By Ben Faus
As a teenager, my Christian walk often looked like a roller coaster. Summer church camp would mean I could reach new heights spiritually, or so it felt, and then the start of school would mark the degradation of my newly discovered devotion. Disciple Now or a winter retreat would come and that would be a time of re-commitment! Then exams would set in and I would quickly forget to spend time in scripture or prayer. I suspect many others can relate to this feeling.
Even as somebody who is called to ministry, being a seminary student with multiple part-time jobs can be stressful, and sometimes it seems worthwhile to forego time spent in prayer or reading scripture in order to get more work done. My homework is to read the bible, after all, right? In such times, I have to remind myself that this life is a marathon, and the most important race I’m running is in pursuit of righteousness. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Ironically, it was in my teenage years, when I was on that spiritual roller coaster, that I heard the most frequent reminders about spending consistent time in prayer and scripture. Perhaps all the other adults have it figured out, and I missed the memo. Or perhaps, just like there were some who could relate to my teenage roller coaster, there are some who can relate to the similar adult struggle of consistent Christian practices.
I write this post for those who do find themselves in that place. “I’ll never be able to discipline myself like Paul,” some of us may feel. “When Jesus scorned the disciples for falling asleep, that definitely would have been me,” we may say to ourselves. This need not be the case, however.
I saw a Huffington Post article not too long ago that talked about forming habits. In it, B.J. Fogg, a behavior researcher at Stanford, talks about thinking small when building new habits. When trying to start a running routine, instead of going around the block, “just put on your running shoes,” Fogg says. “That’s it. Put them on in the morning every day for five days. You’re done.”
At first, I scoffed. This didn’t make sense when it came to Christian disciplines. Then, I realized that my scoffing came out of my desire to experience the great spiritual heights I had felt on my teenage roller coasters. I had forgotten, again, that the Christian life is a marathon.
I wonder if, instead of resolving to experience the spiritual heights every day, we might resolve to just open our bibles every day for one week straight. If you read something, that’s great, but the first week is a success if the Bible gets purposefully cracked open every day. Then, the next week, read one verse every day, no matter the length. “Jesus wept.” Success!
It may feel like we’re just putting on our spiritual tennis shoes, but every great marathon runner started there.
Ben Faus is a CBF Leadership Scholar at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, N.C. He is a rising third year M.Div. student from Carrollton, Texas.