It is about a week away from Ash Wednesday. This means that I am talking with God about taking on an additional practice or refraining from something that I am now doing. The forty days leading up to Easter is called Lent and Christians for centuries have used this as a season to fast, pray, or begin another spiritual discipline that would prepare the human heart for celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus at Easter.
While playing games at my dinner table the other night, one lady admitted that she was a recovering legalist or Pharisee. I don’t remember if I blurted it out or just in my mind, “aren’t we all!” And as I pondered how we can engage in some sort of new (or re-newed) spiritual practice during Lent, I was reminded how beneficial spiritual disciplines are if they are practiced in conversation with Jesus.
Remember that when Jesus cautions against praying in public, it was not the praying that he was correcting, but their motivation. Those who practice any spiritual discipline in order to get God or others to like them more are going the wrong direction. They do them “so that they may be seen by others” and to this, Jesus says that getting that sort of attention is their reward. (Matthew 6:5)
Here is a list of “warning signs” that are sort of like markers on a trail or road signs. These may help to alert us. These are the signs to pay attention to so that people like me – recovering legalists – can prepare for and practice disciplines in the manner of walking with Jesus in responsive obedience.
10 indications I may be turning spiritual disciplines into legalisms:
1. When in conversation with others about the disciplines I use “obligatory” language. (This sounds like “I should,” “I have to,” or “I ought to”)
2. Those closest to me say that I’ve become judgmental of them, that I am obsessed with myself, that I have become less “present” or loving with them, or that I act “holier than thou.”
3. I feel guilty at the end of the day if I have neglected or somehow “failed” at some spiritual discipline.
4. If, when gazing on God’s face, I see a scowl and not a smile.
5. If I feel increasing anxiety and not peace.
6. When in conversation with God I use generalizations and obscurities instead of specifics. If I secretly fear that if I got totally real with God that His promise of unfailing/steadfast love would come to an abrupt end.
7. If I plot and scheme so that I can make sure to mention my practice of spiritual disciplines while in conversation with others.
8. When the simple thought of engaging in the next spiritual discipline brings dread or frustration into my mind.
9. If I have not taken the time to ask Jesus, my ever present teacher and guide, to show me how to have a whole life program that would allow me to become like him. If I have not invited him to show me explicitly which and how disciplines are to be used in my life with him.
10. If I am sacrificing good activities such as sleep, time with family and friends, or time at work because I must tackle my own transformation.
By Roberta Mosier-Peterson at pastortiedye.com