I strayed onto an acquaintance’s blog, and started feeling tired.
Oh, it was all so bossy, so prescriptive. 10 ways to be a better wife; 10 ways to be a better mum; 10 ways to lose weight in a Biblical way; 10 ways to read more spiritual books.
It made me feel so tired. I scrolled through the blogs she had blogrolled, even more prescriptive and bossy, and began to feel even more tired.
* * *
18 years ago, when I lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, I had taken a theological course called Sonship developed by the brilliant Westminister Seminary Professor and founder of World Harvest Mission Jack Miller. It was the most heavily theological material I had encountered to date, and gave me a taste for theology!
At the outset, Miller reports someone raving about Richard Foster’s“The Celebration of Discipline.”
And Miller, a big, hearty, larger-than-life man, laughs a big booming laugh and says, “I am too big a sinner to be fooled by the Celebration of Discipline.”
* * *
Huh? I did not understand what he meant then, but understand it perfectly now. Discipline cannot save us. 10 ways to study scripture, fast, give, serve are not going to change our selfish, self-seeking, ambitious, twisty old hearts. If anything they might just make us more self-righteous. For our hearts to change, we need a heart transplant. We need God to pour his Holy Spirit into us and give us a new heart (Ez 36:26).
* * *
We do need strategies—for ensuring we pray every day, spent time soaking in Scripture everyday, and for our own particular battles: eating healthily is one of mine.
But strategies cannot save us. For me at least, lists of food rules, or domesticity rules or spiritual rules or time-management rules get a bit boring and feel like too much of a strait-jacket and I soon drop them. They are the law, a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? Acts 15:10.
What helps me, and fills my days with sweetness is going through my day with Jesus, sharing the easy yoke.
* * *
I do have food rules, as for much of my adult life, I have medicated boredom, low spirits, stress, anxiety, and even happiness with food. So my two rules are: Limit eating what is not a blessing to your body (sugar, white carbs, chocolate). Do not eat when you are not hungry.
I was energized when I first formulated them, but now, especially that I am walking 6 km. a day, I sometimes buy chocolate or pizza or Indian takeaway after a long walk. The law, my strategies, weren’t strong enough to save me. On the other hand, slowing down, and asking Jesus for help and grace and the filling of his spirit does help me to resist things which are a curse to my body.
Slowing down. I wondering if that is a major secret of the spiritual life.
It’s the same with exercise. I know I will be stronger if I do it. I know I will be happier if I break up my writing with housework breaks (pomodoros) but this is very hard for me, for really, I like to work till done—and if what I am working on takes 3 to 4 hours it is quite painful almost for me to leave it and switch gear. So I need Jesus’s help to get up and get moving more than rules.
* * *
Hudson Taylor after continued spiritual failure, and self-excoriation stumbled upon the secret of abiding, which is known as Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. He writes:
“Not a striving to have faith, but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need.”
Here, I feel, is the secret : not asking how I am to get sap out of the vine into myself, but remembering that Jesus is the Vine-the root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit, all indeed. Aye, and far more too! He is the soil and sunshine, air and rain-more than we can ask, think, or desire. Let us not then want to get anything out of Him, but rejoice in being ourselves in Him-one with Him, and, consequently, with all His fulness.
” I have not got to make myself a branch. The Lord Jesus tells me I am a branch. I am part of Him, and have just to believe it and act upon it. If I go to the bank in Shanghai, having an account, and ask for fifty dollars, the clerk cannot refuse it to my outstretched hand and say that it belongs to Mr. Taylor. What belongs to Mr. Taylor my hand may take. It is a member of my body. And I am a member of Christ, and may take all I need of His fulness.”
Perhaps this is the easy way of sanctification—to see yourself as a branch in the vine of Jesus, and pray, relying and drawing on the wells of his strength and sweet life when tempted to indulge your temper, your gluttony, your laziness, or any of the deadly seven temptations.