My youngest daughter has a tender heart and a sensitive conscience. When she was a little girl if something was bothering her, out it would come when I was tucking her in and saying her prayers. One such night, her big brown eyes welled up with tears and she confessed that she had been having bad thoughts. I asked her what kind of bad thoughts she was having. "About sex." she replied. At that point I had to swallow a panic-y feeling and try to remain calm, which was difficult since I wasn't aware that she even knew about sex yet. "What about sex?" I asked. "Do you mean what people do when they have sex?" "No." she replied. "Just the word sex keeps coming to my mind. I heard it on t.v. and I think it's a bad word." With great relief, I explained to her that sex wasn't a bad word, and that sex wasn't even a bad thing if it was used in the good way God had intended for it.
There's another word, another good gift of God, that can be misunderstood. It's the D word, discipline. That word can conjure up negative thoughts of every sort, from childhood spankings, to starvation diets, to sweating on the treadmill, to boot camp. Not very often is the word discipline associated with something pleasurable. No wonder when we hear the practice of Bible reading and prayer called spiritual discipline, we tend to either avoid it, or we do it out of guilt and gritty determination because we know we should and it's supposed to be good for us. It reminds me of the old time cure all, cod liver oil. You swallowed it because, supposedly, it was good for you, but boy did it taste nasty going down! Surely, that's not what spending time with God is meant to be, and yet, how often does it become just that? It becomes something that we do because we know it's good for us, but it's certainly not pleasurable.
I've had times of great enjoyment with God as I've read His Word and prayed, and I've had times when it was as tasteless as melba toast. I've tried everything there is to try. Read so many chapters in the Bible a day, pray for one hour a day using this or that outline, read five Psalms and one chapter in Proverbs every day of the month, read a devotional book and the suggested scripture passages. Like I said, sometimes things were great, and sometimes it felt like I was just going through the motions out of obligation. Another thing I tried was reading through the Bible in a year. I had read every book of the Bible before, but never in a year's time. When I finally decided to give it a go and successfully finished up on December 31st, I was disappointed to admit that all too many of the days it had just been a to-do item to cross off of that day's list.
I've spent the better part of my life in a relationship with Jesus Christ, but I still can't say I have it all figured out when it comes to the spiritual disciplines. I do, however, have a couple of things that have helped me take more delight in the D word, discipline. Just like in a marriage, my relationship with God can become dull when I become stuck in a rut. One thing I've found is that, just like dating and little getaways can rekindle a spark in a marriage, the same holds true when it comes to my devotional disciplines. When I find that I'm in a rut, I'll pack up my Bible, journal, pens and pencils in a tote bag that I have just for this purpose, I'll get in the car, grab my favorite coffee drink somewhere along the way, and find somewhere lovely to park and to spend time with God. Something about purposefully getting away combined with the beauty of creation around me, whether I'm parked by the river, by the sea, or at a local park, seems to rekindle my connection with the Lover of my soul.
This year, I've decided to try reading through the Bible again. In the hopes of avoiding the disappointment I experienced in the past, I decided to try a whole different approach. I bought a journaling Bible with single column text and large margins and am doodling my way through the Bible! I'm filling the margins with picture doodles of some of the key points in chapters, writing out my thoughts, jotting down word meanings, rewriting key verses. Being a quirky creative, this has totally breathed new life into that dreaded word discipline and into my relationship with God. It has caused me to slow down as I read and to meditate on what I'm reading. And guess what, I've even gotten some good stuff out of the book of Leviticus!
God loves us, even in the melba toast seasons of our walk with Him. He doesn't love us more based on how our spiritual disciplines are going, but He is certainly delighted when we find more delight in Him. There are vast expanses of His greatness that we have yet to fathom, and shouldn't we enjoy the journey? I'm pretty sure that's what He wants, too.
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