I am proud to claim Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) as part of my family heritage. He was an American inventor, engineer, businessman, and the holder of 186 patents. He was a founder of Delco, and was head of research at General Motors from 1920 to 1947. This little story happened when he was employed by the Star Telephone Company of Ashland, Ohio in his early-20’s digging holes for telephone poles.[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]
“You were the first person ever to tell me that work could be fun. If only years ago someone had taught me how much fun it is to work, when a fellow tries to do good work, I would never have become the bum I was.” These were the words spoken to Kettering after he gave a hole-digging job to a hobo and showed him how to dig a good hole. Kettering had dug one himself, smooth and round with walls perfectly perpendicular. He told the hobo, “It’s fun to dig a hole. And the rounder you dig it and the straighter you dig it the more fun it is. It’s fun to see how nearly perpendicular and smooth you can make the sides of the hole.”
Hard work can be satisfyingly fun if you focus less on the “work” and more on the process.
Applied to Training for Godliness
Training for godliness can be satisfyingly fun. To become godly involves hard work; diligent effort. Yet, as you enter more and more into a good process you experience joy.
I recently heard the abbot of a monastery say, “I have rarely met a seasoned monk or nun who is not filled with joy. I cannot tell you how full of joy I am most of the time.” The life of a monk is demanding and difficult – middle-of-the-night prayers, restricted diets, physical work, prayer rules, solitude, obedience to authority, getting along with others, and self-sacrifice. Yet, in the midst of this challenging structure, pure joy is experienced. How can this be?
Being in the Zone
Runners talk about being in the zone. Psychologists call this “flow.” It is the mental state of person performing an activity fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. It is a complete absorption in what one does. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology).
Could it be that the Apostle Paul was describing something like this when he wrote: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15.10). Was Paul so absorbed in the grace of God that his work flowed out of who he was by the grace of God? (Remember, grace is the activity of God himself in a person’s life.)
St. Paul put forth maximum effort in the grace of God. So much so, that he could say that it wasn’t himself doing the work but God’s grace doing it in him. Yet…he did the work. This is called “synergism.” “Ergo” means “work” and is combined with the prefix “syn” meaning “together with” or “having the same function as.” St Paul and God were co-laboring together by God’s grace. “Working together with” – the Apostle with God and God with the Apostle.
You experience joy in the hard work of godliness as you exercise yourself synergistically with God. This is where the joy resides.
Exercise is Not an End in Itself
There is no joy in simply doing spiritual disciplines. It would be tempting to take a spiritual exercise that you like, engage it for a while, and then analyze its effectiveness in making you more godly. (Been there, done that!!) Many have tried this “approach” and failed. Making spiritual exercises an end in themselves keeps you at a dead end spiritually. Exercising is essential but it is not sufficient. Even extremely good exercises like Bible reading and meditation, prayer, spiritual reading, worship, journaling, solitude, fasting, and retreats will become empty routines when engaged apart from the flow and joy of God’s grace.
Then the question becomes, “If it is necessary to experience the flow of God’s grace, how do I experience synergism with God and His grace?” We will attempt to deal with that question in the next post.
Thanks for hanging in with me on this post. This one was a little heavy. Do you have a story of failing at a spiritual discipline due to an absence of joy and grace? Share below.