Don't Drink the Water

My cell phone and laptop make me feel like an important somebody.

Typically, the idea of spiritual disciplines is about removing oneself from the hustle and bustle of daily life in order to connect with God, and spiritually recharge. Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline identifies many of these disciplines, such as prayer, fasting, solitude and confession. These kinds of disciplines have been one aspect of my Christian spirituality over the years.

In more recent times, the discipline of solitude has been particularly meaningful for me. When I unplug from the routine of my daily existence I am forced to ponder how much of my life is carried along by illusions of a false self. My cell phone and laptop make me feel like an important somebody.

People look to me for motivation, instruction, enlightenment and inspiration. I am busy for a reason; I am needed, significant, relevant, influential and necessary. The solitude forces my hand: no friends to talk with, no emails to return, no meetings to attend, no books to distract—just me. This nothingness is dreadful, and everything in me wants to plug in something, run to my friends, my work and my distractions so I can forget this wasteland of emptiness and believe I am worth something.

Questions rattle me in the silence. Why do I do what I do? Why do I blog? Why do I exercise so excessively, and why am I so concerned about my appearance? Why am I so quick to broadcast to others my latest spiritual epiphany? Why do I want to project this image of being trendy and radical? Could it be because I’m depending on these for a sense of identity and worth—even for my life’s meaning? My illusions, misplaced dependencies, unreal expectations, false securities, true motives and secret aspirations remain muffled beneath the noise and clutter of my active, busy life. Escaping the racket of the outer world, I run headlong into the racket of my inner one.

I wonder if God’s wisdom in His statement “Be still and know that I am God” has to do with the fact that the stillness first helps us know ourselves. If you don’t know your true self, can you really know God? Until we die to our false self, can we experience the reality of our new self? Solitude has a way of melting away the layers and exposing the core of who we really are, where true union with God is forged.

On the other hand, as a result of drinking the water and therefore digesting several misguided notions about God, I corrupted the value of spiritual disciplines. For example, I operated with this unspoken assumption that God’s view of me is based on what I do. Spiritual disciplines supplied me with a list of God-approved things to do in life that gave me a sense of security that I was “OK with God,” mostly meaning God would “bless me” by helping my life circumstances run smoothly and successfully.

Before long, these spiritual disciplines formed a checklist of things I mechanically did. This worked great when I was in vocational ministry and could pour hours into these disciplines each day. It didn’t work quite as well when I was working two non-ministry-related jobs to make ends meet. My sense of worth to God plummeted, which was a necessary step in the process of discovering the true basis of my identity and worth to God.

Drinking the water also conditioned me to expect God in a limited number of people, places, times and activities. I expected God to be actively present when I was at church or engaged in spiritual disciplines.

Before long, it was like my spiritual brain could not compute God outside those few avenues. For years I’d had early morning “quiet times,” wanting to be with God but then more or less forgetting Him throughout my day until the next morning. Pulling into church, the reality of God was turned on; pulling out, it was turned off. I once was told the rationale for our midweek service was to remind people about God, because you naturally started forgetting about Him a couple of days after Sunday. It’s like we become dependent on church and spiritual disciplines as the spigot of spiritual life and can’t seem to tap into God’s presence in the natural ebb and flow of daily living. In time I discovered that God has rigged everything along the everyday paths of life to cultivate relationship with us.

Another misguided notion that confuses spiritual disciplines is the fear of lack. We think our spiritual energy drains away, and we need the disciplines to “recharge” our spiritual battery. I want to unpack this notion a bit further.

What if Peter was right when he said, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3, TNIV)? If so, maybe the spiritual disciplines we need the most are not those designed to fill us up with spiritual resources but rather disciplines helping us translate those spiritual resources into our daily lives.

If, as Peter said, we already have all the spiritual fuel we need, what disciplines would help us convert it into a radically different way of living and being in the world? Jesus often said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come.” Contrary to popular belief, the word repent, which is metanoia in Greek, does not mean “regret for past wrongs.” Metanoia means a totally different way of processing reality. Metanoia is a new-minded way of looking at life. In other words, Jesus was saying, “Another reality is available right here and now, but it’s going to require you to start living from a radically different state of mind.”

