Books were once my refuge. To be in bed with a Highsmith novel was a salve. To read was to disappear, become enrobed in something beyond my own jittery ego. To read was to shutter myself and, in so doing, discover a larger experience. I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.
In a very real way, to lose old styles of reading is to lose a part of ourselves.
I have a litmus test to help you determine whether or not you are doing this: How often does God contradict you, confuse you, or make you mad? Because if he’s not doing any of those things, chances are you are not really letting God be God—you are only re-imagining him as you want him to be.
Any time you are in a relationship, the other person is going to confuse and contradict you. It’s why the first year of marriage is often so hard. When you start to date a person, psychologists tell us, you get to know a part of that person—and you like that part—and then you fill in all the gaps of what you don’t know with what you want that person to be. This all gets shattered, of course, in the first six months of marriage, because the real person is usually not like your imagination. (That’s why, as I’ve heard it said, love is a dream, and marriage is the alarm clock.)
The tears of Jesus are meaningful. But the other thing that was meaningful to me was what Jesus didn’t say. He makes no effort to justify Himself. He doesn’t bother to give Mary a lesson on the importance of sacrifice for the sake of God. He doesn’t launch into a theological treatise about what is really important in the universe. And He doesn’t make some pithy statement about how everything will be OK in heaven someday. He simply weeps. Sometimes the tears are better than the explanation.
Many times the confused responses come from a misunderstanding of what is meant in this context by theology. So I tell my church what I don’t mean. When I say every Christian must be a theologian, I don’t mean that every Christian must be an academic or that every Christian must be a scholar or that every Christian must work hard at giving the impression of being a know-it-all. We all basically understand what is meant in the biblical warning that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1). Nobody likes an egghead.
What does it mean to pay careful attention to yourselves? It certainly entails the importance of walking with the Lord daily in personal devotions. It includes keeping a close watch on our doctrine and theology. It means we seek to be obedient to the Lord and His commands in all we do. But I have discovered two areas of my own heart where I need to pay careful attention to myself. I doubt that I am alone in these two areas. I want to be completely transparent in hopes it will help other pastors as well. I must pay careful attention to myself in the areas of 1. being in the inner-ring and 2. platform envy.
I’ve been there. And up until fairly recently, I haven’t been concerned, thinking it was normal, and thus OK. What I soon realized is that being content with a lackluster prayer life exposes an anemic view of God. It makes God seem optional instead of supreme and distant instead of approachable by faith in Christ. He is worthy of so much more than my excuses and laziness.
A more joyful prayer life may be closer than you realize, even if you have no idea how to get there. God wants us to enjoy Him in prayer, and sometimes all it takes is a small onramp of truth to take us to the highway of joyful prayer and deeper communion with God.
A favorite from the archives:
But that’s not the passage I’m talking about. It’s something that happens just a little while later in Numbers 20. There, the people were grumbling once again. They needed water, so God commanded Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock and bring water forth. Instead of speaking, though, Moses struck the rock twice. And to Moses and Aaron, God said, “Because you did not trust me to demonstrate my holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them” (20:12, CSB).