doggedly on: we are helped in our duty by doing it

20150308_150935There’s no proper path between the porch and the van, just a dotted line of flat stepping-stones through the grass. These are adorable three seasons out of four but slippery (and invisible) just now, buried in snow. Most of us would probably get wet to the knees on every journey from the house, except for one thing: we’ve trod that route so often that there is now a flattened place in the snow. We weren’t traversing that way daily to make the path; we had to get in the van. But now the path is there to help.

In the same way, when I do my duty, I am helped to go on doing it. Why is it easier to obey once we begin? Is it that we are made creatures of habit–and this is turned to good account when the habits we build into our lives are faithful ones? Is it that we somehow actualize or demonstrate our faith by acts of obedience, however small, and God (the one who rewards those who seek him) then comes to our aid?

Early in my walk with Jesus I heard someone say to “pray on your knees when you don’t feel like praying”. It seemed unnecessary to me, and a bit silly. Until I tried it–and realized that praying on my knees meant taking some time, getting alone somewhere, and awkwardly creaking down on the ground. Having done all that, I felt like I couldn’t just fire up a half-conscious, poorly-formed request or two before descending into distraction again. I then had to put in the further effort to focus my mind on the Lord and formulate thoughts about and to him. And so I could really pray. Putting myself in the right posture was the hard part.

We are such complex creatures, aren’t we? A mix of body and mind and heart and soul. It is hard to delineate the boundaries of each, but somehow discipline of one may strengthen and direct the others. I love how the “greatest commandment”, according to Jesus, just speaks simply to all of them: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Luke 10:27).  Sometimes loving God is a conscious mental decision before it is a heartfelt effusion. As Eugene Peterson writes, “We live in an ‘age of sensation.’ We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship” (from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (1980), pink font mine). Now I think worship is the expression of a feeling for God but his point is that sometimes our hearts follow our actions, and this I have found to be true.

We are also helped in our duty because we know our obedience blesses us later. As C. S. Lewis says, “When we carry out our ‘religious duties’ we are like people digging channels in a waterless land, in order that when at last water comes, it may find them ready” (from Reflections on the Psalms (1958)). Channels in the desert, ruts in the snow, paths for the feet. . . there is something safe, something oddly freeing, in knowing that (God helping us) we can and will choose to do our duty regardless of which way our emotions surge and swell. Yet one more thing I notice, if I “go through the motions” of faithfulness (regardless of where my heart’s at) I am becoming more and more emotionally invested in the good works God has called me to–whether I’m trying to or not. And when fruit appears my joy is all the greater. It’s a way to bank more of today’s time and energy into tomorrow’s account.

 

 

For Alex, who walks beside me on the path. This post is deeply indebted to our conversations–“thank you” could never be enough for the many ways you encourage my soul.

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5 Responses to doggedly on: we are helped in our duty by doing it

  1. Pingback: of duty and other dirty words | part of the main

  2. Laurie says:

    Betsy. This has refreshed my soul. I can think of so many times when exactly what you have written about has been my experience – shaped then, into a deep, abiding oneness with God’s will that both pours me out and fills me up. These are important things to remind one another about but as you you have indicated, they are things which are often viewed as unpleasant. I wonder how much joy we actually miss because we stubbornly refuse to let the path of discipline (duty) to shape our habits and therefore our characters.

    Thankful for your “thinking out loud” on this and for the gifts of clear communication God has given you. Keep trudging doggedly on. The Lord will continue to bless you and those He places along that well-traveled path.

  3. I’m so glad I read this. Yesterday, in my church small group we brought up that exact verse, Luke 10:27 because we were discussing what role the body plays in our relationship with God. We were also wondering what we can do to focus on God and spend meaningful time with him – I struggle with this. I mentioned that running has been a good chance for me to get closer to God, but I still can’t be 100% focused on Him while running – for obvious reasons. I think it would be a good idea to try kneeling while I pray because of the mind/spirit/body connection that happens. Lately, I’ve just been bothered that Christianity seems like such a “heady” lifestyle, meaning that we can only engage with God with our minds. I want there to be physical practices that can bring me closer to God, and this is a good place to start. Thanks Mrs. Kirk!

    • betsy says:

      Abby, I love how thoughtfully you engaged with this post! Thank you for your comment, I’ll pray for you as you seek to grow closer–we all need that and it’s one prayer we know he loves to answer: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” ! Blessings!!

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