Sometimes I expect Christianity to be easy. I expect to always want to pray, read the Bible, and go to church. But I forget how my own selfishness wants to hoard my time and effort and use it for me, on the things I want to do at the moment instead of what may be better in the long run.
A friend and I have recently begun reading through Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. It’s a classic in Christian circles, and I read it before in a class as freshman in college.
But the ugly truth I’m finding as we go through it is that while I like the idea of spiritual growth, there is part of me that is resistant to the actuality of it. I am reminded that being a Christian is hard sometimes.
Because there is no substitute for time and effort when it comes to spiritual growth.
Day after day, I can’t skim a psalm, mutter a quick prayer, call it good for the day, then wonder why I don’t feel very close to God. All good relationships take work, and work requires time and effort.
Lest I get bogged down with the idea that actual spiritual growth is ultimately all my responsibility though, Richard Foster offers an incredibly helpful explanation of the work of a Christian.
The apostle Paul says, “he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:8). Paul’s analogy is instructive. A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciples–they are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The Disciplines are God’s way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us. By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace. The inner righteousness we seek is not something that is poured on our heads. God has ordained the Disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where he can bless us.
In this regard it would be proper to speak of “the path of disciplined grace.” It is “grace” because it is free; it is “disciplined” because there is something for us to do. In The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes it clear that grace is free, but it is not cheap. The grace of God is unearned and unearnable, but if we ever expect to grow in grace, we must pay the price of a consciously chosen course of action which involves both individual and group life. Spiritual growth is the purpose of the Disciplines.
–Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, p. 7-8 (emphasis mine)
“Working” at my faith isn’t about thinking I can earn God’s grace or blessings–it’s about putting myself in the right place to be able to receive them. It’s not always easy or fun, and I have failed–and will continue to fail–at putting in the time and effort and in seeing the value of doing so. But the growth and transformation possible because of what God can and promises to do will, I hope, show me that work and effort in the Christian life does not go unreturned.
Til next time…
p.s. Does Christianity ever seem too hard to you?