“[As] long as one thinks anything may really be more valuable than fellowship with Jesus and His Kingdom, one cannot learn from Him. …It is like a mathematics teacher in high school who might say to his student, ‘Verily, verily I say unto thee, except thou canst do decimals and fractions, thou canst in no wise do Algebra.’ It is not that the teacher will not allow you to do Algebra because you are a bad person; you just won’t be able to do basic Algebra if you are not in command of decimals and fractions.” -Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy CHAPTER TWO: Seven Obstacles to Minding Your Faith obstacle |ˈäbstəkəl| noun 1. a thing that blocks one's way or prevents or hinders progress: God is freeing me from the major obstacle to achieving His goals for me—my selfish, rebellious, pride. overcome |ˌōvərˈkəm| verb 1. to defeat an opponent; to prevail: with a series sweep, the Yankees overcame the Red Sox 2. to succeed in dealing with a problem or difficulty: he worked hard to overcome his joy robbing workaholism. I’ve arrived at the age where my body regularly reminds me that I am not in my twenties anymore. Though I think I should be able to go out and play a hard day of sand volleyball with the kids, I know I’ll pay for it. One of those reminders came when I tore my right meniscus in two places and had to have surgery to restore my knee. The rehabilitation therapy involved learning a much more careful approach to working out that prompted me to reflect on my overall physical state. Somewhere during the process, I decided to reclaim the physique I enjoyed in my younger years. The problem was this: over decades of Thanksgiving meals and Super Bowl parties, the once slim young man who sported a decent six-pack, had developed habits that melted him into a well-rounded, middle-aged man who hauled a keg around that my kids referred to as my "pudding cup." So, the road back to fitness presented several obstacles. For starters, I seemed to prefer thinking about being back in shape far more than actually working at it. I also had to invest considerable time and money in acquiring and assembling adequate equipment. Furthermore, I required the proper advice on the exercises, sets, reps, and techniques in order to avoid injury and maintain forward motion. These “opportunities” were just the start-up issues. They merely got me to the place where I had some clear direction. I still lacked the will to keep going, and a realistic plan that I could cram into my already full schedule. Change usually requires considerable energy and knowledge, especially when we expect the change to last. The same is true with a devotional life. I have noticed in myself and in the stories of other men who maintain a solid effective devotional life that there are common obstacles that must be managed. There are seven that seem regularly to present themselves in no particular order, but that must be addressed to enjoy the kind of change I’m pointing you toward. Four of them come at us in full vigor from modern culture and they’ll kill your efforts until you know how to counter them. Addressing them will decisively advance you toward lasting change. Three other obstacles come from within our own nature as men. They are three internal conditions that, left unmet, will send you back to the minors over and over again, but when satisfied, will position you to mind your faith successfully for the rest of your life. That’s why this chapter is critical. I want to help you end what perhaps has been years of recycled failure in your pursuit of knowing and enjoying God. I want to expose and explain the obstacles in this chapter, and disarm them in the next, so that you will be prepared to crush them as they show up. The good news is that you’ve already begun to conquer them just by reading this chapter. So, take courage if you have tried and failed before. The past is just that—the past. It’s time to move forward using a playbook for defeating these seven obstacles. Obstacle 1: Our culture prefers feeling over thinking. Feelings aren’t bad, but ultimately they must be guided by truth, not define it for us. My wife and I decided to support a ministry in Haiti after watching a moving presentation in church. When I look back, I know we did so, not only because the music, images, and stories in the video moved us to tears, but, more importantly, because the facts compelled us to act. I’m not suggesting our feelings were unimportant. I was right to feel compassion. But what about when my feelings aren’t triggered? Should I neglect giving? And what if I don’t feel like studying God’s Word? Should I leave my Bible on the table until I do feel like it? What if thinking rather than feeling is the trailhead to following Christ? Master theologian and writer J.I. Packer posits just that as he highlights Richard Baxter’s commitment to the importance of thinking in his introduction to Baxter’s A Christian Directory: All truth enters by the understanding; all motivation begins in the mind, as one contemplates realities that draw forth affection and desire; all fellowship with Christ the Mediator begins in the mind, with knowledge of His dying love and present life as mankind’s risen Savior; and all obedience to God begins in the mind, with knowledge of revealed truth concerning His will. Calls to consider—to think, in other words, and so to get 1 God’s truth first into one’s head and then into one’s heart—are accordingly basic to all Baxter’s instruction. Thinking is essential. And in a culture that can hardly think anymore, we must protect and develop our capacity to reason, and resist relying on feelings alone to guide us. Our thinking must drive our feelings and not the other way round. Athletes, musicians, and business entrepreneurs all get this point. That’s why they invest time and energy in reading books that merge this principle with their fields. It’s why books like The Mental Game of Baseball: A Guide to Peak Performance by H. A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl continue to impact professional athletes; why Shiela Davis’ classic The Craft of Lyric Writing has been forming Grammy award winners since 1985; and why Peter F. Drucker’s The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done has been guiding business leaders since 1966. It demonstrates that feelings are important for success, but only when accompanied by the kind of