If you feel guilty about missing your Bible reading, morning prayers, or family devotions, stop it. There is no sin called “missing Bible reading.” Those are man-made traditions, and you won’t get an ounce holier by keeping them. You are free. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You are not under the law. God loves you, you overachieving legalist brown-noser. Stop pretending your rituals are special. You need to sleep in more often and eat donuts for breakfast (especially during Lent).
But you should only *not* feel guilty about missing your Bible reading or morning prayers or family devotions if the relief of no-guilt drives you to love Jesus more enthusiastically and recklessly than ever before. Do you love Jesus? Is His word sweeter than honey? Is it better than sleep? Are you accidentally telling everyone you know about your Savior? If you just end up sleeping in longer, become even less disciplined, and you don’t miss any of it, you should feel guilty, you lazy slob. Repent, believe the gospel, and get up and say your prayers, man.
Grace drives you toward greater glory not less. Some people especially need to learn the discipline of the grace of donuts, and some people especially need to learn the discipline of the grace of getting up early. Everyone needs to learn to do both, and you can tell you’re making progress when you are as dedicated to your prayers as you are to your donuts.
I’m not arguing with this point – but I will take a little polite issue with the apparent bias against Lenten disciplines. We give up something or establish a positive habit at Lent in order to strengthen our wills for obedience to Christ, and to find ways to glorify God more. By strengthening our will to say no to something or yes to something on a regular basis, we grow in our ability to say no or yes to even more important things when they present themselves. As one priest put it: “When the test comes, I can pass it, because I’ve been in the gym.”
Blessings to you this Lenten season. Our world is hurting… the more fasting and praying we do right now, the better.
I think you miss the point, purpose of fasting during Lent. Traditionally, Christians aren’t called to fast in order to seem special, legalistic, or drive guilt. In fact, Jesus in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew exhorts his followers to do the opposite. They should fast, pray, and give alms not to draw attention to themselves as the hypocrites, but rather to draw closer to God. This spirit of sacrifice and discipline is an important part of Jesus’ message. It is why he fasted and prayed in the desert and why he admonished his disciples for sleeping during his Agony in the Garden. Lent is a time to prepare for the glorious Resurrection of Christ and the best way to do this is to die to the earthly pleasures and comforts that keep us from Him. Perhaps you don’t agree, but I would hope you would not demean these practices. They are important tradition of the Church and a powerful call to draw closer to God in this holy time.
I think you miss the point and purpose of the Lenten tradition of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. For centuries, Christians have chosen to commit themselves to prayer and fasting not in order to seem special, to be legalistic, or to draw attention but rather for opposite aims. In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 6, Jesus rebukes the hypocrites for fasting and praying in a public forum so as to draw attention to their piety. Instead, he exhorts his disciples to commit themselves to private lives of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, rather than public spectacles of false holiness. This same message is reaffirmed through Jesus’ own actions during his time of fasting and prayer in the desert and through his admonishment of his disciples for falling asleep during the Agony of the Garden. So, the purpose of fasting and prayer during the Lenten season is not some silly tradition to make Christians guilty, but rather a commitment to follow the actions and calling of our Savior, habits of prayer and meditation on the word that always make us better, never worse. In dying to the extravagances of this earth we have the promise of drawing closer to Him and one day joining Him in the perfection of Heaven. That is the purpose of the Lenten season. It seems a commitment to sacrifice and discipline is something all Christians should strive for and there is no better time to start or improve than the days leading up to the glorious celebration of His Resurrection
Ashley Antkowiak says
What a wonderful reminder of the freedom we have in Christ! Thank you for the encouragement.
The issue with this idea of the “Discipline of Grace and Donuts” is that it seems to associate legalism with habitual action and these are not the same. Legalism is a bad thing because it blinds a person with an obsession of following a certain rubric of behavior devoid of God’s grace and love. Habitual prayer, fasting, and meditation of the Word is what draws us closer to Christ’s love and grace therefore drawing us away for legalism, the obsession with obedience and disobedience for the sake of themselves. Rather good steady habitual actions like these make it so that we may act according to the virtues that we acquire and strengthen through spending time with the pure and holy source of virtue. I doubt that anyone would argue that spending time in prayer makes the soul more ready to be a light unto the world. In fact, I imagine many would argue the opposite after taking the time to think it through.
Correction: I doubt that anyone would argue that spending LESS time in prayer makes the soul more ready to be a light unto the world. In fact, I imagine many would argue the opposite after taking the time to think it through.
Thanks for the interactions. I have other thoughts particularly on Lent here: http://tobyjsumpter.com/the-gospel-of-lent/
and here: http://tobyjsumpter.com/ash-wednesday-homily-lent-is-for-evangelism/
I certainly believe that Lent and the traditional disciplines of fasting, prayer, etc. can be very beneficial. My point here takes issue with a certain kind of ritualism. If we are to recover a robustly biblical form of Lent, we must be constantly guarding against (and making fun of) the distortions and abuses that are all too frequently out there.
Joe Hyink says
Concerning rituals in general, I think you would agree also, Toby, that a significant way that Scripture and the church have encouraged the nurturing of a believer’s affections (a love for Jesus) is by means of grace-filled ritual practices. I doubt that you would encourage people to sit around and wait for this love to smite them before they do anything in order to avoid any sort of presumed hypocrisy, right? I think the confusion comes with perhaps a little too unclear distinction between the “certain kind of ritualism” you were combating and godly practices. Christians *should* feel guilty if they are not making a concerted attempt through physical, tangible actions to deepen and develop their love for Jesus. Don’t you agree?
Right, Joe. In fact, I believe that ritual is inescapable. It’s not whether you will perform rituals, it’s which ones will you perform and will they be for the right reasons?
And so the second paragraph in this post is meant to drive people to hearty love and faith-filled embrace of rituals of love for God and neighbor.