My kids received an old Playstation 3 from a high school friend of mine a while back. To say they love it would be a great understatement. They particularly like to play old NHL and NFL games on it. When things are going well they are rapt.
The games don’t always go so well. We have two old remotes and in the age old tradition the boys get upset, smash the remotes, throw the remotes, shake the remotes…maybe you can see where this is going…one of the remotes no longer works properly. It sort of works, just not perfectly. It permits one to play just long enough to get invested and then it lets you down. You cannot win with the remote, but you can play with it if you are committed. The remote leads to all sorts of troubles. You try to get a player to do one thing and they may well do the exact opposite, you want them to shoot the puck and they pass it behind them, it would be funny if it wasn’t so infuriating.
Watching them get upset (ok, truth be told, getting upset at the freaking thing myself:) got me thinking about how sometimes we are almost in tune but not quite with God and we blame the instruments. We can sort-of pray, sort-of listen to God, sort-of be generous, sort-of read the bible, but not really pay attention, don’t grow, get frustrated, and give up as the results are not what we had set out for.
The analogy is imperfect because in the case of the playstation remote it is a literal material item malfunctioning and the only option is to get a new (used) one. In our devotional lives it is our hearts that are malfunctioning and we cannot go get a new one (even if medically possible I am writing of the heart metaphorically, or as we have heard so many times “wherever you go there you are, pig heart or not” or something like that).
I have heard of people giving up on the spiritual practices because they approach them with a goal in mind that they soon learn they cannot achieve using their method: greater peacefulness, calm or tranquility, perhaps better relationships, health, or finances is the target. Any and all of those might come our way but if they are the goal of a spiritual practice then they are like the corrosive salt thrown on our winter roads: they will rot us.
Spiritual disciplines are for bringing us closer to God, into better and deeper relationship with Jesus, and that’s it. To use them for anything else is to guarantee results like using our broken remote, close but not quite satisfying.
The fact is, Jesus might call us to face deep wounds within us and that is a slow painful process. He might call us to notice a deep wound in our community and work to heal it (again, mostly a slow painful, thankless process). He might call us to move to distant lands or quit our jobs and serve others in new ways. He has called his people to all these changes and more. If it happens to us and we do not “find our bliss” or whatever, this would not mean our spiritual discipline is broken like the PS3 remote or that they have lead us down the wrong path (like the Madden defender who randomly falls down instead of making a tackle). No, in fact, it might mean we are listening to God and being transformed.
Video game remotes are for playing a game, spiritual practices are for getting closer to God. If you want the easy route pick up the remote (just not our broken one:). If you want to soul-satisfying rout commit to a discipline that appeals to you and follow the transformation God calls you to.
Simple as that.
Now I am off to survey the internet for a new (used) remote.