thinking that teaches success. And, for success in minding your faith, you must give way to thinking in your spiritual life. Obstacle 2: Our culture prefers watching to reading. Since God has not chosen to reveal the specifics about Himself through video, we must accept the written Word and trust that He had good reasons for bypassing YouTube installments as the primary way to get to know Him. This requires reading, and reading well. I will share honestly that this skill initially proved evasive for me because I have repressed memories of trying to read with eyelids that fought me with every page turn. This changed for me one Christmas when I couldn’t watch my favorite versions of Scrooge and I resigned myself to plotting through Dickens’ actual work, A Christmas Carol. It was short enough to get through in a couple of cold, lonely Advent nights, so I thought: Why not? The story turned out to be so engaging and so well written by this master narrator that I discovered—for real—the axiom that “the book is always better than the movie.” I never imagined that printed words on a page could introduce me to Scrooge’s character better than film. I had underestimated the power of words. Back then I still read like a third grader, so I took a friend’s advice to work through two books that revolutionized my reading skill: Speed Reading by Robert L. Zorn, who holds a PhD in English, and the first third of Mortimer Adler’s classic, How to Read a Book, which taught me everything I needed to know to read well. With increased speed and comprehension, I approached other books I wanted to read, including the Bible, with the confidence that I would understand what I stayed awake to read. Something like this story must become your testimony if you are to end up learning the good stuff about God. It must be read. I will always enjoy Charlton Heston as Moses, but I'm now convinced that the best way to enjoy and profit from Moses’s story is to read through the book of Exodus several times. Obstacle 3: We prefer to finish pop books rather than study classic books. By this I mean many people read the current best sellers—narratives, how to’s and motivational reads—like matches. Once burned through, they’re discarded. Rather than merely finishing one of those types of books while a flight is delayed, we must turn to classics that can and should be returned to over and over again in order to exact every last bit of truth we can from them. I overcame the fact that I am not a morning person by adding three steps to my morning ritual: 1) Brew coffee; 2) Pour coffee; and 3) Drink coffee. I will even add ice-cubes to cool it down so I can drink it faster. A study in contrast is my friend and fellow band member, Aaron Smith. We met recently to track drums for a demo, and he came through the door with his music bag hanging off his shoulder so his hands were free to carry a box of coffee-making paraphernalia . The first thirty minutes of our recording session were occupied by Aaron executing a ritual that reminded me of a high school chemistry class. Once I got over the shock that somewhere between touring with bands like the Temptations, Prince, and the 77s as a master drummer, he had also become a master coffee brewer with his own portable brewing lab. I found myself waking up to new realities about coffee. I watched him carefully measure spring water into a beaker that he positioned over a butane flame to slowly brew the freshly ground coffee from a local roaster. The smell of the beans, the vapors from the siphon, and the aroma of the precious eight ounces he poured into my coffee cup invited me to more than my usual pragmatic gulping. As we lingered over our coffees, I was reminded that some things shouldn’t be rushed or just finished. Some things warrant a bit of time. The Word of God, classic par excellence, rather than being read simply to turn a page, deserves to be savored. Again, one can easily see how this flies in the face of those short, informational, bulleted articles we read at the red light or in between texts. Our culture wrestles with slowing down and enjoying things like reading and contemplating. Still, this must be resisted from the very beginning of any serious attempt at learning about the Creator of the Universe. It will require reading and reading of a certain kind. C.S. Lewis suggests in his classic essay “On the Reading of Old Books” that the best devotional experiences may not be found in typical devotional works. He comments personally that: I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a 2 pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand. We’ve all read books that, once finished, deserve to be discarded like yesterday’s paper or a used movie ticket, but in our devotional lives, lets choose books that require something of us, and, in turn, grant us a depth of thinking that leads to authentic change. Obstacle 4: We follow popular reading lists rather than designing our own I used to loathe the school lunch menus that posted only two choices each day: A meat like substance or the square tile of industrialized pizza. Seriously? Praise the Lord for the Batman lunch-box my loving mother purchased for me. I stuffed it chock full of food from home that I knew was healthier and tastier. While my friends were devising ever new ways to distract the lunch room monitors so they could scrape their pseudo meals into the trash can, I was returning each day to class feeling gloriously bloated. Isn't that the way to design your devotional life? We tend to accept, quite passively, what is put out for us on the shelves of our local bookstore as the only legitimate food for our souls while missing the never ending buffet of writings spread out for us through centuries of church history. Let’s define intentionality as more than planning a trip to the devotional section and picking the coolest soft cover we can find. Let’s learn how to set the agenda for ourselves with our own selection of passages to study and books to read that we know are healthier for our souls and will prove far more enjoyable because they are personally relevant and strategically chosen. ***** In addition to cultural barriers that we must dodge and overcome, there are three things about human nature that must be accommodated to sustain an effective devotional life. Nowhere have I seen these three needs better articulated than in one of the best