The Idol of Spiritual Discipline


When I had my first baby everything changed. My sleeping, eating, housekeeping, socializing – everything. My “new normal” pulled the rug out from under me. One change in particular was very difficult: I couldn’t spend time in God’s word the way I used to. My regular spiritual disciplines of prayer and scripture reading were all out of whack. In high school and college I started every day with my Bible time. I never missed it. Now, as a new mom, my day didn’t really have a beginning. The hours all ran together in the endless fog of exhaustion. My time was not my own. My Bible reading was sporadic and disorganized. I felt out of control and anxious. It was a box I was very nervous leaving unchecked day after day. What would happen to me? I was sure something bad would happen if I let my head hit the pillow without reading something from my Bible that day.
But the reality was, God was feeding me from His word during that time. Passages I had stored up in my heart as a kid came to mind in the wee hours of the night as I fed my baby. Pieces of the Psalms snatched here and there from 3×5 cards above the changing table helped to anchor my hormonal thoughts. God was faithful to me during that dry spell of Bible reading. But my anxiety about it showed me something about my heart. It showed me that what God meant to be a means of grace had become an idol.
Idolizing spiritual disciplines happens very subtly. We’re not talking about simply hungering for God’s word. We’re talking about that slight shift from hoping in our savior to hoping in our works. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in my heart I was crossing a fine line between discipline and superstition. I was seeking spiritual protection through the act of reading God’s word, rather than from God’s word itself.
Spiritual disciplines are supposed to be all about the Who, not the what. It’s not the praying that protects us, but Who we are praying to. It’s not the pages of scripture themselves that have power, but the One the scriptures point to. If we use spiritual disciplines as an end in themselves rather than a means to an end, we run the risk of idolatry. Satan loves to distract us with religious practices so we lose our focus on Christ. At the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus reminds us that it’s not our many words that draw us close to God; it’s our coming to God as a child comes to a father. (Matthew 6:7-8)
We’re not looking for a guilt-free way to neglect spiritual disciplines. As Paul would say, “May it never be!” (Romans 6:1) That’s the irony of God’s grace. The more we experience it, the more we want it. When we know God accepts us and loves us apart from how many minutes we log in our quiet time journals, we are inspired to seek more time with this gracious, loving Father. Martin Luther said, “The Bible is a remarkable fountain: the more one draws and drinks of it, the more it stimulates thirst.”
So how do we utilize spiritual disciplines without making them an idol? Here are two ways I have found that protect my heart:
      1. Don’t compare your spiritual disciplines to others’. I remember finally coming to peace with my new Bible reading routine as a new mom – until I heard about someone else’s. I found out there was a mom in our Bible study group who set her alarm for 2am so she could read her Bible in a quiet house and then go back to sleep. Suddenly my own quiet times looked pathetic. But I was comparing how God works in someone else’s heart to how He works in my heart. I was taking on someone else’s convictions. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear what other people do and sometimes it’s harmful. It comes down to discernment. When we hear about someone else’s prayer life or Bible reading time we can ask ourselves, “Is there a good idea here I can benefit from? Do I want to imitate this because I think it will help me draw closer to God, or because it will make me feel better about myself?”
2    2. View spiritual disciplines with a gospel perspective. Our prayer and Bible reading programs don’t effect our standing before God. That’s because we stand before God on Christ’s merit alone. However, prayer and Bible reading have a direct impact on our practical relationship with God. Spiritual disciplines are the means through which God feeds our souls. When we skip them we don’t deprive ourselves of salvation itself, but of the hopeof our salvation. We miss out on beautiful fellowship with God that encourages our hearts and strengthens us against temptation.
Are you in a dry spell? Read when you can, pray when you can, and rest in God’s love. Are you in a time of plenty? Store up for the dry spell! Immerse yourself in God’s word now so you can draw from it later.
Charles Spurgeon  said, “To pray is to enter the treasure-house of God and to gather riches out of an inexhaustible source.” This is a much greater motivation than simply checking something off our spiritual to-do lists. We can have confidence that when we seek God we will blessed. We can also trust that His faithfulness to us is based on the finished work of Christ. Nothing can improve upon it or take away from it. So pray, read, and rejoice that you belong to Christ.
The Gospel-Centered Mom is the single best parenting book I’ve read since becoming a mom.” – Amy T.
Available on Amazon and Etsy!


**NEW: Find out how to use this book in a group study!
“Exploring the Bible”  by David Murray is a Bible reading plan for kids, highlighting gospel themes from Genesis to Revelation! 

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