There is a progression in the spiritual life, and it is wise to have some experience with lesser peaks before trying to tackle the Mt. Everest of your soul. So be patient with yourself. Besides, you are learning a discipline for which you have received no training. Nor does our culture encourage you to develop these skills. You will be going against the tide, but take heart; your task is of immense worth.
– Richard Foster
Last week I went for a run for the first time this season. It was the first time I ran at all since running a 10km race last fall. I’m not going to lie. It didn’t go well.
I ran slower than I’ve previously been able to and I clearly didn’t have the endurance I used to. It was short and I was clearly out of practice.
But it would be foolish of me to declare myself a failure at running after a single run.
The truth is that endurance is something that needs to be built up. Each subsequent run helps train your body and enables you to run longer and faster and further.
In the same way, I think there can be a temptation to give up practicing the spiritual disciplines too quickly.
Maybe you think you should be able to practice the disciplines in the same way as those who have been attempting to practice them for years.
In university, I had a professor share that he knows an old, veteran Christian who reads his Bible through cover-to-cover three times a year. That means reading it through every four months. Maybe some people heard that and were encouraged. It just made me feel terrible.
This man reads his Bible three times a year? I’m lucky if I can read the Bible once in three years.
Seeing how easily others practice the spiritual disciples can be discouraging when you struggle with the smallest and simplest forms.
For others, maybe we expected quicker results. Over the last month, we’ve been talking about meditation and I’ve suggested trying to meditate (or reflect) on God and his character for just five minutes a day. Maybe some of us were hoping that in this first month of practicing this first discipline all their issues would be solved. Your anger or selfishness or lust would simply disappear.
But that would be like a farmer planting wheat in a field and deciding after a month with no crops that farming didn’t work either.
It takes time to develop the skills necessary to practice the spiritual discipline well. It takes even more time to see the fruit of these disciplines. Furthermore, as we’ve mentioned before, the spiritual disciples don’t change you, they simply put you in a position for God to change you.
So maybe you’ve struggled to spend five minutes a day meditating on God. Don’t get discouraged. Try again tomorrow. Maybe for some of us, we need to start with five minutes a week. Or three minutes.
Honestly, just setting your phone down and pausing instead of immediately going on to the next task can be a great way to start.