When I was a kid, my parents bought an Ab-Roller.
I have never really thought about why Dad bought this, until now. Perhaps he was swayed by a particularly compelling infomercial. Or perhaps he wanted to rock a summer Dad-bod.
Regardless, he bought an Ab-Roller, and a few days later a box arrived at our door. Dad assembled the parts – and we had a shiny new exercise tool lying in our lounge.
I tried that bad-boy out a few times – going on some short-lived campaign to try and get Peter Andre-like abs.
And – funnily enough – the short-lived campaign is exactly what the Ab-Roller promised. Five minutes a day – that would be all it took. If I committed five minutes a day – I would have washboard abs.
There was a lot of small print too – this had to be combined with a healthy diet, a sustained effort, and a cardio workout would improve results.
But I was fixed on the five minutes.
I’d diligently do my five minutes, and walk away – stomach burning. And after a few weeks – I’d see no result.
Sure, I could do the exercises with more ease and walk away with less pain – but no mysterious girl was going to want to get close to my stomach.
Inevitably, I’d give up. I’d been promised ab’s of steel with minimal investment – but instead received minimal gain from my small amount of sweat.
Doctor in a Minute?
There’s some areas of life where we are happy to see hacks and quick gains. I use a Kindle to speed up my reading and highlighting, ToDoist to streamline my work to-be-done, and a car to move myself from A-to-B quicker.
However, there’s other areas of life where we recognise – we need to put in investment to see solid results.
My alma-mater, the University of Waikato, has been in the press recently for their proposal for a third medical school in New Zealand. Their goal is to train new General Practitioners to meet the shortage in New Zealand. Their method is to make it substantially quicker to become a doctor.
Some people are praising this development. Others are raising concerns – would you want to be treated by a doctor with a truncated education?
We don’t want our All Blacks to become a group that chases diet fads and exercises hacks – in the goal of getting the rugby workout in 15 minutes a day.
We’d be naturally wary of a program that promised to improve our marriage, make us a competent musician, or a financial expert in 10 minutes, three times a week.
Somethings can be sped up. Others deserve a solid time investment – and we recognise that this is the only way to advance.
So, the question must be asked – which category does spiritual formation fall into?
Shame Ain’t The Game
Although statistics are hard to find – especially outside of America – research suggests that over 80% of professing Christians do not engage in daily spiritual practices – such as prayer, Scripture reading or fasting.
And what has been the church’s response to this?
Often, they have followed one of two steps.
First, they have shared statistics such as these in an attempt to shame their listeners into reading the Bible or praying more. Although this may be a good intention – guilt is a horrible motivator.
Or, second, they attempt to make this more accessible by promising quick fixes – such as how a five minute quiet time will transform their lives. They lower the bar and raise the expectations – often leaving a generation of quietly dissatisfied Christians asking – “Is this all there is to the Christian life?”
Deep down, we know that both of these approaches are doomed to failure – or, at best, to provide temporary gains.
On January 1st, several thousand new people join gyms in an effort to lose weight – often motivated by their guilt at failure and how they have slipped so far.
Within five months, 80% of them will quit.
Some will have gone for get-fit-quick schemes – and the failure rate is higher amongst this population.
Deep down, we know that physical health requires a long-term commitment to targeted training, aided by a coach, and driven by the goal of a life of vitality.
This fact doesn’t inspire guilt or shame in us – but instead calls out the best in us.
Eugene Peterson described the life of spiritual formation as ‘a long obedience in the same direction.’ He identified that this life would take a long time, required obedience to a calling (which recognises we will want to disobey and quit!), and needs a direction to head in.
What is required is a clearer goal of spiritual formation, a clearer path to spiritual formation, and a competent coach to assist in the journey.
Without these – the journey will be fraught with frustration, disappointment and a series of half-starts and failures.
The next few weeks will explore this idea with more detail – and I encourage you to respond with your own experiences, comments, ideas and disagreements with the ideas raised in this piece.