I want to take something of a personal detour in the blog today—but one that I think relates very much to the media-and-message flooded world in which we swim these days. Specifically, I’m going to reflect on something that anyone who’s been a Christian for any period of time probably knows, but something we so easily and quietly drift away from: our need for spiritual renewal through prayer and immersion in God’s Word.
First a brief spiritual biography to set the stage:
I placed my faith in Christ at the tender age of 8, shortly after my dad had a powerful conversion of his own and began taking me to church. My mother became a Christian a few years later, and I grew up in a rock-solid community Bible church in rural Iowa. My teen years were marked by angst and spiritual drift. But by God’s grace, when I went away to college, I was surrounded by people who thoroughly loved Jesus. Even though I was on the run spiritually, I couldn’t resist the winsome way they embraced me despite my prodigal prickliness.
I got deeply involved with a college ministry that transformed everything in my life: the way I saw God, the way I saw myself and the way I saw other people. At the center of that transformation was a relationship with an older believer named Steve who met with me weekly for several years. We’d read the Bible together, talk about what it meant and pray about how it applied to our lives. It wasn’t rocket science. But Steve’s steady commitment, both to me and to God’s Word, ingrained in me a deep love for Scripture as the lens through which I look at everything in life.
That transformation began in late 1988—nearly 27 years ago. Since then, I’ve worked for two different ministries, married a woman who serves as a pastor in our church and sought to, as the apostle Paul says, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called ” (Ephesians 4:1b).
Lately, some health concerns have resulted in deep battles with anxiety—battles that have propelled me in dependence back to God and Scripture. It’s not that I quit reading His Word or praying. But, as sometimes happens, I think it’s safe to say that just getting through each busy day, each busy week, had encroached upon the kind of focus I had on Scripture earlier in my spiritual journey. Perhaps something like what Jesus described in the parable of the sower in Mark 4:18, where He observes of certain seeds, “And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
There are so many things that can quietly begin to strangle our fruitfulness if we’re not vigilant. Each day is bursting with pressure and responsibilities, sometimes from the moment we get up to the moment our heads hit the pillow 18 hours later.
It’s no wonder, then, that in our discretionary time, we often want to escape those pressures. And we’ve never had so many engaging, alluring and entertaining ways to do so as we do today. From smartphones to tablets, hundreds of cable channels to streaming music, satellite radio to social media, it’s increasingly normal to spend most of our waking moments (apart from our core responsibilities) doing something media-related. It’s so very easy to whip out our smartphones every chance we get—especially if our life circumstances feel overwhelming at the moment.
It is, one might say, like the old frog in the kettle conundrum—becoming so gradually enmeshed in a way of living that we don’t even notice what’s happening to us, that we’re being slowly cooked.
I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed trying to come to grips with the deep anxiety I’ve suffered through recently. But I’ve also wondered if maybe God knew He needed to get my attention in a fairly dramatic way, pulling me out of some patterns and habits that kept me from getting into His Word with the kind of relish I did when my faith was new and fresh (and before the Internet, I might add).
Lately, I’ve found myself returning once again to a passage we’ve talked about often at Plugged In over the years, Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
These verses powerfully teach that there’s the way the world thinks, and there’s a transformed way of thinking (and seeing and feeling and living) that comes only from encountering the truth of God’s Word and letting it shape us into Christlikeness. And there’s no shortcut. We’re either in the process of being squeezed into the world’s mold, or the opposite: being sculpted by truth into people whose lives look radically different than what the world says is important.
I share this exhortation not in a scolding or nagging spirit, but as someone who knows this truth but is once again rediscovering it as I recommit to spending more intentional time in God’s Word. It’s so easy to let what the late Christian singer Rich Mullins once called “the stuff of earth” to crowd out the renewing, reviving truth that our souls need to flourish. But it’s only as we cling to that truth—and cling to the God who graciously gives us Himself—that we experience the freedom and joy of the abundant life He’s promised.