I am writing to share with you a troubling situation that I brought on myself so you, my friends, are warned not to make the mistake of traveling the same path.
I have a small green book with a golden cross on it. The book contains Bible verses for each day of the week as well as reflections and prayers to be read throughout the week. For three years it had been part of my discipline to start each week on Sunday evening by reading the Bible verses, some reflections, and praying. It was like a second Sunday service for me. Then each evening during the week I would read the Bible verse for that day and pray. I also have a small black book I carry in my pocket. I would use it throughout the day to read reflections and prayers at least three times a day and some days as many as five. I use the Upper Room devotional to start each day with a Bible reading, devotion and prayer. I say this not to brag but to give you an idea of the spiritual discipline I had built up over the years.
One Sunday night nearly two months ago I moved the ribbon bookmark in the small green book with the golden cross to that evening’s reading. I stared at the book. For no particular reason, I thought “I don’t feel like reading that tonight” and laid the book back down.
The next morning when I got up I took the small black book that I normally carry in my pocket and laid it down on my Bible. Over the next several weeks I would rarely carry the book with me. Even when I carried the book with me, I did not open it and pray.
In the span of a dozen hours I had reduced my spiritual discipline to the early morning reading of the Upper Room.
It took maybe two weeks before I noticed a change in how I behaved. One of the first things that occurred was that I failed to pray with others. I had for the past 18 months or so started the habit of praying with someone when they wanted a prayer.
The next thing I noticed deteriorating was the service I performed for the church was no longer a joy. That took about a month. Service became more like an unpaid part-time job. There was no joy in service. I kept my commitments but I found myself getting tired where before there was no tiring because I always felt myself replenished by the Lord. Where before it was as if my physical body was carried along by this Spirit within and around me; it was now an exhausting effort because the physical body was the lone provider of energy.
My belief in God and God’s love through Jesus never diminished. It remained unchanged. What was changing was how I responded to that belief. My faith was no longer being lived out. It was no longer exposed. It was an internal thought. It was a private matter between God and me.
My attendance at church and classes remained the same. In fact, attending Sunday service and Disciple class were the strongest connection to God that I felt. One Sunday during service during the quite time of prayer I thought to myself what it would be like to simply come to church and class and do no more. There were others who could do what I do. It was a fleeting thought. But, even for an instant it was a thought that scared me because the pledge I made to the church was the same I made to God. How could I work for God’s glory in the world if I did nothing? Could I as a Christian do nothing and consider myself as a true Christian? At that point I recognized the true depth of this personal struggle. I saw myself as a Christian struggling not with his faith but his existence as a Christian.
If anyone around me at church, in Disciple class, Prayer Group, or at work noticed a difference they didn’t mention it. At first I thought “I will enter into prayer on this matter”. Then in an instant another thought came into my mind. I have a vacation in one week. I will stay aware of my thoughts and actions while I am in an environment that is not my normal environment. I will look honestly at myself and see what kind of Christian I am.
For the first four days of my vacation I did not practice any of the spiritual disciplines except for an evening prayer asking for forgiveness. I tell you the truth. It did not take a week to see what I as becoming. It took four days. During those days I truly saw my compassion for others faded, self-centered thinking increased, I experienced extreme impatience, and ill temper.
On the fifth day I was back to starting the day by reading the Upper Room devotional. Although I didn’t have my little black prayer book with me, I began to recite one of the prayers from it that I had memorized. When I felt impatience I recited the Lord’s Prayer in my mind or whispered the Doxology to myself. These things, small as they are, lifted me in my struggle. I could feel the change in myself. I could observe my compassion strengthened when I talked to others.
As soon as I was home from vacation I began to carry my little black prayer book and to read from it.
This morning at church I said a prayer with the Pastor.
Today after church, my first Sunday back since vacation, I set my ribbon to the reading in the little green book for this week. Tonight I will begin my readings and reestablish my spiritual discipline daily order.
I feel my struggle over for now. It may one day happen again, if it does I know that I can beat it by being honest with myself about what I want to be as a Christian and doing those things that strengthen me so that service is again joy, so that I have the compassion for others and strength of faith to pray with others, and that I have the courage live out my faith for others to see (if they want to see it) rather than treating my faith a private matter between God and me.
I doubt I am neither the first nor the last to travel this path. Should you ever feel yourself in a similar situation consider strengthening your daily discipline of Bible, prayer, and daily devotion.
I praise the name of the Lord. It may have been my struggle but it was God who brought victory.