Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Have a Note from My Mother and Other Lame Excuses: Spiritual Disciplines

Students are famous for giving lame excuses to get out of work. But they are not the only ones. Here are some other questionable alibis for various forms of misbehavior:
• I won't be in today. My fish is sick and I need to take it to the vet.

• I took two Ex-Lax in addition to my Prozac this morning. I can't get off the john, but I feel good about it.

• Dear School: Please ekscuse Brent’s absence on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33.

• Megan could not come to school today. She has very close veins.

• I stayed home from church last week because “I just had this feeling I shouldn't be there.”

• It’s okay to eat broken cookies. The process of breaking causes fat leakage.

• Sorry officer, I was leading in the Indianapolis 500...but I think I took a wrong turn!

• I can't go out with you tonight. There is a Leave it to Beaver marathon on TV.

These are so ridiculous they make us laugh. But what happens when this pattern seeps into our spiritual lives? We say: I love God; He is the Lord of my life; He is my first priority. Yet, when He invites us into activities that will help us grow, we have the gall to raise our hand and ask to be excused. Lame. I’m speaking to myself here as much as anyone. I know I can’t grow unless I practice. And practice means discipline.

In a scene from Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth struggles through a piano piece at the demand of Lady Catherine. During this mortification, Mr. Darcy tries to excuse his rude behavior to her at the Hertfordshire ball, “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess, of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.”

She laughs and replies, “My fingers, do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do…. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- because I would not take the trouble of practicing.”

The key then to mastery is not natural ability or inclination, but practice. None of us is naturally Christ like. Some disciplines come more easily than others, but we still have to practice them. Like the piano, we don’t start with a sonata, but by plunking out scales, gradually adding more difficult pieces as we progress. That is when the fun begins.

And yet, like many piano students, we come up with every conceivable excuse for not practicing. Here are the most common:

“I don’t need to go to church to worship God.”

Here’s how one church responded to that:


To make it possible for everyone to attend church this Sunday, we are going to have a special "No Excuse Sunday": Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, "Sunday is my only day to sleep in." There will be a section with lounge chairs for those who feel our pews are too hard. Eye drops will be available for those who stayed up too late watching TV. We will have steel helmets for those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever came to church." Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who say it is too hot. Scorecards will be available to list the hypocrites present. We will distribute "Stamp Out Stewardship" buttons for those who feel the church is always asking for money. One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature. Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday. The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them. We will provide hearing aids for those who can't hear the preacher and cotton wool for those who think he's too loud! Hope to see you there! (from

It is God’s plan for Christians to be part of a church. Alone we fall prey to discouragement, false beliefs, and selfishness. In church we can learn from others. Sermons and small group discussions sharpen our thinking. And close interaction, including inevitable conflict, forces us to learn that love is an action, not just a theory. When we praise together, learn together, seek God together, we encourage others, and they encourage us.

Another copout I hear often is: “I’m not much of a reader.”

So when did God say, “Read the Bible if you love to read,” or “if you understand it all,” or “if you have time today”? It is shocking how many professing Christians do not read the Bible! Yet God says: read it, meditate on it, hide it in our heart, and tell others.

My daughter was away from home the month before we moved, so I packed her room for her. I came across a card I had given her months earlier…unopened. I was crushed. I could still remember how much time I spent picking out the perfect card and the sentiments I wrote inside. Imagine how God feels when we claim to love Him, yet never open His letter to us. He didn’t pick a pre-printed card off a rack, but inspired numerous authors over hundreds of years to record His live-giving message of love for us.

“I’m barely getting by as it is.”

This is the excuse of the non-giver. Yet, God doesn’t say, “Give when you have extra,” or “tithe if you like your pastor.” He says, “Bring the whole tithe… Test me in this…see if I will not… pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10). First we give then He pours out blessings – on our finances, meeting others’ needs, or funding ministries that bring people to Christ. God doesn’t ask us to give our wealth to make us poor, but to give from our poverty that He might make us rich in Him.

Next is the world’s lie that even Christians have bought into: “I can’t say no.”

The world says it is impossible to be sexually pure, that there is something wrong with a person who is not sexually active before marriage. But God’s directions haven’t changed.

Contrary to today’s philosophy, it is possible to say no. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).The answer is the same as always – look for the way out and take it.

If we accept God’s escape route in today’s culture we will stand out. Unashamed purity declares there is power for those who walk with Christ.

This next one hits home for me: “I’m going through menopause/pregnancy/mid-life so…”

I am currently going through menopause. There are days when I am cranky and irritable for no reason. My changing hormones are messing with my normal equilibrium, but I haven’t found any loopholes for menopausal madness in the Bible.

Psalm 4:4 says, “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” In the New Testament, Paul adds, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). Try replacing the word “anger” with your current weakness. “In your menopause, pregnancy, mid-life crisis, job loss, parenting teenagers etc. - do not sin.” Our feelings are real, jarring, confusing, but when we pause and ask for His Spirit to act through us, Jesus will enable us to respond in redeeming ways.

Finally, we come to the spiritual discipline that really kicks us in the gut, and the common excuse for not participating is: “I’m not good at fasting.”

So who is? We live in a country where we eat our fill at every meal. We are perplexed by Jesus’ expectation to sacrifice comfort. Yet Jesus said, "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do” (Matthew 6:16-17, emphasis mine), not “if.”

There are medical conditions that prohibit some people from a complete fast. However, there are many kinds of fasts – a partial fast (giving up dessert, coffee, or one meal a week), a juice or fruit and vegetable only fast, or giving up non-food items like texting, Facebook, or television for a specific period of time. Fasting is saying no to our flesh and yes to God - so we can pray, read His Word, or seek direction.

For me, fasting is one of the hardest disciplines because my mind and body, which are used to getting their own way, want to control my spirit. That is what makes it such a powerful tool against the enemy. When we are willing to sacrifice our desires to fill up on God, we become spiritually stronger.

So many times we fail in spiritual disciplines because we never get started. We figure if we don’t like practicing, we must be exempt. I have to say, as a young music student, I didn’t enjoy practice at first. But the more I did, the more I realized its benefits. Practicing opened doors for me in the music world I never would have imagined. It’s the same way in the spiritual realm.

So what’s holding you back? Do you want to be more like Jesus? Do you want to love God more than yourself and win against evil? Then crumple up that forged note from your mother and get going. Let God show you where to start and how to keep on going even when you want to quit. You will be so glad you did!

Beth Vice, (c) 2010