“Stop doing spiritual disciplines.”
Oh gosh, did I really just say that when preaching last Sunday? I think I did. I didn’t intend to say that, but I'm pretty sure that’s what came stumbling out of my mouth as I tried to articulate that you don’t need to convince God to love you, like you, or accept you. What I really meant, though, was “stop doing spiritual disciplines for all the wrong reasons.”
Because there are wrong reasons and right ones.
Convincing God to give you something you want? Wrong reason.
Trying to impress God with how spiritual and mature you are? You just proved otherwise with that very thought.
However that doesn’t mean the disciplines are all for naught. For those of you who were at church on Sunday, you heard me read a passage from C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader about the story of Eustace, the spiteful boy whose insides became his outsides - he turned into a dragon. Then Aslan the Lion, the Christ figure, invites Eustace to unclothe himself of his dragon skin and bathe.
To push Lewis’s analogy far beyond its intention, this is what I would like to suggest about spiritual disciplines. The act of Eustace trying to scratch and peel his own dragon skin off is much like performing spiritual disciplines with the idea that you are going to somehow make yourself better, make yourself clean, remove sin from your own soul. You can keep on scratching, you can keep on peeling, but that old dragon skin just ain’t gonna budge.
But when Eustace sees the Lion call to him and then Eustace follows....when Aslan says “let me remove the dragon skin from you” and Eustace puts himself under the Lion’s care…those are what spiritual disciplines are meant to be like. They are an act of submission to God. When we pick up our Bibles, or go to our prayer closets, or fast from food, we aren’t doing these things to clean up our own act or to somehow impress God with how holy we already are. Rather, we do those things to put ourselves under God’s loving—but penetrating—scalpel; God is the one making us holy; God is the one removing the dragon skin once and for all.
The disciplines are about putting ourselves in a posture of obedience, in a place where we are allowing God to do His work in us, on us, and through us. The disciplines are an active posture of submission. Not to make God love us—that was never the issue. Not to make ourselves holy—that was never an option. But to let God wash us clean—as only He can do.