Now Let’s Go!

If you have never watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk in which he talks about “Why” before “What” and “How,” you must. Sinek reminds us that knowing what we do and how to do it doesn’t serve us well in life, individually or when we lead others.

When I quit practicing the Christian disciplines close to 40 years ago, I sensed God saying, “Do you know how long I’ve waited for you to quit? Now let’s go.” What did “Now let’s go” mean? It meant going right back to practicing the disciplines in almost the same manner as before. So, what was different?

Everything! I knew how to practice disciplines. I knew what to do. And I thought I knew why I was practicing them. It was my version of “why” that was at issue. In the context of wanting to serve God well, I focused on reading and studying scripture (as well as praying) primarily “so that” my ministry might succeed (or, not fail). Plus, I wanted to be a better Christian. A noble quest. It was after our cross-county move and with no ministry left in the equation that I quit. I lost the motivation to continue.

I see “Why” and motivation as quite similar. The definition of motivation implies the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. My motivation was to succeed and to be a good Christian. Two issues with that:

  1. God never asks us to be successful. He only asks us to be faithful. When orphans were starving in India at a greater rate than her little orphanage could serve, Mother Theresa was asked by a reporter how she could feel any sense of success. Her response? God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful. In western thought, we have equated success and faithfulness. The sooner we figure that out (change our minds, repent), the sooner we can get on with a full life.
  2. God never asks us to be good Christians. Read the scriptures. Read the Gospels. It’s not there! The Pharisees – a sect of religious leaders in Jesus’ day – fell into the false understanding that it was their job to read and study the scriptures so that they could be good Israelites. All God ever asked of the them was loyalty to Him and thus his creation (this is the essence of the two great commandments of which Jesus spoke and the words of Micah, the prophet).

The Pharisees’ motivation was clear, but wrong. They knew their reason for acting and behaving in a particular way. And they were sincere – very sincere. But wrong. Their “why” did not line up with God’s. They were disciplined in their search of scripture, looking for life yet missed life when it was revealed through Jesus.

Likewise, I was sincere and disciplined in searching the scriptures, but for wrong reasons. The Celebration of Discipline was initially an unhealthy read for me. I thought I was to try to conquer the disciplines (succeed). As I strove to succeed at practicing the disciplines, it felt like I was spinning plates. At some point, I listened to a cassette tape by the author, Richard Foster, talking about the disciplines, reminding us that the purpose of the disciplines is to place us in front of the Father so he can transform us. THAT was transformative and freeing! Once again, my “why” had shifted.

Oh that we could have eyes to see and ears to hear that much of what motivates us is cultural and not biblical. Father, show us where we might be missing the mark.

Circa 1981…I Quit!

After eight years of serving as a volunteer Young Life leader, we were surprised when God lead us away from our comfortable life and vibrant ministry to…[wait for it]… Muskogee, OK, “a place where even squares can have a ball” (Merle Haagard). We were 750 miles from anything familiar – job, family, stores, church, ministry, etc. We were experiencing a mix of adventure and loss.

I took my faith seriously. I tried to practice the classical disciplines described in Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline (well, sort of – 3 of the 12 disciplines). I read and studied scripture and prayed regularly – almost daily. A few weeks after our move and the start of a new job, something strange happened regarding the practice of the disciplines – I QUIT!

One morning while biking to work, I was wondering about why I had quit, why I had zero motivation to read, study, and pray. From somewhere inside my head I heard, “Do you know how long I’ve waited for you to quit? Now let’s go.” I can’t say that I audibly hear God’s voice on a regular basis, but I am pretty (very) sure God was speaking to me that morning. And I had no doubt what he meant. Looking back, I realized that all my reading, studying, and praying had a “so that” attached. I think I attended to these disciplines so that the ministry I led would be successful. Understand – I certainly benefited from all my reading and studying, but apparently something was amiss.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what was amiss, but I was sure that God wanted me to go right back to reading, studying, and praying (I suspect it’s what “Now let’s go” was all about). I found a greasy spoon restaurant near my work (circa 1981 was pre-coffee shops) and determined to stop there every morning before work to read and spend time with God. The restaurant opened at 5:00a and I gave God permission (like he needed my permission) to wake me up whenever he wanted. 4:30a became quite common! As I am wont to do, I purchased a used Amplified New Testament, a translation unfamiliar to me, and dove in. The Amplified translation expands the English to better align with the richness of the original Greek. One morning, about 6:00a, I stumbled across this…

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power out-flowing from His resurrection… (Philippians 3:10, AMPC)

This resonated deep within my being. I parked on the passage for a some time, pondering its significance. When he wrote this, the Apostle Paul was in jail in Rome, awaiting trial, aware that the outcome might be his death. And yet, his determined purpose was to progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Jesus, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly! Paul, one of the most successful ministers ever, the writer of much of the New Testament, was focused not on his ministry, but on progressively knowing Jesus! I discovered what was amiss. I was so focused on the success of my ministry that I lost sight of simply knowing Jesus. So, with determination, I set out to progressively know Jesus more deeply and intimately.

We can be so busy working for God that we totally miss Him. A couple years ago I graded papers written by people after they read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. There was a common theme in the papers: I am so busy working for God that I don’t have time to spend with him. Some even confessed a “so that” attachment to their devotion to God. I prayed for them – that they might quit some day. I’m sure glad I did!