I read quite a few books on religious topics. One thing I’ve been particularly noticing recently is that people like to tell you what works for them.
Three examples from books I’ve read in the past year:
- In The Book of Not So Common Prayer: A New Way to Pray, a New Way to Live, Linda McCullough Moore shares how she started praying for three (or maybe four, I don’t remember) 15-minute segments spaced throughout her day. It changed her life, led to growth, and deepened her relationship with God.
- In One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp talks about how a friend challenged her to list 1,000 things she loved. Keeping this list and the constant focus on gratitude it encouraged became something that lasted well beyond the thousandth item. It changed her life, led to growth, and deepened her relationship with God.
- In Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds (what’s with all the super long subtitles?), Jen Wilkin laments the lack of Biblical literacy among Christians and lays out the method she has developed for studying the Bible in a way that leads to real learning. You guessed it: It changed her life, led to growth, and deepened her relationship with God.
I appreciate these women and their wisdom and insight and that they have shared those things with the world. Do not take this post as a criticism of them or their books. It’s not. But sometimes we read these sorts of things and go, “Wow, I want my relationship with God to grow like that.”
So we do what the authors did.
And it doesn’t work.
I don’t mean we tried for three days and gave up. We did those three (or four) 15-minute prayer segments every day for months and still consistently found them a burden, not a joy. We listed 1,000 things we were grateful for and nothing ever clicked. After several books, marking up a double-spaced copy of a specific book of the Bible with annotations in colored pencil remained completely uninspiring and we don’t seem to know any more than when we started.
And then we think, “But I did exactly what they said and I’ve seen no significant changes, what’s wrong with me?”
What’s “wrong” with you is: You are not Linda McCollough Moore. You are not Ann Voskamp. You are not Jen Wilkin. You are you. Your personality is different. Your tragic backstory is different. The way you relate to God and people and life is different. It’s just logical that things that work for other people might not work for you.
We get the principle confused with the process. There are Biblical principles to be found in these books. The Bible teaches us to make prayer a constant part of our life (1 Thessalonians 5:17), to always give thanks because that’s God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and that studying the scriptures is a noble task (Acts 17:11). The Bible does not say, “Pray for three (or four) 15-minute segments spaced throughout your day,” or, “Keep a constant physical list of the things you are thankful for,” or, “Before you start to study a book of the Bible, print out a double-spaced copy with wide margins and collect some nice colored pencils for annotating it.”
At the beginning of a new year, many people like to reevaluate where they are in life and attempt some changes. If you need a new process for deepening your relationship with God, go for it. Maybe you want to try something from one of these books. Or a different book. Or something that has worked for a friend. In this post I list several suggestions. Maybe you have some ideas of your own. But as you try things, keep in mind:
Never measure your faith by someone else’s process. Measure it by Biblical principles.