“Relationships aren’t math problems.”

I said this to one of my small group girls at dinner recently. During our conversation, she had shared about a recent conflict with her boyfriend as well as her difficulty in accepting and living in light of God’s grace and love for her. And when she asked my advice on next steps to take (particularly with God), that was my initial response.

Most of us like for things to be black and white. We like categories or labels (except when people try to fit us into one). We like formulas. We like it when A + B = C. Formulas, categories, labels – they simplify life. They provide a checklist for how to attain a specific outcome.

While checklists can provide guidance and give us a framework to work with, life rarely works according to our plans and lists. Why? Our sinfulness interrupts things. Or sin’s presence and its effect on the world disrupts our plan and messes with our expected outcomes. Plus, people do not always respond the way we would like or expect. And with God, we do not think long-term or as “big” as He does (Isa. 55:8-9).

Someone once made the comment to me that “expectations are just premeditated resentment,” and for those of us who like and live by lists and formulas (Type A, anyone?), we experience a good bit of frustration, anger, anxiety, heartburn (ulcers?), and panic attacks when things do not go according to plan. Because the universe (and God) should take notice when we create our almighty lists and abide by what we’ve prescribed, right?

Avoid the Checklist Mentality in Your Relationship

With regards to our relationship with God, it’s my sinful heart that causes my relationship with Him to become more duty than delight.

I can read my Bible every day, pray, confess sin, memorize Scripture, etc. and complete my checklist or some prescribed formula for growing as a Christ-follower, but my relationship with God can still be lacking. It can be lacking in the same way that two people can live under the same roof yet not have a growing relationship. Proximity helps a relationship to grow, but it doesn’t guarantee growth. There’s more to a relationship than crossing off items on my relational to-do list. I can easily forgett about the Person because I’m so focused on tasks associated with the relationship.

So as we look at various spiritual disciplines over the next couple of weeks, beware of the checklist mentality. These disciplines are biblical, but the point of them is to fuel your passion for God. The Bible includes them because God lays out for us how to know Him and how to be transformed by Him.

I may not always feel like studying my Bible. Sometimes, I have to start out doing it out of discipline and ask God to change my heart and attitude. But if I waited to feel like doing this or any other discipline, I won’t do it. Like with any relationship, my relationship with God is a commitment, and the commitment sustains me when my zeal and fervor is lacking. But acting on that commitment - following through because this is a relationship I care about and have chosen to prioritize - does affect my emotions. My feelings follow my thoughts. I act on the commitment, and my emotions do get in-line.

Do Something Different

Following my Bible reading plan and having a set aside time to pray and to praise – this is my regular daily diet similar to how I routinely eat Chabani Greek yogurt, salad, and Cappucino Delight Slim-Fast shakes most days of the week. But on the weekend, I like to go to Panera and get an everything bagel with plain cream cheese. I don’t do this every meal or do it everyday. But it’s something special, a change of pace from my normal fare (and I usually sit and read my Time magazine while I enjoy said bagel).

Why tell you about my dietary habits? What I regularly eat needs to happen in order for me to ingest essential nutrients, but sometimes, I find that my salad or yogurt isn’t very exciting. But I look forward to that Panera bagel on the weekend. It changes things up. It’s different.

If you find that your relationship with God has become monotonous, try something different to refresh your time with Him. Break out of your routine.

This is part of the purpose of this Deeper with Discipline series - to help you discover or think through different things you can do to grow your relationship with God. This might involve planning time in the week to practice a spiritual discipline such as fasting or solitude that you don’t normally practice. It might mean that you stop your current Bible reading plan and read/pray the Psalms or something. I know that sometimes I just need to take a break from my current MO and the routine I’ve established. It adds freshness and newness to the relationship.

In case you’re wondering what disciplines we’ll be looking at, here’s a quick sketch of where we’re headed.

  • Inward Disciplines
    • Reading the Bible & Bible Study
    • Memorization & Meditation
    • Prayer
    • Fasting
    • Silence & Solitude
    • Journaling
    • Listening
  • Outward Disciplines
    • Evangelism
    • Stewardship
    • Service
    • Simplicity
    • Purity (inward and outward discipline)
  • Corporate Disciplines
    • Community
    • Worship
    • Celebration
    • Confession

Join us next week as we look at how our personality types affect our spiritual formation. Then we will kick off with a post on reading and studying the Bible. It will be a great follow-up to Pastor Matt’s recent sermon on “Knowing God in Scripture” (click here to download in case you missed it).