Let me tell you about spiritual disciplines: I suck at them. Very badly.
‘Quiet times’? My mind wanders or I fall asleep.
Bible reading? Only when I’m looking up a verse when I’m writing, or reading along with the lessons in church.
Prayer? I don’t have a set time for prayer. I pray all day long. (Usually the prayer is, ‘help!’)
Every weekday, I get in my car and the question is, what will I do that morning? Listen to a book or listen to music? Usually the answer is pretty obvious, it’s whatever is less painful. I don’t know if this will make sense, but it’s like the explanation one of the main characters gets in the book and miniseries 11.22.63: when you’re about to change the past, you just know it. It’s like you’re pressing against an invisible wall.
Every morning and afternoon I face that anxiety. I need to learn. I need to grow up. I need to study. Every day I am powerfully reminded of how ignorant I really am, how much I don’t know, and it’s very frustrating, disappointing, and even causes anxiety. Medicine helps with the anxiety, but the feeling is still there. I always feel like I have to be learning something.
A lot of times, I’m some what dismayed to learn that the answer is: listen to music and just spend time in the presence of God, praying in tongues or to myself or out loud or whatever. When I say ‘dismayed’, I mean that my rational mind is disappointed because it thinks, ‘I’m not going to learn anything new.’ Deeper inside, I know, yes, I might not gain intellectual knowledge, but I might just glean something from the Spirit. It’s a tension I experience daily.
Spending time in the presence of God is never a waste of time. I know that from experience. A lot of times I’ll gain a lot from simple questions or impressions that come to mind while I’m spending that time sort of doing nothing, just letting my mind wander and spirit fly free. It’s weird how it works. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ ‘We can do nothing without him.’
I can’t say when I learned to ‘abide in the presence of God’, to borrow some Charismatic church-speak. When I was living through my tormented years, an unhelpful church leader said, ‘Well, just crawl up into Daddy’s lap and spend time there.’ This made no sense to me. I was constantly torn apart on the inside because of my schizophrenic belief system: I was bad and good at the same time, and I just. could. not. get. free. from. sin. No matter what, I was constantly tormented inside. Have a bad thought, cast it down. A few minutes later, have another bad thought, case it down. I was constantly having to do that, and it was making me mentally exhausted all the time.
A few years later, I learned that that stuff wasn’t my fault. I got free from the schizophrenic belief system: by grace I have been saved, I have been made clean by Jesus’ words. ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for me, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.’ Set me free, past tense.
I also got treatment for an anxiety disorder, which also helped tremendously, along with about six months of counselling to get my head clear, and I’m doing much better now.
Another thing that removed a lot of the tension was giving up on a ‘ministry mentality’. Since I had a ‘prophetic word’ back in 1997ish, I always believes I was going to be a pastor or preacher or something. I don’t remember what the minister said word-for-word, but the basic gist was that I would be preaching and speaking the Word. Maybe that’s coming true in a sense right now, in that I’m finally able to write things almost daily that hopefully help one or two people. The problem was all of the churches I filtered through after that, especially one we went to for over ten years, which were really high-powered and focused on activity. Find your calling, do your calling, now now now. The problem with that is, even going through ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’ and books about vision and purpose, nothing seemed to some to pass. I was still in dead-end jobs and all my attempts to minister to anyone fell flat. This is probably a good thing, because I was really, really screwed up by then, but this remained a pressure in my mind and caused me to do a lot of dumb things, including prioritizing ‘ministry goals’ above family, for almost 20 years.
Concerned about spiritual disciplines? Don’t be. Learn to spend time in the presence of God first. If you don’t know how, ask God to show you. He’s remarkably good at making himself heard. You most likely won’t hear a voice from the sky. It’ll be a simple idea. Or maybe you’ll get an inkling to start asking for things because you suddenly believe. Maybe you’ll feel more peaceful than before. Embrace that.