Someone once told me “I don’t pray for an hour a day anymore, but there isn’t a day goes by where I don’t pray during an hour.” It’s supposed to be encouraging but if it were describing a marriage it would be unhealthy.
When I was young in my faith I was really worried that this “Jesus-thing” would be a personal fad or a phase. I had many of those, skateboarding, graffiti, etc. I wanted this “Jesus thing” to be constant, as constant as God. I didn’t want the vigor, excitement and drive to drop off.
But sooner or later I found myself settling into a pattern of spiritual neglect. Other times I have wandered off from the regular rhythm of spiritual practices.
You’ve been there.
We all have.
But contrary to the above quote the life of following Christ is one of growth, pursuit and pressing in—not settling.
The fathers and mothers of the church, the greatest revival leaders, the prophetic voices, they died spiritually hungry. John Wesley used to say that he thought very little of a man who did not pray for four hours a day.
Bernard of Clairvaux tells us that our spiritual lives should not be pipes, water quickly passing through but cisterns—water bubbling up and over the brim.
Some might question D.L. Moody’s theology but he also said this:
The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him. I will try my utmost to be that man.
Who doesn’t find themselves, with Moody, yearning to be that person?
The spiritual life, left untended, will go wild or whither. But if the spiritual life is tended through the cultivation of prayer, fasting, community, Bible reading, and service it will flourish and bear fruit.
We must seek to be as vigilant, focused and constant in our spiritual lives as God is vigilant, constant and focused on our behalf:
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. Colossians 1:29
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
How to Cultivate the Spiritual Life
- Make God your focus, not your spiritual life. While to some this may sound counter-intuitive this is vital to growth. If your focus is your spiritual disciplines you are a few steps from a Pharisee, if not already there. Our religious lives will end up being for ourselves. Paul, writing to the Corinthians says this: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is in contemplating God and beholding God that transformation comes.
- Remain in Community. It becomes easy to check out of community when you’re “not feeling it”… but don’t. Community’s are profoundly formative. When you check out of one you necessarily check into another. You may not think so, but you are. Ask yourself “How is the community I am in shaping me right now?” And remember: Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another… (Hebrews 10:25).
- Be Diligent. Who cares if you “aren’t in the mood for fasting” who is? Paul regularly uses athletic metaphors to talk about the spiritual life (1 Corinthians 9:24, 1 Peter 4:10). The point is that through the co-mingling of your diligence and God’s Spirit you will be transformed, more fully reflecting God’s Image and God’s Son.