Guest writer Jeffrey Jou is a Chinese American effect pigments research scientist as well as a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, New York City. He has been married to his wife, Jamie, for three years, and they are expecting their first child sometime in January. They attend Redeemer Presbyterian Church – East Side in New York City.
How do we cultivate spiritual regularity? Is that even possible in a world where work dominates at least 8 hours a day and there seems to be no end in sight of the things that need to be done? What about when idleness (though most people wouldn’t call it that) becomes the cure for our intense, fast-paced culture? This is the first of a two-part series on how we can cultivate regular spiritual rhythms in our daily lives.
Forgetfulness and Idolatry
“How do you read the Bible that many times in a week?” That is a question I’ve often been asked, and admittedly, it is a lot easier to read the Bible when I’m in seminary. But what about reading the Bible? Actually setting aside time in the day and meditating on God’s Word? How does one implement this kind of spiritual regularity? It takes discipline. People often criticize regularity and routines for being dead and boring. In some cases, rightfully so. They will say that such things kill spontaneity. Those who know me know that I’m fairly regimented in my scheduling, especially since I started and left grad school and am now a student in seminary. I put events in my calendar just to remind me to send emails and when to call Verizon to complain to them. This is what I need to function without feeling overwhelmed.
At the same time, to cultivate this kind of regiment and regularity is especially beneficial in our spiritual growth. In Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2, he uses the example of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. The one thing that ties them all together is this: discipline. However, we all know that discipline is hard to maintain. Just ask anyone who’s made a New Year’s resolution. A professor in seminary once said that the two existential threats, the two main sins, for the worshiping covenant community are idolatry and forgetfulness. We are prone to pursue others in the place of God. It is no wonder that the first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:7 NIV). We forget God, and in our casualness and negligence, we offer to Him a shameful corpse of what He deserves. David, in rebuking the wicked nations for their forgetfulness, exclaims, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17 ESV).
If you truly dig deep down to the essence of idolatry and forgetfulness, you will find that they are inextricably linked. As sinners, when we forget God, we inevitably float to idolatry, either of self or others. When we idolize things or people, the very thought of God leaves our minds. Robert Robinson knew this well as he penned in his famous hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing“: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” We need constant reminders and a Spirit-filled regularity to direct us to finish out the verse: “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.” What are some applications of this regularity? What can we do to prevent ourselves from wandering and forgetting all of God’s benefits? Two things that have been immensely helpful are (1) praying through the Psalms and (2) praying and reading while remembering Christ.
Praying Through the Psalms
I am truly grateful that my professors in seminary are actively concerned about the students’ personal growth and devotional time. One of the assignments for a class in seminary involved a prayer project. We were told to pick a set of 28 Psalms and pray through them in the mornings and evenings for two weeks. In the middle of the day, we were to recite out loud, if possible, the Lord’s Prayer. The assignment also involved voluntary fasting for some days. In my mind, I thought, “An assignment on the regularity of praying? Awesome! Planning it out? Even more awesome!” God never ceases to surprise and amaze. I was challenged, convicted, and counseled by the Psalms. Never before had I prayed with such awareness of the things outside of myself. The comprehensiveness of God’s Word will do that to you. Exhibit A, Psalm 122 (NIV):
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the Lord—
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
An assignment I thought was going to be easy turned out to be a true refresher on prayer and how to pray. The Psalms contain mourning, warning, teaching, praise, confession, assurance of pardon, and thanksgiving. Calvin once said, “The anatomy of all parts of the Christian soul are found in the Psalms.” This should be our diet for prayer because the Psalms give us the language we need when we don’t know what to pray for. The Psalms guide us from becoming self-absorbed in prayer.
The above psalm is a perfect example of how to pray beyond that: praying for God’s servants everywhere, praying for those who are suffering, praying for all those within our cities and for all of our family and friends, and praying for those with whom we worship.
In an age where individualism reigns supreme, how amazing that this psalm counteracts that by saying, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.'” At the same time, individuality is not lost: King David himself rejoices! This is a supernatural eagerness to come together with God’s people and praise God. Imagine the transformation that could happen in ourselves and our communities if we let the Psalms guide our prayers to pray big and bold prayers for the kingdom of God.
Remembering Christ, the Center of Spiritual Regularity
Lest we become Pharisaical in our spiritual practices, we must always remember Christ. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says, “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4 NIV). His usage of “always” emphasizes a certain regularity and constancy in his thanksgiving to God. Why does Paul continually give thanks? Because of the continual grace given to the Corinthians in Christ Jesus. It is grace that causes our hearts to well up in response. It is grace from the One who says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV). The counter-cultural, counter-human-nature, counter-works-righteousness grace of Jesus Christ is what gives us the foundation and bedrock we need to cultivate spiritual regularity.
Jesus is the One who died on the tree and is ascended to the Father, the One who is the regular intercessor and Most High Priest: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:23-25 ESV). In light of the Old Testament priesthood, this is astounding. Jesus always lives to make intercession for us. Our only basis for eternal security is that Jesus always prays to the Father for us. This paradigm shift from us offering up our own supplications on our own strength to abiding in the eternality of Christ’s priesthood is what gives us the confidence and delight to pray regularly to our Heavenly Father.
Remembering Christ becomes easier when we see that all of Scripture points to Him: “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44-47 ESV).
And so, in a world where we are bombarded by things to do, and where prayer and Scripture-reading become sidelined in our lives, how do we cultivate spiritual regularity? Redeemer Presbyterian Church pastor, Abraham Cho, once said to me, “We learn to say ‘no’ when we learn what is our ultimate ‘yes.'” May Jesus Christ be the ultimate “yes” for all those who profess Him as Lord and Savior.