Why the 4-Hour Spiritual Life Doesn't Work
By Caitlin Muir
May 15, 2013
Caitlin Muir is a coffee snob from Portland who finally found her home in Austin, Texas. When she's not daydreaming adventures, she's living one or writing about past ones at www.caitlinmuir.com.
“Maybe the question should be, ‘What Would Tim Ferriss Do?’”
Lizzie laughed. We were somewhere around mile 900 on our road trip across America and instead of swapping playlists, we were swapping business plans built on the teachings of Tim Ferriss.
That week, we treated The 4-Hour Workweek like gospel. If Ferriss said it, we believed it.
All too often, I catch myself reducing the vibrant life of a Jesus follower into the “4-Hour Spiritual Life.”
In San Diego, we walked on the beach while other people went to work. We wondered what it would be like to truly live a four-hour workweek. Would it be possible? In San Francisco, we started making our business plan. We sketched out ways to build passive income and expertise. At night, we crashed onto beds exhausted, but still dreaming.
It was wonderful. The only problem was that it was doing nothing for our spiritual lives—nothing at all.
In theory, I know that spiritual growth is more than memorizing verses and showing up for church. I know that there are big questions to wrestle with. I know that there are -isms and -ologies that I need to hash out and others that I simply must allow to sit in the tension of faith.
Yet all too often, I catch myself reducing the vibrant life of a Jesus follower into the “4-Hour Spiritual Life”—with 1.5 hours on Sunday and the remaining time scattered sparsely throughout the week.
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t work.
There’s no doubt about it: Ferriss is absolutely brilliant. He can do almost anything he sets his mind to and then deconstruct it so he can teach other people how he does it. I have the utmost admiration for him even if I can’t fully endorse all of his teachings.
What if you can have it all? That’s Ferriss’ tantalizing question—the same one millions of people have been asking ever since a talking serpent posed it to a naked woman in a garden.
The appeal of his gospel is loosening the bonds of working 9-5 and setting yourself free to roam the world as a member of the “new rich.” It’s the perfect blend of hedonism, moxie and the new American Dream.
His methodology is defined by the acronym DEAL.
D – Definition. Figure out what you want and count the cost of what it will take to get there.
You are called to step into a life of faith—not a predictable, 7-way formula to hack your spiritual life.
E – Elimination. Seek out the 20 percent of activities that produce 80 percent or more of the results that you want and eliminate the 80 percent of activities that just waste your time.
A – Automation. Build a passive source of income that will bring in money while you are doing something else.
L – Liberation. Set yourself free to live the way you want, where you want, how you want.
But does such methodology work in the spiritual realm?
Certainly defining spiritual goals is important. The Bible is rich with examples of people who traded in their earthly goals for spiritual purpose— just look at Hebrews 11 for a few names. Jesus called his followers to count the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-35), often calling them to lives of discomfort.
Eliminating distractions is par for the course with the teachings of Paul. Ferriss would certainly agree with the admonition of Hebrews 12:1 to throw aside the things that tangle us up.
But after that, things start to fall apart.
1) You can’t outsource relationships.
In The 4-Hour Work Week, Ferriss outlines how he outsourced his love life, hiring a small army of assistants to help him secure the girlfriend of his dreams. He created a list of requirements and even an email template to send to prospects. All his ambassadors had to do was set up and monitor online dating site profiles for him, initiate conversation with beautiful women using his template, and set up dates across the world.
All Ferriss had to do was show up.
But it doesn’t work that way with God. You can’t expect someone else to pray, read the Bible or worship for you. His invitation is to a vibrant, personal relationship with you.
You can’t hear and know His voice (John 10:27) if His messages are being relayed through your outsourced online executive assistant. Your faith needs to be your own.
2) You can’t automate spiritual growth.
You can automate many things in life: your Twitter updates, your bills, and in some churches, your monthly tithe. There’s an app to automate almost anything.
Relationships, on the other hand, are a little messier than algorithms. You aren’t interacting with a line of code; you are dealing with Yahweh, the Creator God who spoke worlds into being because He wanted relationships into which to pour His love. You’re dealing with the fierce God that was so holy that no one could see His face and live. And you’re dealing with the tender Father who would do anything—even sacrifice his beloved—in order to save the race of humans that He had created.
Why would you even try to hack that relationship?
When the religious people tried to reduce God to a series of rules, Jesus called them white-washed tombs full of dry bones (Matthew 23:27). That’s not exactly a term of endearment.
By reducing God to mere rules, rituals and routines, we’re slapping Him in the face, choosing to satisfy our souls with shadows of what we were created to long for.
3) Your life isn’t about you.
Rick Warren chose to start The Purpose-Driven Life with those words. They shocked a lot of people when they were first printed, but only because it’s true.
Some of the most successful people in the world are also some of the most small-hearted—living only for themselves. There are things in this world that cannot be satiated—lust, ambition, greed—and they are all driven by the idea that life is about “me.”
Ferriss doesn’t invite people to be consumed by such greed for money. Essentially, he invites people to live like millionaires without being owned by money. And that is a beautiful thing. Yet we need to be careful not to swap out the Gospel of Christ for the false gospel of prosperity, or its younger cousin, the gospel of poverty. We end up missing out when we reduce spiritual blessings to dollar signs.
As a follower of Christ, you are called to step into a life of faith—not a predictable, 7-way formula to hack your spiritual life. You can try to write your own story, but there’s something spectacular about the twists and turns that God writes into lives. He turns shepherds into kings. He takes harlots off the street and puts them in places of honor. He turns mourning into dancing. And no, it’s not efficient, but it’s real.
Our relationship with God is far too dynamic, too rich, to be hacked or compressed into four hours a week. Our faith is too important to be made into a machine of efficiency. The Kingdom—and what God wants to do in you and through you—is far bigger than all this.
And it’s time we started living like it.