Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.
Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
— Ephesians 5:15-20
A friend of mine started exercising recently. I told her, “Good for you!”[you]
She said, “It’s strange. I’ve been trying to carve out daily time to pray and read my Bible for a long time now, and it’s been hard to do. But I managed to find 30 minutes each day to exercise.”
I know exactly what she’s talking about. How can we exercise for 30 minutes a day but not pray? It’s bizarre… but it’s the truth.[wicked]
Still, how does it make any sense that the one which should be easy is hard, and that the “hard” one is easy?
One the face of it, it should just be a scheduling question, right? Can we free a half hour in our day? If we free the time, it shouldn’t matter what we put in it, should it?
Of course, we all know that things don’t work that way – even ordinary life things. Consider Terry Crews‘[terry]advice on going to the gym…
“TREAT THE GYM LIKE A SPA.
Yes. It has to feel good. I tell people this a lot – go to the gym, and just sit there, and read a magazine, and then go home. And do this every day.
Go to the gym, don’t even work out. Just GO. Because the habit of going to the gym is more important than the work out. Because it doesn’t matter what you do. You can have fun – but as long as you’re having fun, you continue to do it.
But what happens is you get a trainer, your whole body is sore, you can’t feel your legs, and you’re not coming back the next day – you might not come back for a year!”
[Let’s pause for a moment and enjoy this advice. This advice is so good. Every time I reread this, I am blown away… “Of course! Build the *habit*…” Why don’t I do this??? God bless Terry Crews! Ok, back to the article…]
We treat different places differently. There are places we like to be and places we don’t like to be. Terry says that if we build up a happy space at our gym, we will enjoy going there, and will build a habit. Times and places have emotional qualities to them.
One of the pieces of study advice that professor John Stackhouse gives is to have a separate desk for work, where you do no goofing off at all. When you go to the library, he says, have one seat where you goof off, and have another that is pure work. Keep the spaces separate. It’s a question of habit, of conditioning yourself, and the space develops a quality to it for you that puts you into work mode.
John Cleese, talking on creativity,[excellent] describes how he carves out a protected space and time that is free from interruption. This protection of time and space enables a mode of play where we can be free and creative.
Time and space have a quality. This quality is physical, emotional and spiritual (which is why Christian discussion about the presence of God has real meaning). All the earth is the LORD’s… but different times and places can have different qualities depending on what fills them.[qual]
I was recently talking with a missionary from Argentina. She had come from a place of blazing revival where prayer would go on nightly for hours on end. “I find it very hard to pray here,” she said, “it’s very difficult and I struggle to find the motivation.” My city of Vancouver is a beautiful city, but my missionary friend is not the first person to remark on spiritual dryness, darkness or desolation here.
Modern western evangelicals tend to disregard this quality of time and space. Part of the reason is because we are evangelicals with an evangelical history. To talk about holy places or holy things feels disturbingly catholic. It makes us think about statues of saints and of the worship of pictures – graven images of the worst sort, surely.
The greater reason though, is because we are modern western people. We don’t have the language to talk about the spiritual qualities of space-time. We have intentionally and systematically focused so exclusively, for so long, on the physical nature of space-time (electrons and other spinny things) that we struggle to understand things any other way.
At the school I attend, Regent College, lots of people are attracted to older forms of Christianity, such as Celtic Christianity. Those Celts had prayers for every common thing – for cooking breakfast in the morning, for going out, for turning into a deer so your enemies wouldn’t kill you…[deer]
I might describe this fascination with Celtic Christianity as a bizarre flirtation[flirt], except that it’s not really bizarre. It makes sense. The Celtic Christians, bless them, were not moderns – they were converted from a pagan world! They believed in thin places and spiritual powers and they really believed there was a difference if you prayed over your breakfast and if you didn’t.
You see, if you ask a modern western Christian what the difference is if we bless our morning meal and if we don’t, we will defend to the death that there is a difference, but bless us if we can understand or describe it! We know that nourishment comes from calories and protein and vitamin content, and we’re pretty sure that those don’t change, regardless of the prayer. The food is just as nourishing either way, unless we’re asking God to change the physical nature of the world, which is crazy, because we’re confident he doesn’t usually do that. So… we just give thanks.
Because we don’t understand how a blessing could do something…
we struggle to believe that it does do anything…
and as a consequence… we hardly bless anything at all.
But… the Bible says Christians are a holy priesthood! Are priests supposed to bless stuff?[bless]
What is the Ephesians passage quoted at the start of this post really saying? In part, how we read it depends on what our worldview allows it to say.
“Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is it an exhortation to good moral behaviour, a call to encourage one another?
Is it a charge to change the quality of the time and space around us? Is it instructing us to fill places with worship from God’s own Holy Spirit, and to manifest the quality of heaven in the physical earthly places we live? Are we charged to do this because the days are evil and we are to bring holiness into an evil world?
Is it sane to suggest that the most practical step to having our devotions is to sing worship songs and to bless the place where we want to read and pray? Could that be the most practical scheduling activity we could take?
Here’s the truth. If I went on youtube and hunted up a TED talk on productivity that talked about psychological patterns and why creating good spaces for being productive was important, I would believe it. (I probably wouldn’t do it, but I would believe it.) If a young, intelligent person with the right haircut stood up and told me that we were complex chemical and emotional beings and could alter our psychology by altering our spaces, I would believe it. It would give me joy, hope that I could be more productive. So why am I so reluctant to believe about the spiritual what I would believe in an instant about the psychological?
When I try and consider what Ephesians talks about, it’s harder for me to understand, and it’s harder for me to accept. I can’t think of days being evil because I don’t understand how days can be evil. What is our prerogative as Spirit-filled priests of God living in evil days? It’s tough to say, because the theological language of the western evangelical church tends to be bad at this kind of stuff. We’re not exactly sure where our prerogative begins and ends which, all too often, keeps us from doing our job.
Is it strange that it’s harder to pray than to exercise? Well, it depends. If I see myself, (as the Apostle Paul certainly did) as being in a battle with spiritual rulers and authorities of physical places (in which I dwell), then it’s not at all strange that different activities should find different resistances.
But if this is the case, and if our days are as evil as those of the Ephesians, then perhaps the most important thing we can do is to do our job and change the world around us.
Bless you all.