Why do so many Christians settle for a humdrum version of Christianity? Rinky-dink, below average, bland, garden-variety Christians are a dime-a-dozen. Your average Christians cares more about the condition of their favorite sports team, paycheck, home decor, or political cause than their own soul. Why is there so much effort made to maintain the status quo? Why does anyone settle for a run-of-the-mill Christian life? Sadly, it’s all they see modeled; it’s all they know. Millions of Christians act like conventional Christianity IS the Christian life. They could not be more wrong.[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]
One of the great frustrations of my life-long Christian ministry is seeing good Christians settle for mediocrity. They are not inspired to a passionate desire and lifestyle of seeking and loving God with their whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. They settle for a run-of-the-mill, poor, and common Christian life. Ideas, conjecture, and feelings replace the real, actualized experience of knowing God. The average modern Christian settles for comforting, sentimental superficiality over genuine, soul-rendering, life-altering unity with God.
- They make a sincere decision to trust Jesus as their Savior and now they know they’re going to heaven no matter what.
- They regularly go to church. It almost doesn’t matter what kind of church as long as there’s “good” music, preaching, programs, and room to develop relationships. All is good if the church meets their personal preferences, isn’t too demanding, makes them feel good, holds to what they believe, helps them raise their children, provides a place to be involved (If they want to), and starts and ends at a reasonable time.
- They attend a few special events held at the church a few times a year. This could be a ladies bible study, men’s group, special celebrations, dinners, Easter or Christmas programs, concerts or lectures. Three or four a year should do it.
- They don’t make any trouble. They listen well, act nice, say kind things to other people, smile at everyone, never complain, encourage others, and vote yes for everything the church leaders ask them to.
- They get involved in areas where they can help and feel good about themselves. Whatever fits them well and is not too overwhelming, works.
- They occasionally read their Bible at home and pray when things get tough. This is done just enough to soothe their conscience and to see if God still answers prayer for them.
- They think about becoming a better Christian (not knowing quite what that means) but rarely do anything about it.
- They give (or not) to church depending on whether they’re in agreement with what’s happening in the church or where the church is heading.
- They try to live a good testimony in front of the lost in the world hoping that those blind people will notice their piety and want what they have.
- They honor God and country with the same fervor. Actually, they may get a little more riled up over political issues than spiritual ones. Above all, God bless America!
If you believe right and live like this, you’ve got little to worry about according to some. Just keep at it until you die. Don’t waver or compromise, dumb down the gospel or quench the Spirit. Give God all the glory and live well. Cling to the cross and hold to the Word of God. Be the church and love people. Believe that God is good all the time. Let go; let God. Being a mediocre Christian isn’t so hard.
But, is that it?
Break Free From The Status Quo
Why do some Christians seem so free in their relationship with God? How is it that there are Christians who actually exhibit a life in union with Jesus Christ as they persevere in suffering, humiliation, and struggle? How can a person live in such harmony with God that they actually and naturally do His will? These are difficult questions with only a couple good answers.
There is, however, one simple, uncommon answer for humdrum Christianity. It is an activity which has been a part of being a Christian since there were such people. It is practiced by the godliest found in scripture. It is considered normal for all saints across the centuries. Yet it is probably the one activity most Christians dread or refuse to practice.
The cure for a mediocre Christian life is to give God space to act in your life.
And the best, most challenging way to learn to create space is SOLITUDE.
Even non-Christians recognize the power of solitude. Susan Cain, in her best-selling book Quiet, highlights study after study demonstrating the power of solitude as the key to exceptional achievement. Psychologist Anders Ericsson compared three groups of expert violinists – “best violinists,” “good violinists,” and those training to be violin teachers rather than performers. They kept diaries of their time. Though the three groups spent the same amount of time in music-related activities, the two best groups spent most of their music-related time practicing in solitude. “Practice alone” was the highest rated activity by the best violinists. Ericsson found similar effects of solitude when they studied other kinds of expert performers – chess players, elite athletes, pianists.
What’s so magical about solitude? In many fields, Ericsson told me, it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has defined as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only less useful – they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them.
She continues to unpack Deliberate Practice and I apply it to meeting with God in solitude.
Deliberate Practice (vs. public or group practice) is best conducted alone for several reasons.
1. It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting.
To learn to love God with your whole being, it is necessary to engage in deliberate, single-minded, whole-hearted focus on God. For example, when you’re with someone who is regularly distracted by their cell phone, the movements of other people, or a TV, you know you don’t have their full attention. Group worship, group Bible study, or listening to praise music have their place but are laden with distractions. Giving your attention to God alone in solitude allows intense concentration.
2. It requires deep motivation, often self-generated.
Your will/spirit plays a huge role in being with God in solitude. You can decide to be with God in solitude and follow-up by showing up. That action alone contributes mightily to your inner transformation because you are shaping your will towards God.
3. Most important, it involves working on the task that’s most challenging to you personally.
Only when you’re alone, Ericsson told me, can you “go directly to the part that’s challenging to you. If you want to improve what you’re doing, you have to be the one who generates the move.”
For the deliberate Christian, this means that solitude provides the space for God to lovingly work on you. Here, by God’s grace, you learn to love God, battle your passions, repent, worship, be still, experience God’s presence, and so much more. You learn patience, perseverance, humility, true joy and peace. You learn to commune with God. All the inner enterprise that challenges you, including deepening your relationship with God, can be “improved” in solitude.
St. James says it well: Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you (4.8).
God speaks through the Psalmist David who personally knows the value of solitude: Be still and know that I am God (46.10).
Jesus invites us to be with him alone: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11.28-30).
Can becoming Christian be that simple?
Becoming like Jesus Christ, even becoming a real Christian, requires a solitude that most Christians dread. And that could explain the millions of mediocre Christians walking this planet.
In our evangelical zealousness to recognize Christianity as a group thing have we neglected the “one thing needed” – sitting in Jesus’ presence alone in solitude, like Mary? Or have we become “distracted” like Martha who was distracted and became a distraction?
I recognize that the Christian life is not either solitude or service. It’s popular to think in terms of “active” or “passive” Christian living. What are you, a contemplative or an activist? The best answer is, “Yes!” When engaged properly in union with God, Christians live both. While in solitude we learn to serve and we can learn to be still while serving.
It is a false dichotomy to divide these activities. “Christian, break down that wall!”
Yet, the way to learn how to be both is to be active in solitude. Learning to actively work with God in solitude is a most challenging aspect of being a Christian, yet worth every minute.
So, what about you? How are you giving God space to work in your life? For those who doubt God’s ability to work in their life to those who are totally convinced, the best way to experience Him is in solitude.
- Meet with God for 10-15 minutes to start and let your meeting with Him grow over time.
- Be quiet. Silence your thoughts by focusing on a picture of Jesus or by repeating a short prayer like “Lord, have mercy” or simply say “Lord…Jesus…Christ” slowly and earnestly.
- Meditate on a short passage of scripture for a few minutes.
- Commune with the Father, Son, and Spirit in stillness. Open your heart to their loving grace in you.
- End with a brief prayer concerning your day and the people in your life.
Then, share below how it goes for you.
In solitude, God has space to transformationally work in you. Don’t be a mediocre, humdrum Christian. Take up the challenge of solitude.