As a nine-year-old kid, I remember getting a few firecrackers one day with the promise we would shoot them off together later that evening. I was elated. The catch, however, was that I had to wait at home for an hour or so while my parents ran a few errands.
The firecrackers sat on the kitchen table of our second-floor apartment, staring at me from the box in the middle of the quiet room. I waited for what seemed like a full day. They were still staring at me.
I finally gave in and decided to light just one on the deck outside the kitchen door. I chose a small, disc-shaped one with a fuse coming out the side. I placed it on the ground, and lit it.
Unfortunately, I had left the kitchen door open, and there was a breeze blowing straight inside. As soon as that small disc started spinning and popping, nearly all the smoke went straight into the kitchen. I quickly cleaned up the spent firecracker, went back inside, and closed the door.
My parents walked in the door no more than 10 minutes later. Needless to say, I couldn’t hide the smoke of what I’d done. My patience had failed me, and I had turned a good thing into a bad thing with a chance to hurt myself or burn down the entire apartment building.
If you’ve never done something like this, let’s imagine you’re a king facing an important battle for your country, to protect it from a hostile neighboring country. To prepare, you and your leading spiritual advisor plan to spend time making an offering to God in a ceremony before the battle. You want to make sure you fully understand what God is leading you to do in this situation.
Unfortunately, your spiritual advisor is late to the ceremony. People are waiting around, and you’re starting to feel a little worried that the enemy may not wait for you to finish calling on God. So you take matters into your own hands and start the ceremony without waiting for your spiritual advisor.
Then he walks in the door no more than 10 minutes later. Needless to say, you can’t hide the fact that you started without him. Your patience has failed you, and you’ve turned a good thing into a bad thing with a chance to bring ruin on the entire nation.
This is exactly what Saul did in 1 Samuel 13. And this action demonstrated his heart, his desire to take matters into his own hands and do what he felt he should do instead of what God was leading him to do.
Practicing spiritual disciplines can look a lot like lighting firecrackers or followings the example of Saul.
Now, it’s not necessarily going to destroy a nation, nor is it likely to burn down your home. But choosing to practice a spiritual discipline just so you can check a box or because the discipline is good in and of itself isn’t a good thing to do. It demonstrates your heart and your desire to take matters into your own hands, doing what you feel you should do instead of what God is leading you to do.
Bible reading, prayer, journaling, fasting, and all the other spiritual disciplines are good practices. But we have a way of taking even these good things that were meant to help us grow and turning them into bad things that stunt growth at times. This happens when we make the practice more about the practice and our accomplishment of it than becoming more like Jesus. For these disciplines to be effective, we have to practice them for the right reasons and at the right time. Journaling, while good, isn’t always what God may be asking you to do.
Part of this growth process is knowing when to do what you’ve always done and when to follow the lead of the person you’re trying to imitate. You may think, “I know how God works. When I read my Bible, pray, and write in my journal for 30 minutes each day, I become like him.” It’s true, God can meet you there in those times and he often does. But sometimes he leads us in a different direction to make sure we’re following him and not following the process that leads us to him.
I want to challenge you to spend more time following his lead. It may look like reading your Bible, praying, and journaling 95% of the time. That doesn’t mean you should assume the other 5% will be the same. Be on the lookout for those opportunities to follow God that will remind you to follow him and not just the process.
Patiently lighting firecrackers along with you,