And what we have to truly change our mind about is how trustworthy God is, and how in every single situation, no matter what it is, no matter how painful, God is to be trusted. God is always present. God is always inviting us into more life, and resourcing that reality from within us.

The “kingdom of God” Jesus referred to is a reality of perfect love, peace, joy, freedom, contentment and well-being. Makes sense: Every good and perfect gift comes from God, and so it’s no mystery His Kingdom would be so. This is the “abundant life” Jesus said He came to give (John 10:10). Typically, Christians are holding off for heaven to experience this reality, and yet Jesus implied that it was available now. How is that possible? God is the source of that life. More importantly, that source of God is within us now. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you , the hope of Glory” (emphasis mine). Christ within us makes the source of every truly good thing accessible in the here and now. That’s why Jesus could say, “The kingdom of God is within you ” (Luke 17:21, emphasis mine).

It’s not necessary to grope through life trying to squeeze out some inkling of fulfillment, love and well-being. All of these are available to us in every moment because the source of this life is not people, places, pursuits and things, but the living God within us.

So, let me toss a new “spiritual discipline” into the mix: the Discipline of Metanoia. The discipline of metanoia is about practicing the change of mind necessary to translate the abundant life and Kingdom of God within us into our daily lives. Let me give you an example.

You are invited to a party. You walk in, and essentially you are ignored. Conversations of laughter and smiles are happening all over the room, but nobody is giving you the time of day. If you could crawl into a deep, black hole and die, you would. Your sense of worth, peace and joy just got flushed down the commode!

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OK, hold on. Stop that train! Instead, practice the discipline of metanoia. Since when did your worth, peace and joy become dependent upon the way people treat or respond to you? If that’s the case, plan on your entire life being one painful roller-coaster ride—they love me, they love me not, they love me, they love me not.

Can you be at peace in a room where nobody gives you the time of day? Yes, because the source of peace is not whether people notice and accept you or ignore and dismiss you. The source of peace is God within you.

That peace is never threatened and is not contingent upon any particular set of circumstances. The life of Jesus is the most compelling example. Few people will ever endure the extent of physical pain inflicted upon Jesus. Few people will ever be so utterly rejected and despised as Jesus. He endured the full force of these realities, and yet Jesus was always at peace. Why? Because the source of Jesus’ peace was not His human circumstances but His eternal reality. Jesus’ peace could not be threatened, because the source could not be threatened.

Do you realize you can have this peace? When Jesus said the peace He gives “is not as the world gives,” He was seeking to awaken people to a whole other dimension of life.

So, practice the discipline of metanoia. Change your mind! It’s not “positive thinking”; it’s applying Truth to your life. Make it a habit to stop and ask yourself, “What am I depending on right now for love, or worth, or peace, or fulfillment? What source am I depending on?” We don’t need a discipline to pipe spiritual resources in; we need disciplines to help us depend on the resources already present and available. Not a discipline you have to climb a mountain to practice, but a discipline you incorporate on the fly as life unfolds moment by moment before you

If you’re a leader, don’t tell people their lives can be better by squeezing God into them. It won’t work, because the underlying premise of life for most people is fundamentally flawed, and adding God won’t help. I spent a lot of years trying to make it work, and painfully failed. People probably have to figure this out for themselves. Tell them to go out and apply every formula they’ve heard for living a happy life: become wealthy, accomplish great success, be devoutly religious, achieve the perfect body, join a cause, travel the world or find Mr. or Mrs. Right. If that doesn’t work, try climbing Mount Everest, getting a record deal, purchasing a Yamaha R6, doubling your Facebook friends, launching your crusade to save the rain forests or whatever floats your boat. Do it all! It will never produce the life you want.

Trying to bargain with God through religion to make your life circumstances better is part of the same failed system. God wants to give people a different life altogether. God is the source of that life, and is present within you to supply that life. The only question left is, which source are you going to depend on? People have lived entire lifetimes habitually choosing the wrong source. The discipline of metanoia is meant to help people develop a new dependency that will set them free.

About the Author: Jim Palmer is the author of Divine Nobodies and Wide Open Spaces . You can track him down at www.divinenobodies.com .

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