church doors that morning.
HOW THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE WORD WORK TOGETHER
Later in the week, I was working away on a project and suddenly noticed my thoughts were turning sour. It was subconscious at first, but then I caught myself, or rather the Holy Spirit stopped me. I realized my thoughts were critical and unloving about another Christian. It was subtle, but sinful nonetheless. The Holy Spirit was quick to prick my spirit with conviction, a soft prompt:
What was that Pastor Zach said on Sunday? The Word of God is our authority. If Jesus’ words define reality, then we have to begin to take Him at His Word without caveats: “I know it says that but…”
And what was it that I just read and studied in 1 John? “Love one another.”
These thoughts are not loving. And they are destructive to Christian unity and relationships. This is sin. Andrea, you are to love your brothers and sisters. Turn and “walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)
This is why spiritual disciplines matter. We read our Bibles, pray, take our families to church, listen to Bible teaching, sing worship songs, and serve others in need. Sometimes we trudge through these routine activities. But these are crucial to spiritual health and vitality! They are the kindling that we place in the firepit, prepped and ready for the Holy Spirit fire to ignite and transform us. John Piper explains it this way:
“The Holy Spirit inspired the Word and therefore goes where the Word goes. The more of God’s Word you know and love, the more of God’s Spirit you will experience.”
The Word of God does the work of God in our hearts through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that inspired God’s Word resides in every believer the moment we turn from our sin and trust Christ as our Savior. As we look at Jesus through His Word and that Word becomes treasure to us, He will use that. His Spirit will recall it to our hearts and minds and convict us of sin and of righteousness. (John 16:8-11) Not only that, but that Spirit is the divine power we need to change and become like Him. It is supernatural, and yet God calls us to exert our will in reading that Word and listening to that Word in church and studying that Word with other believers. We will not always feel different immediately. Sanctification (spiritual growth) is a long obedience in the same direction, as Eugene Peterson says. But there is no transformation, no real experience of God apart from His Word and His Spirit.
TURNING THE CORNER
Once again, I discovered that the Lord is faithful in every season, even in distracted ones. His Word is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12), even when we read that Word simply out of habit. I am so thankful the Holy Spirit spoke to me that day through the Word I had heard at church and through the study I had started with other Christians. By His Spirit, I was able to turn from my sinful attitude and lean toward loving others as Jesus commands.
Perhaps you are like me and sometimes the spiritual disciplines feel rote and empty. Don’t stop because of those feelings; keep going! Prayerfully continue in the disciplines you have been taught. The enemy uses all kinds of methods to get us off track; sometimes through destruction but more often, he will use distraction to turn us sideways. Pray to God in honesty about how you are really feeling – He knows it anyway! - and ask Him to change you. He promises a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9-10) and His Word never returns void but accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:10-11).