Sure I had my ups and downs. Sometimes I was really unhappy and even fell into a serious depression once before. But those were passing phases, really. Most often, I was happy in the face of challenges and sometimes life was reasonably decent enough that I was simply content. Ah . . . those were the days.
One of the things I learned during those years was that I’m a much better Christian when things are going well than when they aren’t. As you may have noticed, when life really sucks – like way more than is normal for a life to suck, sucks – it doesn’t bring out the best in me, faith-wise. I get angry with God. I complain incessantly. I delve into despair. Bitterness crops up. I question every choice I ever made – especially the one to follow God. I feel betrayed. I complain. Did I mention that I get angry with God?
Yes, it is true that sucky times teach me a great deal. I grow in them. I’m sure it’s all for the good. Maybe. But really and truly, if you were to ask me when my walk with God is most faithful, most intimate and most life-giving, it would be during the good times. Hands down. And as is so often the case with me, it turns out that this is a little weird.
Many Christians who have had the experience of following God in hard times find that it’s actually easier to be faithful during those times. When life is crushing us, we are forced to depend on God completely. Not being able to do anything else, we may spend much more time in prayer, calling out to God for help. We rely on scriptures for comfort. And then when the clouds clear and life gets easier, and we don’t have to be so dependent, aren’t continually calling out for rescue and don’t need so much comfort, many people’s relationship with God kind of falls off.
Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God. . . Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Deuteronomy 8:11-14
I have a 14 year old breathing over my shoulder looking to get his computer back, so I won’t go into all the hows, why’s and implications of that whole deal except to say that it is very common. But I know from experience that it doesn’t have to be so. Yes, God wants us to depend on him, seek his help and comfort during times of trouble, but he also wants to share our joy, peace and contentment. And really, in my experience, it is easier to get to know God’s character and ways during the times of contentment than during times of difficulty.
So, all that being said, I thought I’d share 3 bits of advice for remaining fabulously faithful during the good times. So if you ever get back to good times, you’ll know how. OK, OK, some of you are already in good times, so this is for you. Just don’t rub it in. And of course, everything I say can also help you in the bad times. Unless you’re like me and are just too smashed under the jackboot of life to do much more than breathe and try not to wish death on people whose lives aren’t horribly sucky at the moment. Then you may not be up for it. I understand. So does God.
Anyways . . . The first, most important thing you need to do when life is good is worship. And I’m not talking about once or twice a week at church worship or singing along to the Christian radio station worship, although those are fine as well. I am talking about sitting before God and worshiping him. What is called adoration in the Catholic tradition. This is where you open yourself up to God and run through all of the praises you can think of and offer to God and think about their meaning. You are wonderful, powerful. You are love. You are beautiful. You bring all good things into being. You shine like the purest light, are the one true source of love. You sustain all that is and was and will be, You are victorious and mighty. You are faithful, trustworthy, worthy of all praise and honor. You may start with one scripture story or verse and contemplate the virtues of God spoken of or illustrated in it if you need help getting started. Or if life is good enough you can call up the virtues of God evidenced by what you are grateful for.
Mother Theresa began each day with an hour of adoration to Jesus. When I first heard that, I thought it was nice for a nun, but not practical for a busy mom. Besides, an hour of this seemed a bit too ambitious. And I was right on all counts. When I first started deliberately worshiping (rather than the occasional spontaneous worship I may have done before), I could keep going for a few minutes. After a few years, I could only dream of the luxury of having an hour to sit and just worship. I had to work it into my day as I was able. So, I started trying to remember to take a few minutes to worship while doing my everyday tasks – cleaning, cooking, driving, gardening, etc. But I did try to make sure that at least once a day I spent some time worshiping God.
One of these days, I’m going to have to do a post going into more details about worship, but again, 14 year old snorting huffily over my shoulder. For now the important thing is to worship. On purpose, outside of church and as often as you can. Worship is to our relationship with God what sex is to our marriages. So do it. Seriously. Although, I suppose I should warn you that like sex, it’s not an entirely safe activity to engage in.
The second thing is you have to be reading scripture. I know, I know. Reading scripture is a huge guilt trip for a lot of Christians. And honestly, I am like pretty much everyone else – I tend to do it in fits and spurts. Which is fine, actually. The point of reading scripture is really to be planting seeds, ideas and thoughts in us to be pulled up later as needed. Honestly, more often than not, reading scripture doesn’t do anything for my relationship with God. However, having read scripture has proven vital for my relationship with God. In my experience, the important thing is to develop a good, strong familiarity with scripture.
But there’s that whole discipline thing of actually reading it. I have three suggestions. First, if you’ve haven’t been much of a scripture reader before, just start reading it like you would any other book. Start with the gospels and read through the end of the New Testament. Then go to Genesis and read through the Old Testament. This is how I started reading scripture and I’ve done it three times. I really did read it like any other book. I’d just pick it up and start reading until I had enough. Sometimes it would be a chapter. Other times several chapters. On occasion I’d end up reading a verse or two or an entire book at once. It all depended. My rule of thumb was that once what I was reading wasn’t really registering anymore, I’d stop.
If you’ve already read through scripture, then I think the best way to keep up with your scripture reading is by using the a lectionary. Over the course of many centuries, the church divided the bible up into daily readings consisting of an Old Testament reading, a reading from the Gospels, one from the Epistles and a psalm. If you read those each day, you’ll read through the whole of scriptures in two years. I have a copy of the Book of Common Prayer which lists each day’s readings and I just used that. Although I’ve never come close to making it an entire two years doing it! (Praying the offices can also be a great habit along these lines.)
The third suggestion I have is to pray through the psalms. This is an ancient practice going back to before the time of Christ – and for a good reason. You just start with the first one and read one each day or one each morning and evening. Some days the psalm will resonate with you and others you will find yourself praying someone else’s prayer. Which is fine. Again, the point is to get those words and ideas into you, not necessarily the actual act of reading them.
So, there’s worship and there’s scripture reading. And really, there are a gazillion other things you can do, but if you are worshiping and reading scripture, those two will keep your faith life alive and vibrant no matter how wonderful life gets. But let me leave you with this last suggestion from scripture:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. ~ Philippians 4:8
I have come to understand that the better part of wisdom is recognizing truth when you see it. And truth is always good. You will never find real truth by looking at what is bad and wrong. Real, deep truth, the sort that gives life, is found in what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.
This is a surprisingly hard thing to do consistently and well. We live in a world which still operates within the gravitational pull of the enemy. So we tend to see what is bad, ugly, wrong, etc as more real than anything else. Ignoring them in favor of what is good, true and lovely feels like signing up to live in la-la land. But it’s an illusion.
Things which are good, pure, true, etc come from God and carry his power. Things which are wrong, bad, evil come from the enemy and have only the illusion of power – and one which has already been defeated by the cross at that. But it takes a lot of practice to let go of the habit of fixating on the bad and focusing on the good. Which is why I’m including it on my list of things to do for your faith when life is good. It’s an easier paradigm shift to make when life isn’t busy beating you over the head with a crow bar, ya know?
So there ya go. It’s tried and true advice. Use it well peeps. And now, I have a 14 year old who is going to DIIIIEEEEEE if he has to wait any longer to get his computer back. Apparently torrenting music is now necessary for survival. Who knew?