For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. – Romans 7:18b (NIV)
*This post contains affiliate links. If you click on my link and purchase a product, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Click here to learn more.
I went to a marriage seminar once where the instructor had us list all the things we argue about on a regular basis with our spouse. My husband and I smirked at each other as we listed things like, how we spend our money, who does what chores, and who’s turn it is to take care of a kid in the middle of the night. After we made our list, the counselor said, “It doesn’t matter what you listed: the thing is not the thing.” Come again? I thought. She said it again, “The thing is not the thing. Whatever it is that’s on your list that you and your spouse fight over again and again, those are not the real issues. The thing is not the thing.” She went on to explain how a lack of understanding and emotional connection in the relationship are the root of most, if not all, marital problems.
I think the same applies when we talk about why we don’t spend time with God. The thing is not the thing. Yes, we certainly face issues of a lack of energy, and time. And learning new practices and new ways of living life with God can be helpful. But the truth is, we have deeper problems. Sometimes, we just don’t want to spend time with God. The thing is not the thing.
Getting to the Deeper Problem
I started examining the problem of motivation when a friend of mine shared with me that she still finds it difficult to engage with God, even when she does have time. As I first thought about this issue, I honestly didn’t think I related. I usually play the part of an overachiever: I get frustrated when I can’t have my morning quiet time. But as I looked more closely, I discovered a problem with my own motivation.
I realized that my attachment to my morning quiet times doesn’t mean that I don’t share the struggle. The truth is, my reluctance to release my morning quiet times, isn’t completely because I’m always desperately yearning for God, but mostly because I’m attached to what they represent to me: a peaceful space to wake up, enjoy my coffee, and have time to myself without the interruptions and needs of another person. Not that I don’t experience genuine encounters with God in these times, but I’m quite stubborn to climb out of my comfortable box and connect with God in new ways.
As I considered my experience alongside my friend’s dilemma, I realized that our issues may not be so different. In fact, I think we’re dancing around two sides of the same coin: a faulty view of God.
How we think about God is the most important thing about us.
– A.W. Tozer
I don’t pretend to know your particular way of perceiving God, but I do know that, as fallen humans, we all tend to have a warped default view of God. And I think we live out our faulty view of God in two main ways. (Check out Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God, and this sermon to learn more.)
There’s a “try harder” approach, that I gravitate towards. Essentially, in my default mode, I try to earn God’s favor. If I do my quiet time, I feel good about my relationship with God. Or at least I can count one area of my life where I “measured up”.
Others may tend towards the “avoid and ignore” strategy. I think it can stem from a very similar view of God. Only instead of trying to earn points with God, they often have many excuses for why they don’t have time. Of course, this isn’t conscious. And often the exhaustion and busyness we feel are real. But sometimes, there’s also an avoidance working underneath the surface. Essentially, the avoidance says, “If I don’t measure up, then why even try?” This subtle lie eats away at the best intentions.
The Question about who God is
Both the “try hard” and the “avoider” in me believe the lie that God is a god who keeps score, who is difficult to please, who is counting my faults. In short, an angry God, or at the very least, a God who’s a bit disappointed with me. I’m coming to wonder if such a faulty view of God isn’t the very sin seed that Adam passed down to all of us. A lie that God isn’t who he says he is, isn’t trustworthy, and doesn’t really love us. Despite many years of mental assent to the contrary, I still wrestle with my faulty view of God. It doesn’t quit easily. Sometimes it feels like no matter how much I “know” about God’s love and kindness, I have a hard time shaking my default ideas about God.
How Do we Change the Way we Think about God?
After many years of trying to change my beliefs by rote without much progress, I’ve become obsessed with the question: “How do I change my beliefs when my default beliefs feel so ingrained?” What I mean is, how do we take the truth from our heads to our hearts to our bodies and actions so that it becomes true belief, not merely mental assent?
Lately, I’m breaking ground in new answers to this question and my view of God is experiencing a radical shift. My default view of God is losing its grip on me. I know it’s real because I don’t even know exactly how it’s happening. I can tell you it’s certainly not through my “try hard” ways.
In the next post, I’ll share some elements that God has weaved into my story that I think have contributed to the shift in the way I see Him. It’s leading me into a new way of living with him, what Keller might call “the third way to live”. While it won’t be a prescription for how you can finally figure out a way to want to spend time with God more, I hope that it will offer clues about the way God works in changing our beliefs so that you might be able to recognize his work in your life. Perhaps it will enable you to see how He’s inviting you to let go of the faulty beliefs holding you back in your relationship with him.
Don’t miss the next post: sign up below for my newsletter to be notified when it’s available.