Spiritual Life? : How does anyone have time for one?  

In 2006, life in our church was rich. I started collecting questions that became the launchpads for messages. 

The “frequently asked question” for the evening is: How does anyone have time for a spiritual life? You know these questions come in as a result of what various cells have been exploring over the year. This is a very practical question, so I am glad to take a stab at it. I hope you’ll be thinking along with me as I speak. The fact is, you are having time for a spiritual life right now. Make the most of it. Have your spiritual life.

Normal vs. spiritual life?

70% from Rotten Tomatoes, from 1996.
  1. Before I try to get practical, I want to bring up one of the main problems with having time for a spiritual life. It is the notion that there is a “normal” life and then there is a “spiritual” life. The way most of us think, there is a split between real or normal life and spiritual life.

For the most part, this might be just a figure of speech – we talk about the sporting life. We ask “How’s your love life?” and “How is family life?” – and all we mean is how is the part of our lives under discussion. But it can go further with our faith. Somehow faith got pushed into our private lives and out of our everyday lives. Jesus became a part of our leisure time and not a part of our work life or civic life.

So, for instance, when President Bush was asked how faith might shape policy in the presidential debates in October of 2004. He answered from the classic evangelical viewpoint, I think. He said:

My faith plays a big part in my life. I pray a lot. I do. My faith is very personal. …I’ve received calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, well, how do you know? I said, I just feel it.

My faith is a big part of my life. It is very personal. Prayer delivers things to my life. I don’t know what the president thinks, really. But a lot of people have a personal faith, a “spiritual life” that never coincides with their regular life.

So when someone asks, “How do I find time for a spiritual life?” It must mean two things, at least.

  • “Normal” life is taking you over and you have no time for other things, like whatever is in my personal life.
  • You think you have a life that is not “spiritual” and you want to develop the one that is.

I have to question the question. I’m not sure it is helpful to talk about our “spiritual lives” too much. As far as the people in the Bible go, there is only one life. There is a spiritual life in relation to God or there is existence plummeting toward no life. You’re alive or as good as dead.

  • John 6:63 — The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life.
  • Romans 8:11 — And if the  Spirit  of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his  Spirit , who lives in you.
  • Galatians 2:20 — The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me

If you follow Jesus — if you serve/belong to/believe in Jesus — you have a renewed spiritual life. You have been given life. The capacity you had for spirituality in you has been activated and is developing. You are filling up with life. It is not like you are the owner of your life and you are managing sectors of it trying to keep everything in balance or keeping the plates spinning. The life you have, you received from God through the work of Jesus. You were dead, but back in relation to God, you are alive.

in 2006 Branson pledged $3B to develop alternative fuel sources.

I don’t have time?

  1. The second big problem with finding time to actually be consciously related to God and exercising our new life, putting on this new self, living in our eternity is how we have come to view time.

If all you have is this life then every second counts. (“I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde!” the gospel of Clairol taught us). We are generally painfully aware that we cannot get back the seconds that have passed (“Nothing is further away than a minute ago”). Since we have most of our physical needs met these days, and many of us no longer fret about how much money we don’t have, now it is all about time. We weigh it out all day; we consider what our time is worth and whether we are spending it wisely.

  • Spending it wisely could mean we spend it all frantically making the most of it to get what we want – so we will have more experiences or will earn more leisure time or afford more retirement time.
  • Or it could mean we avoid spending any of it on work so we can be free from time constraints and get all our time up front before I have spent it all on loveless toil.

We are always making a time deal.

So Joshua and I know that between May 15 and October 15 or so, every weekend is going to feel precious to most of us, because we only get so many sunshiney Saturdays a year. People are weighing out what is more worth it, time spent on the spiritual life or time spent on vacation.

So when someone asks, “How do I find time for a spiritual life?” I think they might also be asking, “Is this going to be worth it?”

For the people in the Bible, they are not so conscious of the value of all their moments, because they actually think they are eternal and they know any moment has value because they, themselves, are valued. They still want to make the most of their days on earth, but they don’t have such a sense of hoarding a scarce resource.

  • John 6:27 — Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you
  • Colossians 3:1-3 — Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

The idea is that we need to learn a new way to invest our time, not in the fear of scarcity, but generously, joyfully, freely being eternal. Depending on our personality styles, we can make the most of the moment and make the most of a decade — whatever we are given — because we are living in an eternal now.

We can help ourselves with the process of being a growing, spiritual person who is alive to God and comfortable in their own reality with him by doing very practical things. It is not just about knowing right things and changing your mind, although I don’t see how any transformation happens without that; it is also about considering how you feel, how you are built psychologically and mostly, doing something with your body.

Let me answer this question.

How can I learn to use my time well as a person who lives in the Spirit?

I want to give you some verses from Psalm 119, since we are letting the Psalms guide us in different ways this summer. Psalm 119 is all about feeling the challenges of seeking God and living a life in relation to God in a difficult world.

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Use the time you have.

Don’t be outside the time you are experiencing. A lot of us wait for something to happen sometime, instead of happening in the time we are in. I am sure that just last week some people missed a great time to learn and praise: they were angry, were on drugs, were analyzing, were daydreaming. Then they wonder why they don’t have time for their “spiritual pursuits.” Be as present to God as you can right now.

Psalm 119:59-60
I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.

There is no replacement for honoring the importance of every minute, the meaning inherent in it. Jesus calls us to live. The Psalmist is having the same conviction. “I’m considering. I’m turning. I hasten to obey, to participate in my God-given time.”

