Right after we had moved into our building on Belt Line Road, I was feeling pretty worn out. I don’t know if it was burnout or something more akin to post-partum depression. After working so hard to get the building completed, it felt like I had just given birth (my apologies to all you who have actually given birth and understand how overly dramatic that statement is). But now that that huge project was completed, I was experiencing a major low. I felt depleted, discouraged and in desperate need of some time away.
Very graciously, God worked it out for me to go with Lee Jarrell to Colorado for a week. I went to the mountains with some pretty high hopes. I figured since God had made all the details fall into place so easily for this trip, then surely, God was going to meet with me in a really significant way. I took a journal filled with about six pages of questions and issues with which I was struggling. I felt certain God would give me the clarity I was craving.
So I went expecting some life-changing answer to prayer but the only message I got from God was disappointing to say the least. The one thing I heard from God was a single word, “Wait.” And I thought, “That’s it, God? I traveled all this way. Dropped everything I was doing. I came focused, Bible in hand, journal full of stuff, ready to listen and this is what You tell me? You could’ve told me that back in Dallas.” Frankly, I didn’t understand.
It wasn’t until one afternoon when Lee and I were talking that what God was saying truly crystalized. Lee shared with me a verse from the prophet Isaiah. Here’s what it says…
For since the world began no one has seen or heard of such a God as ours, Who works for those who wait for Him! Isaiah 64.4 (Living Bible)
Then Lee said, “There are two kinds of believers in the world. Those who believe God works for those who wait for Him and those who believe God works for those who work for Him.
His words were like an arrow to my heart. While I would certainly say I believed the first statement, I hated to admit that I lived as if the second one were true. God was indicting me on the fact that I didn’t do near enough waiting. Working hard and long is something that comes naturally, but waiting, not so much. I lived like someone who believed that God works for those who work for Him. It’s no wonder God had a single word message for me - “WAIT.”
Now think about how you actually live – not what you say you believe. Whether you’re talking about ministry or on the job, many of us plunge headlong into stuff and try to do it all by ourselves. Then when that doesn’t work, we ask for help. Finally (and only after everything else we’ve tried fails) we pray.
That order (and it was most definitely mine for years) is - Do it yourself, seek help if it doesn’t work, and when all else fails, pray - that is the complete opposite of the way Jesus lived.
What God was telling me was that I had lost the sacred rhythm of life - that there is a way to do life than doesn’t destroy our souls, leave us depleted, empty or burned out. There is a rhythm to how we serve Christ and how we grow as a believer for which there is no other substitute.
God’s answer to our overcrowded lives is discipline. The words disciple and discipline are intertwined. Because once you’ve made the choice to say, "Yes, I want to follow Jesus and be His disciple," then, the next question is, "What disciplines will help me remain faithful to that choice?" If we want to be a disciple of Jesus, you have to live a disciplined life.
Now by discipline, I’m not talking about control. There are a lot of Christians who totally misunderstand and pervert the disciplines. They think of them as ways to gain control over their life. But that’s importing a very secular understanding of discipline onto the Bible and it is not what God means at all. In the spiritual world, the word discipline means “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” It was Henri Nouwen who said, “[Discipline is] the effort to create some space in which God can act. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up.”
Discipline creates space in my life where I am not occupied and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create space in which something can happen that you didn't plan on or count on. No Christian grows without this kind of discipline.
You and I can't make ourselves grow. The only thing we can do is put ourselves in a place where God can grow us and change us. That's what the spiritual disciplines are intended to do – to create the space where God can do His work. It’s God's job to grow us. It's our job to open ourselves up to that by giving Him the space He needs.
So God calls His disciples to a life of discipline. Three of which I want to talk to you about right now; to be alone with Him, connected in community and engaged in ministry. We find all three of these spiritual disciplines at work in the life of Jesus in a single passage from the Bible…
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Luke 6.12-19
This was Christ’s sacred rhythm. It’s the way He lived. Jesus first spent time alone with God. Then He gathered His disciples around Him in community. In the afternoon, He went out to preach and heal the sick.
Do you notice the order? From solitude (time alone with God) to community (vital relationships) to ministry (our experiences in God’s work for the sake of others). The order is solitude, community, then ministry.
You cannot reverse it and get the same results; ministry – community – solitude. That will never work. Which is precisely what I was attempting to do. I would engage in the work. When I failed, I sought help from others. If everything else went wrong, then and only then would I pray. I was living life backwards. It’s a sure recipe for a brown out in your soul and burn out in your work.
Another way of describing these three movements of our soul are communion, community and co-working or our desert, our group and our project. That is, we need time alone for prayer and reflection; we need a community to belong to and find our identity within; and we need meaningful work from God.
This is a recipe for a robust spirituality. Let’s face it, none of us gets to live life divorced from work, parenting, bills, problems and just life in general. We seek God in solitude so that we can sustain His presence even in the midst of the demands of real life. This kind of spirituality doesn’t wilt in the face of overwhelming need. It sustained Jesus and it can and will sustain us, too.
Jesus needs you. He needs you to work with Him to bring God’s message of love and reconciliation to others. God claims you, communes with and works through you. Doing life God’s way is the only way to live! Begin with Him, find your place in the community and engage in the thing He has uniquely called and equipped you to do.
“Spiritual formation is the process of Christ being formed in us for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own lives, and for the sake of others.” – Ruth Haley Barton