For many of us, spiritual disciplines and guilt go together like chicken and garlic (it’s a thing, trust me). As soon as someone even mentions having a daily quiet time our guilt radar gets a ping. We feel bad that we don’t read the Bible enough, pray enough, and we can often feel that in some way God would be happier with us if we did them more.
But the beautiful news for Christians is that we don’t have to feel guilty about this at all.
Our standing before God and His love towards us depend not on what we do (Titus 3:5), but on what Jesus has done for us (Romans 5:8). God doesn’t love us one iota more if we read the Bible for an hour, and He doesn’t love us one iota less if we haven’t read it in weeks!
Now this is great to know in theory, but in practice, guilt often still tries to creep in. So what can we do to fight it? Well, strangely enough, the answer may be that we need to learn to talk to ourselves.
Commenting on Psalm 42:11, the famous 20th Century preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones says,
“Have you realised that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc.
Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man [the Psalmist]’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been repressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you’…
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”
We need to learn to talk to ourselves! And when it comes to the practice of spiritual disciplines, it can be particularly helpful to remember the gospel as encapsulated in its most simplest form: “Jesus is Saviour and Lord.”
Sometimes, we will be tempted toward guilt. In those moments, we need to preach to ourselves that Jesus is Saviour:
No, don’t feel guilty! God doesn’t love you one iota less if you don’t read the Bible. Your standing before God and relationship with Him is secured in Jesus. You are saved by grace. So I won’t let you give in to feeling guilty!
And at other times, we will be tempted towards apathy. We know that we’re saved by grace and not what we do, so who cares what we do? Why bother with reading the Bible if we don’t feel like it? In those moments we need to preach to ourselves that Jesus is Lord:
No, don’t just drift! Don’t coast through the Christian life! Jesus is your Lord, so how you live matters greatly. You’re not saved by good works, but you are saved for good works. Jesus wants you to grow in godliness. Train yourself, get in the gym, work at it! I know you don’t feel like it, but get out of bed and on your knees!
So, brother or sister, learn to preach the gospel to yourself.
When you are tempted towards guilt, remind yourself of God’s saving grace; when you are tempted towards apathy, remind yourself of God’s empowering grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). Guard yourself against these two opposite dangers so that you can discover the life-giving power and richness of regular spiritual disciplines as ways of receiving God’s lavish grace.
This blog post came out of a 4-part sermon series at my church I’m giving on spiritual disciplines called ‘Training in Godliness’. Check out the first talk here.