Good deeds are meant to be multiplied — to the glory of God and to the building up of his kingdom.
The Christian spiritual tradition outlines three disciplines necessary for inner healing and growth: prayer, fasting, and acts of charity (which can be broadly defined as acts engaged solely for the sake of another).
When we look at the lives of the saints, their stories of intense prayer, strict fasting, and absolute selflessness can make the average believer feel quite discouraged. You might not realize it but, if you’re worried that you’re not doing enough in your walk with God, you’ve got half the battle won. None of the saints believed they were doing enough. The worse thing we can do in our spiritual life is convince ourselves that, “I have arrived.” There’s always more that we can do.
As they say, “the struggle is real,” and the above quote from the desert father Abba Poemen offers good perspective and much hope. When people come to me for advice on the spiritual disciplines, I offer this rule of thumb:
- figure out what you realistically can do, and
- put in a sincere effort to just do what you can.
If you can realistically take an hour for your daily devotions, do that and may God bless you. If you can realistically only find five minutes a day for prayer, make sure you’re taking those five minutes every day and may God bless you. The quantity is not as important as the sincerity of the effort.
Furthermore, don’t forget that things change over the course of one’s life. When you can do more, do more, when you can’t, do whatever you can with a sincere heart, to the Lord’s glory.
Rather than focusing on what you think you “should” be doing in your spiritual life, focus on what you can do, and put every ounce of effort into making a habit of getting that done. This is the work pleasing to God.
I’ll be putting this meme somewhere that I can see easily see it. I need the reminder.
Neuroscience tells us that what’s going on in this quote is a function of something called myelination. Myelin is a chemical that allows signals to travel faster in our neural pathways. We build up myelin by repetition. The more we do something, the stronger the pathways in the brain needed to get it done. That’s why “practice makes perfect.”
Myelination doesn’t just affect learning skills, it also shapes things like character and attitudes. Choosing to be positive will make us a more positive person, because we are strengthening the “positive” pathways in our brains. The same is true for negative thinking.
In the words of the 20th-century Eastern Orthodox monk, Elder Thaddeus:
Our thoughts determine our lives.
People of every culture have looked at themselves, at their respective values, worldview, and accomplishments, and thought, “Surely, this is as good as it gets. Surely, we’ve arrived.”
In truth, every one of them (including our own) is transient. Christians should know this. Wherever and whenever we may be, we are sojourners.
We have not arrived until God has said, “Now. Now you have arrived. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
Continue reading “Sojourners”