FOR WITH THE MEASURE YOU USE...
I was recently with a group of pastors for lunch and the youngest one of the group was sharing his heart with us. He said he was struggling with the fact that he was feeling like he didn’t pray enough. He believed he should be spending much more time in prayer. Now I have to admit that I have no idea what he really meant by that. Perhaps he prays for an hour a day and thinks he needs to pray longer. Or maybe he only prays once a week and thinks he needs to pray more often. We didn’t go into details. Nevertheless, a wave of old memories came flooding over me. I remember when I was in college and reading biographies of some of the great saints of the past; George Mueller, John Wesley, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Jim Elliot. I was constantly feeling guilty about not praying enough. Some of these men spent hours in prayer every day and I thought that if I wanted God to bless me then I had to spend hours each day too.
But one day the question struck me…How much prayer is enough? If I pray for one hour shouldn’t I try to pray for two? And if I pray for two shouldn’t I try for three? Where does it stop? Thus began the fateful journey into questioning myself and my thinking. Why was I measuring myself against these men? Why do so many Christians tend to measure themselves and others? What is the measuring stick? Who decides which measure to use? What right do I have to measure the spirituality of other people? In fact, what right do I have to try to measure my own spirituality?
Measuring just didn’t work. I knew that deep down inside. I had been measured all my life by the people in my church. Apparently I measured up pretty well in their eyes because everyone expected me to amount to something. I was the kid that parents pointed to when they said to their sons, “Why can’t you be more like…?” The only thing was, they had no idea what was really going on inside me. They had no clue about what I did when they weren’t around with their measuring sticks. They didn’t know what I was thinking! Nevertheless, measuring had been bred into my spiritual DNA and now I was beginning to question that.
Why do so many Christian people measure themselves against other Christian people? Does it provide some sort of assurance that they are more spiritual than at least some other people? Is it simply a matter of spiritual pride? Do we have some sort of need to determine who is a good Christian and who isn’t? Of course measuring leads into one of the most dangerous forms of legalism. Those who do the measuring often end up making new rules about what qualifies as real spirituality. Remember the Pharisees. They thought if God required one fast day each year it would be better to fast twice. Eventually it became once a month. Then once a week. And finally, during the lifetime of Jesus, they boasted that they fasted two days a week! Apparently, they were really spiritual! And the same thing can be done with prayer. It can become a legalistic measuring stick that causes all kinds of people to worry that they are not spiritual because they don’t pray as much as so-and-so used to pray.
And so I began thinking about prayer and time and measuring. This introduction has gotten rather long so I’ll sign off and share my thinking on prayer next time. What has been your experience with spiritual measuring? Do you get what I’m talking about?
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