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Valuable lessons about spirituality can come at the strangest times. An ear-popping flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, Washington, taught me a lesson I'll not soon forget. Just before I was about to embark on the trip, I came down with a severe head cold. My sinuses act up when I fly even if I'm feeling well, so I knew I needed to get some help. Since I had just moved to Virginia, I hadn't bothered to find a doctor so a coworker recommended an outpatient care clinic.
The clinic turned out to be the medical equivalent of a 7 -- 11. I didn't have time to go anywhere else, however, so I did my best to explain my dilemma to a doctor, waited for his prescription, and left.
When I got home my wife asked me, 'What did the doctor say?'
'I don't know,' I responded. 'I couldn't understand him.'
Her eyebrows shot up. 'Well, what did he prescribe?'
'I don't know. I can't read the writing.'
'What kind of clinic was this?'
'I don't want to know,' I said. 'I have to leave town tomorrow.'
The flight the next day was one of the most miserable flights of my life. It takes between four and five hours to go from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, but I was certain that my then thirty-year-old body had turned forty-five by the time I landed. My head felt like it weighed about fifty pounds.
I dutifully took the medication as it was prescribed and expected my ears to clear some by the next day, but they didn't. I wouldn't even be able to speak clearly if I didn't get some help, so after a day or two I stopped in a Portland, Oregon, clinic, hoping to obtain more relief. The new doctor put me at ease. I could understand what he was talking about and he seemed to know what he was doing. When he learned what had been prescribed for me in Virginia, his jaw dropped. 'I don't know what that doctor was thinking, but I can't imagine any doctor who graduated from a United States medical school in the past thirty years prescribing this medicine for your ailment. Apparently this doctor knows just one or two medicines and is prescribing the same one for virtually everything.'
This experience taught me the folly of using one medicine to treat every malady. It took some time, however, for the spiritual analogy to become clear. Over and over again we give Christians the same spiritual prescription: 'You want to grow as a Christian? All you have to do is develop a thirty- or sixty-minute quiet time and come to church every Sunday morning.'
All too often, Christians who desire to be fed spiritually are given the same, generic, hopefully all-inclusive methods --- usually some variation on a standardized quiet time. Why? Because it's simple, it's generic, and it's easy to hold people accountable to. But, for many Christians, it's just not enough.
A.W. Tozer warns, 'The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. We have almost forgotten that God is a person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can.'1 The casualties of 'mechanized religion' are many. It's one thing to witness spiritually empty people outside of church; what concerns me is meeting more and more Christians inside church who suffer this same spiritual emptiness.
Ultimately, it's a matter of spiritual nutrition. Many Christians have never been taught how to 'feed' themselves spiritually. They live on a starvation diet and then are surprised that they always seem so 'hungry.'
Others have lapsed into routine-devotions. One of the most refreshing things that happened to my marriage was breaking my wrist. It was a serious break, requiring surgery, and thrust Lisa and me out of our routine. We did most everything together, in part because I needed so much help. Since my exercise was limited to walking, we took near-daily walks. We shopped together. We answered email together (initially, I couldn't type). For a while, Lisa even helped me get dressed. (Okay, you try tying your shoe with one hand!) Being out of our routine, Lisa and I discovered a deeper and newer love. The romance was always there; it had just been buried under the accretions of always doing the same thing.
I've found that many people face the same dilemma in their walk with God. Their love for God has not dimmed, they've just fallen into a soul-numbing rut. Their devotions seem like nothing more than shadows of what they've been doing for years. They've been involved in the same ministry for so long they could practically do it in their sleep. It seems as if nobody in their small groups has had an original thought for three years. They finally wake up one morning and ask, 'Is this really all there is to knowing God?'
Quiet Time Collides with Reality
Several years after I graduated from college, I realized my spiritual life had to adapt to a new schedule. I was leaving the house between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. and getting back home around 5:30 p.m. That left an hour to have dinner with my family, an hour to spend some time with my children, half an hour to get the kids in bed, and about another hour to pay the bills, take out the garbage, catch up on my wife's day, and take phone calls. If we had an evening meeting, everything was crunched even tighter.
To have a sixty-minute quiet time, which had been a cherished staple of my spiritual diet, I would have had to get up at 4:00 a.m.! I was able to fit in some daily Bible reading before I left the house and a time of prayer during my morning commute, but I felt I was cheating. Vacations and weekends offered the opportunity to resume this discipline, but the workweek demanded something else.
This struggle to find a new 'spiritual prescription' became a great blessing because I began to find new ways to nurture my soul. Perhaps the primary lesson I learned was that certain parts of me are never touched by a standardized quiet time. My discipline of quiet times was (and is) helpful; however, I came to realize that it was not sufficient. Other parts of my spiritual being lay dormant.