I've had several recurring themes since I started this blog. That's not really deliberate, but I suppose it's inevitable. It's the result of my being an average guy trying to walk it out down here until the Lord Jesus comes back; as opposed to an attempt at systematic theology (or systematic anything, for that matter).
One recurring theme is, there is no shortcut to spirituality. I've had to realize this time and again over the last couple years: time and again, I find myself trying to figure the angles, trying to find the fast-track to maturity and godliness. It doesn't exist.
I was reflecting on that recently: I was sitting on my bed, reading my Bible. My wife was writing email on the computer in the corner. I suddenly realized that of all the spiritual exercises---including many that seem so glamourous and boast-worthy---my silent and unremarkable Bible reading was probably the one worth doing.
And that got me to thinking that one hindrance I've had in my Christian life is the vague expectation that godliness and maturity would somehow be a very visible---perhaps even public---thing. I never really articulated it to myself that way, but I think it's been that way in the back of my mind for years.
I've started to see that godliness and maturity are more likely to look like the Italian grandmother kneeling quietly in a Catholic church than the brilliant speaker delivering a thought-provoking sermon. No, I'm not espousing Roman Catholicism, but I've more and more come to the conclusion that the stereotype of quiet piety is probably what spiritual maturity really looks like.
I suppose a fundamental part of that is the idea that one's spiritual life is a deeply personal thing, perhaps even a private thing. I'm not saying there is no corporate dimension to Christianity---there certainly is---nor am I trying to suggest that there is nothing public about faith. But unless there is the deeply personal relationship one cultivates with the Lord, everything else is smoke and mirrors: show without substance. This is perhaps one of the things the Lord Jesus was warning against when He spoke of praying in the closet, of annointing our heads when fasting.
Obviously there is an appropriate place for ministry, even public ministry. But it seems we rush into these things... and the end result is, we have people saying a lot, but not saying much.
Several years ago, my xingyi teacher told me the secret to flawless kung-fu. It's simple, it's not glamourous; but it takes time, patience, and perseverance. Why isn't my kung-fu flawless? mainly because I'd rather "work on" the more exciting, glamourous bits than take the slow, boring path my teacher outlined several years ago. See, I just have trouble believing---really believing---that the silent, boring, unglamourous "practice" is the key to success.
I've started to see I've made the same mistake in my Christian life: the slow, gradual path seems so boring, fruitless, and lifeless compared to all the cool stuff I could be doing. But just like in kung-fu, I need to realize that I am the least qualified to judge: as Ahab told Benhadad, "let not him who puts on his armor boast as him who takes it off." To know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings---that's the goal. And the more I examine, the more I see that the path to that goal is a path of surprising quietness, privacy, and anonymity.
So as I've been contemplating, praying, reading, and examining, I've finally gotten a glimpse of the path I want to take: it's not an exciting path, not glamourous, and probably pretty lonely. But I am becoming certain it's the one I need to be walking.