leadership books on change I have ever read by Chip Heath and Dan Heath titled, SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. They borrow an image first offered by Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, likening components of our nature to a rider, an elephant, and the path they must journey. The rider represents the analytical part of our nature which needs clear direction to identify the right destination. The elephant, representing our emotional side, requires compelling motivation to energize the move toward where the rider directs, and the path they are to take must be shaped to facilitate the easiest route to that destination. The wisdom of this illustration may be readily seen in relation to the changes we must make in developing a worthwhile devotional life. Here we find the final three criteria that must be met which accommodate the needs of our own nature. Obstacle 5: No clear direction. I Googled how to have a Christian devotional life and found most of the options to be vague and confusing. There was a plethora of suggestions, and many of them quite detailed, but the destination or goal behind them seemed to lack a clear end. While I agree that reading anything pertaining to discipleship may be helpful, we ultimately need to be clear on where we should start and where we are going. Minding your faith involves a clear journey with a clear destination. Namely, we want to learn how to meet God in His Word in such a way that the content we learn and meditate on brings us to a place of mature Christian living in which we commune with God and cooperate with His kingdom in power and joy. In the beginning of this book I highlighted my agreement with the consensus of two thousand years of Christian thought that our goal is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That is the destination to which all the direction I give you must lead. That is the goal that, when fixed in front of us, will keep our efforts on track and ensure that we are doing the right things for the right reasons. I intend to offer that clarity to you in every chapter so you are not merely changing your devotional habits, but that they change you and the life you must live. Obstacle 6: The absence of compelling motivation. The second natural condition that often goes unmet and leads to abandoned devotional lives is our continual need for motivation. Like an eleven-ton elephant, our efforts to change require energy, and we have only so much of it each day. We must, therefore, find compelling reasons that motivate us to establish the kind of devotional life that Minding Your Faith offers. We ultimately do what we want to. So we often give up because we don’t really believe something matters. In other words, we simply don’t want it. We cave because the energy it takes to learn how to have a transformational devotional life is not supported by the kind of motivation that gets you out of bed in the morning, or that keeps you out of bed at night. When was the last time you considered the brevity of this life? I have discovered that thinking about the finiteness of time is a constant source of motivation to make the most of life. In the wake of my mother’s death, my father turning 83, my son racing through his teen years towards leaving us for college, and my daughters looking less like little girls and more like their mother each day, I find a stream of motivation and constant sense of urgency to seize the day—every day. I am compelled to slow down and grab hold of what I am convinced is most important—loving people now—while time has not yet moved me past the opportunity to be present with 3 them. A friend of mine, William Gray , who recently died of cancer at 33 said stories can change. I am motivated to change my story and become the friend, son, brother, father, and husband that I want to become because I am surrounded by more than sufficient motivations to make those changes. Similarly, conscious reflection on the truth of things about who we are, why we are here, and what our legacy in God’s kingdom might be will afford us all the motivation we need to drink in God’s presence through time in His Word. Obstacle 7: Difficult navigation. Once the rider is clear about the destination, and the elephant is charged with anticipation, there remains one final need: a path that has been cleared enough to be taken. There I was in Nashville, Tennessee. I’d written a new song and clearly knew the right sequence of steps for recording it. I possessed the motivation to get it done, but when I went to use my new TASCAM Porta-Studio recorder, the project came to an abrupt halt. I left the project for weeks because I couldn’t figure out how to navigate the machine. Fortunately TASCAM offered an instructional DVD by a guy with an English accent who really knew how to explain and demonstrate how the recorder worked. I already had clear direction and compelling motivation, but I still needed to be shown a path with easy navigation. The same is true for minding your faith. In the next chapter, after I arm you to overcome the first six obstacles, I will introduce the path. I can’t make devotional life easy for you, but I can certainly make traveling it as simple as possible by providing you with the navigational tools I have used for decades in minding my own faith. This list of obstacles is not exhaustive, but it covers the most prominent roadblocks to a vibrant and fruitful devotional life that I’ve seen in more than thirty years of ministry. Chapter Two Summary In seeking to establish the changes necessary to mind your faith, you will likely face seven common obstacles. Four of them come from our culture, and three of them are needs located in our own nature. To defeat them, we must understand them and employ effective strategies for addressing them. Questions for Discussion • The opening paragraphs of this chapter recall the author’s struggle to realize a personal goal. Can you relate to the kind of obstacles he faced? • Of the four external challenges we must face when seeking to establish an effective devotional life, which ones do you think will bring the greatest challenges to you? • Do you resonate with any or all of the three internal criteria that must be satisfied in order to mind your faith? • What do think God is saying to you in this chapter, and how might you respond?
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