There is a catchphrase from 1950’s television that I have always related to…“Just the facts, ma’am.” This was the phrase regularly uttered by Sgt. Joe Friday while conducting interviews during police investigations on the show Dragnet. As an ex-accountant whose left-brain is regularly in charge, I default to logic, analysis, structure and organization. So I can connect with a guy who helps people get straight to the facts. Just tell me the important information that I need to know so that I can be as productive as possible. After all, this is efficient and does not waste anyone’s time.
Well, by default, I applied this mindset to my spiritual disciplines when I became a believer. Even that phrase “spiritual disciplines” was attractive to me! Discipline, order, structure…Yes! (If you can’t tell, I am grunting like Tim the Tool Man Taylor from the TV show Home Improvement at this point)! I scheduled my “quiet time,” planned how much I would read each day, determined how much time I would spend praying (20 minutes should do) and organized my prayer time around the key aspects of the Lord’s prayer. The tithe was simple to me…10%. Now it was not easy because my disposable income decreased, but it was simple because there was a percentage to apply to my salary (I now understand that giving under the new covenant is not a set percentage). Nevertheless, my “just the facts” mentality seemed to really help me establish what, from all external purposes, appeared to be a meaningful and vibrant devotional life.
It was not until later that I began to notice the weaknesses and, to be honest, the dangers of that approach to pursuing God. I began to notice that my view of His satisfaction with me had a direct correlation with these structures and goals I had set. For example: if I did not read the Bible or pray the full 20 minutes one day, I felt as though God was disappointed. On the other hand, if I had an extended time in the Word and prayer, God was overjoyed with me. Also, my time with Him was more of an intellectual pursuit. It was mostly about knowing more about Him instead of knowing Him more. In many ways, my relationship with God was a checklist that I could cross off like we do a grocery list or a To-Do list at work.
I also began to run into passages like “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matt. 13:44-46) and “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). These passages and many others began to redirect my perspective on pursuing God. I had been treating the spiritual disciplines as the goal instead of the means to the goal of enjoying my God. Reading the Bible, prayer, giving, etc. were supposed to be conduits, pipelines if you will, to God. He was the One I was ultimately after, not the ability to check things off some list.
So I began to make some changes. The first step may seem minor, but I stopped calling them spiritual disciplines and began calling them spiritual delights. I needed to shift my mindset from duty to delight. My desire was to delight in God. I also began shifting my focus from simply knowing about God to knowing God. I figured if my wife wants me to know her and not just know about her, then God would probably want that as well. Larry Trotter calls this the difference between transformational and informational reading of the Word. I wanted my time to transform me not just increase my Bible IQ. To help my left-brainedness (if that is even a word), I began to pray almost every morning, before I got out of bed, that I would find my ultimate delight in God and that He would give me faith to do so. I pray the same thing for my immediate family as well. It takes just a couple of minutes and it orients my mind for the day. I also gave myself more freedom and flexibility on how I spent my time in the Word. It was okay if I did not read through the Bible in a year. Slowing down and studying shorter portions of Scripture was helpful. I even introduced other people into my times with God…saints who have walked faithfully with God and written their experiences and insights into Scripture. I will read good, Bible-saturated books now as part of my devotional life. Basically, I allowed myself to do anything that aided in my pursuit of delighting in God. Those things that helped me find my supreme affection in Him.
So even though I am naturally bent towards the “Just the facts, ma’am” approach, I have found that it is not the best approach to my relationship with God. He desires to give me more than information. He desires to give me Himself. He longs to enjoy my company. And for me to enjoy His company, I must enjoy Him. My spiritual delights are simply the means by which I enter His presence where the fullness of joy is found.
Delighting in Christ,
I have read several good books that have helped me along the way. A few are:
- Desiring God by John Piper
- Simply Jesus by Joseph M. Stowel
- Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves
- The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper
- Chasing Infinity by Mark Liederbach
- Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves.