Day 3 of 31 Days of Connecting
I have been potty training my kids for what seems like an eternity. They each have sticker charts and when they receive a certain number of stickers, they win a prize. The charts point towards the goal – put your waste where it needs to go. But my kids don’t seem to understand the goal. While I want dry pants, they want the sticker.
We can easily confuse our time with God, our time of devotions and prayer like my kids confused the goal of the stickers. When I first began taking time alone with God on a regular basis, I was amazed at how close He felt through His words in Scripture and His presence in prayer. I did it because I wanted to. But over time, I did it because I felt obligated. I felt that if I did not do it, I was not a good Christian, I was not a good follower of Jesus who set the example of getting up early in the morning when everyone else was sleeping to pray.
I do not wake up. I push snooze. What does this say about my relationship with God? I feared and condemned myself for this laziness. When I heard another sermon emphasizing taking time with God, I felt guilty and alone. Surely God could not love me.
But then I read these words.
When we use spiritual practices to gain secondary things like spiritual cachet, success, approval and respect, we rob the discipline of its God-given grace… Spiritual practices don’t give us “spiritual brownie points” or help us “work the system” for a passing grade with God. They simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us.
I had my goal confused. What I was striving for was not connection with God, but a check mark next to my “Good Christian” title. When I was trying to read the Bible, I did it not to hear from the Lord, but to be able to show others (and myself) that I was good enough.
God is not counting the number of chapters we read in our Bibles or the hours we spend on our knees. He is not recording the days when we sleep in, because our five year old had bad dreams throughout the night. He is not desiring us to keep spiritual practices because they are the end. They are not the end. They are the means. They are gifts. The ways we connect with God.
What has been your experience with spiritual disciplines? Have they given you a guilt trip? Or have you been free to enjoy them as the God given gift of Time with Him?
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 NIV
 Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), 18-19.