Group Discussion on Walking With God, Part 1

Yesterday, I mentioned that we’d be using our time here in The Diner for the next few days to talk about what it means to walk with God in a 21st-century setting. Spring is a good time for me to slow down and re-calibrate, so I thought I’d think “out loud” and allow all the patrons to add their two-cents. Kind of a digital think-tank.

Anyway, my suggestion to get us going on our discussion was that we listen to portions of a 2006 Winter Bible Conference at my church so we’re using the same framework. What I didn’t expect was how intimidated people got at the idea of going to a website and downloading a sermon. I hope they got past that, because it’s really good stuff (and there’s lots of great sermons for free on the crazy internet machine). I even linked to it yesterday and it should be as simple as clicking on the little speaker icon and your computer should start playing it. For those that didn’t listen, the reality is that the discussion should be broad enough to join in at any point.

So, I suggested that we should listen to roughly half of the first entry, and Dr. Hannah set forth several ideas I think we can run with. Among them:

That our public and private lives should not be a “Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde” affair. In other words, we shouldn’t be one person when others look at us and another when we’re out of sight.

Frankly, I’ve always thought this and related to his statement, “People may not like what they see, but what they see is what is. It isn’t a facade.” It’s interesting how our desire to be liked or accepted causes changes in our behavior. It happens to all of us to varying degrees…despite the reality that not everyone will like us and/or accept us.

Where my thoughts went listening to this was how often people divide their “church life” and their “real life.” You know. Like when you’re at church you have discussions and interactions in accepted frameworks, but outside of that realm you’re totally different. It could be something as obvious as portraying yourself at church as this wise & insightful person, and then when you’re at home you berate and provoke your children…or spouse. It could fall into areas like music or television or styles of dress (I once heard teenage girls talk about their swimsuit and their “church party swimsuit”). This dichotomy of the “secular” and the “sacred” seems dangerous to me. It’s all life, to be lived inside and outside our church buildings.

He made the statement that he’d like to talk about, “What can you do when you can’t get it [the spiritual life] right?” He then followed up with a statement that he thinks that’s where most of “us” are right now. I agree. But it’s weird that most people don’t talk about it. The spiritual life often feels like trying to pick up sand…but somehow there’s a culture in church circles that everybody else seems to be “getting it” and there’s a fear in trying to talk about how it feels to be trying to pick up sand.

I was terribly encouraged to hear this esteemed professor say, about books & methods for spiritual growth, that, “They all work. And they all fail.” That’s been my experience, anyway. But he’s right when he said that they all have the same ingredients. That we’ll all walk differently, though. But that they all boil down to a very simple denominator: You cling to what the Bible says, and then trust Him for the strength to do it. In short, the entire spiritual life is simply to “trust & obey.”

He also said people experience guilt & imperfection because they listen to people talk about their spiritual lives. The problem is that what people talk about are areas where they don’t really have a problem. Amen.

According to Dr. Hannah, the spiritual life (which he called “an unending wonderful struggle”) comes down to three things:

First, you must know your God. Second, you must know yourself. Third, you must know your situation. When it comes to knowing God, I think Dr. Hannah’s right when he insinuates that many (particularly in Bible church settings, if you ask me) people correlate knowing the Bible intellectually with spiritual growth. His quote, “You can know the Bible, and miss it” was a wonderful harbinger for those of us in leadership. That danger is always there. But I believe it’s true that many in my circles confuse the enormity of knowledge with spirituality.

He then said that, to do those three things, you must develop habits that allow you to do it. He noted that you don’t see a tree grow, but 10 years later you can see the tree’s growth. Hence, the spiritual life is a process, through which we develop habits that, at first, can seem like drudgery. However, over time, these routines develop into habits that eventually become joyful.

This I agree with. Too often, people get discouraged because they try to do too much too soon…and when it feels like they’re picking up sand they get frustrated and eventually give up very quietly. But, ultimately, we have to develop some sort of habits that will allow us to know God better. We’ll have to develop some habits that allow us to know ourselves better. And we’ll have to develop some sort of ability to discern our situation and how we’re tempted. In other words, if we plan on growing in our faith, we can’t fall back on the patterns we’re in or nothing will change.

It’s that last one that I don’t do very well with in my current phase of life. I have a job that allows me to know my God while I’m more or less on the clock. My job description naturally includes devotional study and stuff like that. Same for knowing myself. I’ve always been introspective and a journaler and wonder why I’ve gotten so far afield from my fellow man…so those come pretty easily.

Where I get bogged down is in knowing my situation. Being proactive in areas where I know I’ll be tempted and taking preventative measures to avoid those situations. My temptations are not your temptations, so we’ve all got to be aware in this area. For example, I struggle with diet & exercise. I know this. I can rationalize & minimize & justify avoiding the gym. And I’ll often make the poorest menu choice at a restaurant. I can eat too much. And you know what? So much could be avoided by thinking all those things through a little bit better.

So, patrons…that should be plenty to get you going (and that was just the first half-hour of the first hour-long session). Have at it!

*pours coffee, sits down with headphones and iPod and begins listening to the next half-session*