I make it a habit to journal in the mornings along with taking time for prayer and reflective thought. This past week the thought popped into my head, I have sacrificed depth. I’m sure that many people are no strangers to being haunted by the idea that they have wasted valuable time in their lives. Likewise, I’m sure that they also have felt the prick of conscience whereby they yearned to recapture that time. Metaphors about time hit home with a deep thrust. Time is a river that flows on and slips away. It is the wind blowing through our fingers that we can’t grasp and hold in place. As a counselor, I work with clients who are Christians. Since this is Palm Sunday, in this blog article I want to speak to two counterbalancing truths that always appear to challenge the capacity for human thought. There are truths cut into reality. Actions have consequences; and we can waste the time allotted to us. There’s nothing more frightening than a wasted life. A deeper truth, however, flows from another sacrifice that was made over two millennial ago. Although we cannot reclaim the time we let slip through our hands, or alter the consequences rendered by our choices, God’s grace nevertheless abounds as the most powerful force in the universe.
The Idea of Discipline
I’m sure by now that most people know about and have pondered what is called the 10k rule. There’s a lot of good common sense ensconced in that idea, and we would be foolish not to attend to its accuracy. The rule basically states that to become deeply skilled in an endeavor requires ten thousand hours of study, practice, and development. When we look back on wasted time that amounts to years, we recognize that we allowed many of those hours to vanish without sowing the opportunities for later fruit. We are left standing only with the now that faces us. Time for depth goes beyond the mere 10k rule, not in terms of hours, but in terms of habit, sticktoitiveness, and discipline. That latter word, discipline, truly captures the notion of time and depth. Often I reflect on what I’ve sown regarding several pursuits throughout my life, but I particularly think about it in terms of the pursuit to know God. Time spent with God surely leads to depth, but one must pursue. Growing in the knowledge of God and incurring spiritual growth is what the Bible calls sanctification. And it takes time and discipline. I became a Christian in the autumn of 1969 in a dorm room visited by a couple of members from Campus Crusade for Christ. This next September in 2019 will be fifty years since that evening on the campus of the University of North Texas. There are certain questions I find difficult to contemplate. One is: What have I done with those fifty years?
Appearance versus Substance
Alfred Adler spoke about the notion of appearance versus substance. To pursue mere appearance of achievement in the world is to sow to what is in fact shallow. Appearance can be manufactured. Substance has to be carved out of life through effort and skill development. As a Christian, the substance comes from God, knowing him, knowing his word, and engaging in prayer with him. He provides us with the gifts with which we can carve out our depths in obedience to him. Dallas Willard and Richard Foster have written extensively about the Christian disciplines. Like any discipline, the effort put into it can become either a legalistic duty or the meaningful pursuit of spiritual formation and transformation, a pursuit I call meaningful depth. Spiritual formation and continued transformation requires effort and time.
Effort and Time
We are always using time in one way or another. There is the kind of time that one puts into something. Call it quality time, disciplined time, conscientious time, or however one wants to label it. Whatever it is, it’s not simply watching-the-clock time. I can sit looking at a book for hours, mindlessly casting my eyes on the words. Or I can read it with studious intention. The pursuit of a skill requires effort, discipline, and time. Likewise, skill development consists of testing and measuring oneself as to how one is progressing. Spiritual development is the same with the added notion that from the Christian perspective, a relationship is developed with the one true Creator of all things. The Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are chock full of statements about how one develops and accrues wisdom. Biblical wisdom is about the skill – the depth – of living life, what the theologian B. B. Warfield described as not mere knowledge but that instinctive skill in the practical use of knowledge, that moral and spiritual insight. . . (1). Whatever I sacrificed during those fifty years, many of which I didn’t pursue my relationship with God, it entailed the ability to wisely live life. Additionally it entailed sacrificing substance for the shallowness of appearance.
Tensions: God’s Grace and Human Choice
So what do I do about those wasted years? Can anything be done about them? Am I left merely with the fact that there’s no remedy for having floundered them? Is there a way to overcome bad choices? There are tensions in life that we must simply hold although we cannot totally comprehend them. God is gracious and merciful. It’s not that he cannot give me my time back. It’s that he will not because such choices and consequences are fixed into life. The writer of the Book of Hebrews stated it is appointed for a man to die once. . . We have the life that God has given us. And daily, we have the choices in front of us that we make. His grace abounds nonetheless. If there is an overcoming, (and I believe there is), it lies in the grace he provides. Where he can take me now is beyond my imagination. He can take me beyond all the foolish choices I’ve made to destinations I could have never imagined. Wherever that place is, it will be more about changing me than the choices I made and my circumstances. I don’t know what that means or what it will look like. What I do know is that I am here now. Knowing that now is what counts. Part of spiritual growth no doubt entails facing the choices I’ve made. They are real, and there’s no unmaking them. Spiritual growth also entails constantly casting those choices on God’s grace. Spiritual formation and ultimate transformation can and will occur if I pursue knowing God. What I would say to Christian clients who are in the same boat that I scull is this. Welcome along for the ride. Let’s see where it takes us.
This is Palm Sunday. Perhaps today, we can embrace the full meaning of this time and next Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and think about the choices we’ve made, and the real consequences that come with them. Our choices and consequences are due to our fallen nature. A sacrifice has been made to cover that fallen nature and all it entails. Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us what we have available to us. He calls us to approach the throne of grace to find grace.
(1) Warfield, B. B. (1970). Selected Shorter Writings [Volume 1]. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/April 14th, 2019