Shark-Eyed Christianity

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contempora...
Image via Wikipedia

Mick Turner

I have often used Thoreau’s words to describe the true situation many sincere Christians find themselves in. Instead of living the abundant lives Christ came to provide, many of us wander around in “quiet desperation,” wondering what happened to the Master’s promise of a journey of spiritual fulfillment and exceeding joy. “In all things rejoice,” said the Great Apostle. Rejoice? As a friend of mine once lamented, it’s hard to rejoice when you feel like someone just whacked you in the back of the head with a two x four. Vince Antonucci, in his fine little book entitled, I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt, gives an image that captures exactly the condition of far too many contemporary Christians:

 We’re missing the journey. We’re stuck in the same dull routine. We’re missing out on the joy and fear and laughter and doubt and mystery and confusion of following Jesus, of taking great risks for God, of praying dangerous prayers, even of being spiritually attacked……We wander around with lifeless shark eyes.

 Lifeless shark eyes – I have seen that look. I have seen it on the faces of far too many sincere Christians at 10:45 on a Sunday morning as they smile and take a printed program from the greeters hand on their way into worship. And I have seen the exact same look a little over an hour later when they walked out, aimlessly meandering toward their cars as spiritually empty as they were when they arrived.

 Lifeless shark eyes – masking spiritual hunger and consistent disappointment. This is not the way things were meant to be, but seeking to lay blame on any one cause is an exercise in futility. The issue is far more complex than that. Some of us fall short of the standard set by the Master because we lack the discipline and commitment we need. Let’s face facts, far too many Christians walk a lukewarm path because that is exactly what they choose to do. Others may have the discipline and commitment, but lack basic knowledge and understanding of just what it is we need to do in order to grow in the faith. The church is, of course, largely responsible for this state of affairs as they have wasted much time majoring in the minors – teaching people how to put on a fantastic Wednesday night potluck dinner, but offering nothing in the way of training in the classic spiritual disciplines of the faith.

 And speaking of spiritual disciplines, I am convinced that this is where we need to begin if we want to put life back into those zombie-like shark eyes we spoke of earlier. Paul tells us to sink our roots down deep in Christ and the only way I know to do this, the only way that has proven time and time again to work well for most people, is to engage in serious and committed practice of our faith’s rich tradition of spiritual disciplines. Lack of knowledge about these disciplines and a concomitant lack of personal application of these practices lie at the root of the shallow, spiritually empty lives we witness filling far too many pews on Sunday mornings. Author and highly-respected Bible teacher Dallas Willard reminds us that:

 Jesus brings us reliable information about who we are, why we are here, and what the humanly appropriate motives are for doing whatever we do. First, he informs us that we are by nature unceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe. We will never stop existing, and there is nothing we can do about it.

 While we have already fallen from God’s intentions for us, he can restore us into the flow of God’s life if we will only count on him for everything. That is, we must trust him, and really to trust him is to take up his cause, his “yoke” (Matthew 11:29). Then he will teach us how to make our choices with the aim of glorifying God by doing good to human beings.

 After describing these general parameters of Jesus’ expectations of his followers, Willard goes on to delve into the meat of the matter so to speak, the practice of spiritual disciplines:

 Then he invites us to follow him into his practices, such as solitude, silence, study, service, worship, etc. – we call them “spiritual disciplines.” There, with him, the readinesses to do evil that inhabit our bodily members through long practice are gradually removed, to an ever-increasing degree. Our flesh increasingly comes to the side of our spirit and God’s Spirit in service to God. The disciplines for the spiritual life are a central part of the crucial “in-formation” which Jesus brings to us, and we dare not neglect it.

 One need not become a fanatic in order to glean benefit from practicing the spiritual disciplines. Yes, you do need a degree of commitment and discipline, but no one is suggesting you sleep in a bed of sharpened spikes and wear the old hair shirt. Begin by selecting a pair of spiritual disciplines and make a commitment to practice them on a regular basis. Here are a few of the traditional spiritual disciplines of our faith:

 Prayer

Meditation

Silence

Solitude

Fasting

Study

Celebration

Service

 

 From this list, select two disciplines and set up a schedule that is not too taxing. I say this because all too often, people set themselves up to fail at the outset. They do this by setting goals that are far too high. A good rule for beginning a program of spiritual discipline is:

 Keep it short and keep it simple.

 Let’s say you selected prayer and study as your pair of practices. For the first month, make a commitment to pray daily for a period of ten minutes and read a chapter per day of a book in the Bible or a work by a favorite Christian author. After the first thirty days, gradually expand your practice by either lengthening the time or adding another practice.

 The benefits that flow from practicing these disciples are enormous, but can only be verified through your own personal experience. As the old saying goes, the journey begins with one step.

 Why not take that step by starting today?

 © L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

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