  • Listen for God in your cell.
  • Prepare for worship
  • Give yourself a reminder phrase before you enter into a distracting situation – “Why am I here? I am here to worship. I am here to hear you. I am here to rest. I am here to love.” Keep centering on it, so you don’t get your time stolen. Hold on to your time like it was your purse in a threatening situation.

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Discipline your time

Time is like a river – build dams and levees that slow it down. Time is like a child, it needs to be trained. Time is like a bronco, you either tame it, it stomps you, or it jumps the fence and runs away. A schedule can get flabby and need to go to the gym.

Psalm 119:147,164
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.
Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.

The people who get to know God are not all smarter. They do things. Scott Peck said the original sin was probably laziness. Just doing whatever, just going with what is going, not bothering to consider, to imagine, to step out of the regular rut leaves us out of touch with God. The psalmist is making the effort. He gets up before dawn to pray. He’s got a seven times a day discipline he is using.

You might like to start big with the schedule form on your seat. It could help discipline all the time in the week.

  • Make a copy and write down what you do in a week. That way you can see what you really do. As you do this you’ll notice that you will already be freeing yourself to makes changes and decisions. “Do I REALLY want to watch 3 hours of HBO a day? Did I really play Halo that long? Can I afford that commute – am I using the time on the train?” Etc.
  • Make a list of things you want in your week. “If I want to be a person who is living in the Spirit, what do I need to do?”
  • Put them on the sheet and try to meet your goals.

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Be incremental. Accrue

I think no time spent pursuing God is wasted. The actions build up. They accrue and begin compounding interest — so do something. Something is better than nothing. Do some little thing so you can get to a bigger thing. It is all too easy to let the day be so troubled that we never get to resting with God or praying, or caring for our inner journey – or even travel on it! It is also easy to see where we ought to be on the journey and be so ashamed or so overwhelmed that we don’t even take a step. Do something. Like the kid who gave his bread and fish, Jesus can multiply what he is given, and in the giving we are grown, too.

Psalm 119:143
Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight.

The psalmist has problems, too. But he’s delighting in what Good has given him.

  • When you are listening to me, be determined to get one thing from all this time that is for you. Then make a goal to act on it in some way, “I am going to complete that schedule thingy this Thursday night when I normally would watch America’s Got Talent.” Something like that.
  • Whenever you read the news, a book, or the Bible, write down a little goal for the day that will be a little step you can take to apply what you receive. When you are with your mentor, do whatever you felt moved to do as quickly as possible. When you are alone with God take your gut reactions seriously, unless that usually messes you up, and do what you are moved to do. You usually don’t have to spend a lot of time planning. You usually are given what you are already able to do. Do what you can. Don’t wait.
  • If you have a big goal that feels too big to start, like 20 minutes of contemplative prayer twice a day, maybe you need to be incremental. Do five minutes a day for a week.
  • Maybe you can manage to kick start some new direction by doing something dramatic – take a day retreat by yourself with God (I have loads of places you can go; some are very cheap). Take a pilgrimage to someplace instead of your usual weekender. If you are going to NY, say you are going to see St. John Divine and spend two hours there – then do whatever else you wanted to do. Get your mate or your friend to help, if you work well that way – say “We will begin the day with prayer each Wednesday from now until October.”

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Read meditatively.

Reading gives time. If you can’t read, learn to read. If you have ADD, struggle through the reading process once in a while. Don’t avoid reading very slow and listening between the lines. It is not an accident that the word of God is in a book, too. It helps us to meditate.

Psalm 119:130
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.

The process of meditation is about something unfolding, like the petals of a flower grows and blooms. It takes time. The process of understanding words and relating to the people who wrote them and relating God who is always thinking along with us is a basic way to use time well for spiritual development. Better than TV, tapes, iPods, whatever.

  • Carry a book with you. We get a lot of demands on our time so we need to be ready when we get a moment: on the bus, in line, on hold, at the café before the friend comes. It might be a good thing for you to do at this stage of your life. You might also need to stop reading and listen to what you’ve already heard.
  • For a lot of us, meditatively reading — reading to listen to God and not just get information, is something of a lost art. Plan an hour for it that you normally give to media. Try a goal of ten pages a day. I have all sorts of suggestions in your program.

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Get direction

It is a great, helpful luxury to sit down with a caring someone and listen for God as they listen for God in you. That is time well spent. In some sense I think of it as expanded time, a lot of goodness poured into a small space of time.

Psalm 119:63
I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.

The psalmist feels a spiritual camaraderie with everyone who reveres God. Those kind of friends are cultivated by anyone who wants to have a life in the Spirit. There is probably nothing more dangerous than finding yourself in love with people who fritter your time.

  • Visit your therapist – most are worth the money.
  • Take a class – even one at Temple or Penn could be a time to get a break to listen to the depths of your mind and heart.
  • Find a spiritual director – these are not easy to get. You friend or your cell leader may be a good person for now.
  • It would be nice if we took each other seriously to receive the great gifts that are all around us, rather than holding out for some saint someday.

I think my favorite verse from the very long Psalm 119, must be this one:

I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

The many people who asked, “How can I find time for a spiritual life?” were probably tired and frustrated. They are running in the path of the world’s commands and time is running out! They are yearning and trying, but it isn’t happening as well or as fast as they want. I hope I have stirred up some new possibilities or at least got what you already had installed activated. One of my main points though was that you don’t need to tack on a demanding spiritual life to your already full normal life. You have one life and it is eternal. God has laid out a lot of ways to run free in it. Don’t be afraid to try them. Your are important and your time makes a difference.

What do you want to add? Some of you may have a lot of good answers to this question too. Let’s here answers or questions and talk back.

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