‘How are you doing?’, my friend asked.
‘Hmmm… let me think about that’, I slowly replied with a grin.
My instinct had been to blurt out ‘fine’, but that was just a reflex. The truth was, I didn’t know how I was really doing because I had been so busy. Racing around, without margin.
I bet you can identify with that feeling of needing to check in with yourself.
Call me a revolutionary, but I’m going to say we ought to (at least generally) know how we’re doing. So that we know where to rejoice in the progress God has given, and, to see where he would like us to go.
So today, I want to share a simple inventory I just heard (it was an audiobook) from Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe & Intimacy With God (which I highly recommend). I think it will help you quickly get a grasp on how you’re doing and make some corrections if you need to.
A Quick, Spiritual Inventory
Here’s Keller’s paradigm, with some of my thoughts and biblical examples to help you flesh it out.
In a nutshell, Keller draws an analogy between a boat and the condition of our souls. As we go through the list, think about which category you fall into right now.
You may be…
- sailing. When a sailboat has the wind at its back, making progress is easy. Spiritually-speaking, we ‘sail’ when our circumstances are lined up favorably. Bible reading and prayer come naturally, we feel God using us in the people around us, and God feels present and real. The potential problem with sailing is that you don’t know if your progress is circumstantial, or, more deeply rooted in who you’re becoming in Christ.
- rowing. More often, we experience the Christian life as rowing. We make some progress, but it’s hard work. Prayer and bible reading feel more like a duty than a delight. God may feel distant, we don’t see many answered prayers, but we refuse to give in to self-pity, or, the self-righteousness that whispers to us, ‘you deserve better than this’. We keep using the means of grace, and keep serving others despite an inner dryness or neutrality.
- drifting. When we drift, we experience the dryness and difficulties of rowing, but instead of fighting we let ourselves drift wherever our circumstances take us. Instead of praying and turning to God’s word, we give into self-centeredness and self-indulgent behaviors (like excessive eating, sleeping, TV and sexual practices) that (sort of) mask the pain.
- sinking. If we continue drifting, numbness becomes hardness as we continue to give in. If some difficulty came along, we might practically abandon our identity as a Christian altogether.
Where would you place yourself right now? Try to be completely honest with yourself.
King David: A Man Of All Seasons
In Part 2 of this post, I’ll finish with a short recommendation for each season, but first, let’s take a look at what these seasons looked like in the life of King David, who provides us with a powerful illustration for each season.
- sailing. From the time that Samuel first anointed David king as a young man, his rise to the throne was unstoppable. He killed the giant Goliath with a sling and stones, and ‘was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war’ (1 Samuel 18:5). He even found himself the subject of the latest pop song (18:7).
- rowing. But life wasn’t always so peachy for David. As God gave him success, the current king (Saul) became jealous and tried to kill him (e.g., 1 Samuel 19:10) so that he spent years on the run in the wilderness. Later, his own son Absalom tried to kill David and make himself king (2 Samuel 15). But these were tremendous times of spiritual growth for David where he had to actively lean on the Lord, which is reflected in many of the psalms he penned. (See Psalm 18, for example.)
- drifting. The worst moments of David’s life began with this ominous example of drifting: ‘In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel… But David remained at Jerusalem’ (2 Samuel 11:1). Instead of doing the hard, right, God-trusting thing – going out to war – David sends others and stays home and chills out in his palace.
- sinking. Already in a weakened spiritual condition, all it took were the right (wrong) circumstances to knock him over. ‘It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful… so David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her’ (2 Samuel 11:2, 3, 4). Although David was fully restored, this moment of sinking profoundly – and negatively – shaped the rest of his life (see 2 Samuel 12:10).
I love David because we get such a full picture of his journey, with all its ups and downs. Through the lens of his life, we learn so much for our own.
I’ll be back on Thursday with Part 2, and some ideas for how you can move forward no matter what season you find yourself in.
Which season do you find yourself in today? Take a moment and talk to God about it with honesty, asking him for the help you need.