“Sometimes I find myself using all the tools of prayer—Bible, journal, worship music—as distractions, protection against being real and true and open and vulnerable.”
These words, penned by Kelly O’Dell Stanley in her book Praying Upside Down, sting me with their truth. How many times have I used these tools without thinking of their true purpose? How often do I look at these things like they are just one more accomplishment to mark off my checklist?
Read a chapter of Lamentations. Check. Meditation? Well, I had to read that one verse a second time since I didn’t understand it at first glance. That counts, right? (Insert nervous laughter.)
Seriously, I have a habit—a routine, if you will. I read a chapter of the Bible followed by a chapter of an inspirational book. If I’m really on a role (i.e. when I decide I have time to spare), I’ll read another chapter of the Bible followed by a chapter of a different inspirational book. Sometimes I’ll find a cool quote to scribble down in my journal. Sometimes not. Sometimes I take my time, but other times I’m in a rush to flip through the pages and get on with my day. Then I pack all my books away and call it time spent with God.
Really? Did I really spend time with God? Kelly Stanley disagrees (and I think God might take her side on this one).
“It’s a legitimate fear,” Kelly writes. “When we spend time alone in prayer, God blows off the chaff. Shines His light on our darkness, exposing it all. He separates what is valuable from what is worthless. If you recall, Jesus chastised the Pharisees for their public displays of faith, not because they were public but because they were shows.”
Confession time: Sometimes my own faith becomes more of a show, even if I’m only performing for myself. Because it makes me feel good to think I made room for God today… even on those days when God feels that He missed the invite to my little party of spirituality.
If you’re like me, you’re probably struggling a little bit with this whole idea of the Bible being a distraction from God. After all, it’s the God-Breathed Word of God. How can it do anything but draw us closer to the One who wrote it?
This morning, I buried my face in a chapter of Lamentations and learned absolutely nothing relevant to my life today. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t really looking, but perhaps (dare I say it?) it’s because the answers aren’t there.
Seriously, though. There is a lot to be learned from the words God ordained to be recorded in that holy book, but nowhere in the Bible am I going to find the words in red that say, “Thou shalt wait tables while waiting for your writing prowess to be acknowledged by agents and publishing houses alike.” The Bible gives me the generic, but not the specific. Only a lifetime spent seeking God’s voice through other mediums, such as prayer, is going to lead me down the path He specifically intended for my life.
“I have the answers,” God says, waiting for the moment we tear our eyes from the book on our laps to notice He has been sitting across from us all along. “I’ll give them to you if you stop trying to be so spiritual and simply seek Me instead.”
But I, like Kelly, am afraid. Afraid of the way He shines light on my darkness, exposing it all. I’m afraid to get honest and open and vulnerable even with the God who knows it all anyway. Because the person I’m really afraid of being honest with is myself. Because if I were really to acknowledge the darkness, I would have to work at transforming it into light.
Sure, people will tell you God takes the darkness away, but you have to let Him. And if you’re going to practice true, Godly living, you can’t just keep coming back like, “Oops. I messed up again,” just because you know forgiveness will be extended; You have to intentionally work to keep the darkness at bay so as not to take advantage of God’s endless grace.
That’s a huge commitment–dying to self day after day after day. So sometimes I take the easy route and let the Bible serve as a distraction, turning my daily Jesus routine into a big performance for my audience of me.