Christians of most denominations will be taught, and will tell you if asked, that some sort of daily devotion is always encouraged. Be it informal prayers, reading scripture, some liturgically formal prayers or services, meditation, or simply a constant reminder that ‘God is for life, not just for Sundays’.
But a good percentage of those self-same Christians will also admit to finding such devotions hard, not really because of any major theological reason but rather because they are described as a ‘discipline’ for a reason.
To be disciplined is to be controlled and careful. It lends itself to regular, unchanging routines and rotas and timetabled moments in each day for various activities. And if I were disciplined I might, say, reserve a particular hour for prayer and bible reading.
‘Are you busy right now?’
‘Well, its 8 o’clock, time for prayers. Come back at nine, okay?’
I don’t have such regular, careful discipline when it comes to prayer. I find it hard to continue sometimes. I may go 6 months of having a beautifully laid out pattern of scripture, prayer, liturgy, music and meditation. But I end up finishing the prayer book I was using, or going on holiday and forgetting to pack the right materials, and the whole routine falls apart.
I don’t think its unusual to struggle with any sort of formalised discipline. Like anything that we feel is good for us either in body, mind or spirit (such as going for a walk, or going for a swim), it often takes only a tiny thing to blow the routine and leave our intentions in tatters.
Good intentions, be they prayer or exercise or self-study or picking up that musical instrument you haven’t touched for 12 months, are all well and good. But its far too easy to have insufficient hours in the day or days in the week to fit it all in. At least that’s what I often tell myself. And as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I don’t personally believe in a Dante’s Inferno- type hell. That is a blog for another time. The saying quoted above, for me, simply means that good intentions are not worth anything at all if they are not backed up by good actions, or at the very least a good excuse!
Not doing morning walks because you don’t get up early enough is rubbish. But not being able to afford suitable footwear and having to choose between shoes and food, on the other hand, is a valid explanation for leaving the goal behind. Its okay not to do something if you genuinely cannot do it.
Its when we (and I firmly include myself in this category) make the flimsiest excuses for inaction, and don’t get on with a resolved or agreed activity, that it can become a problem. We tell ourselves we are going to do an hours’ walk every Saturday. Just don’t pretend that your Saturday mornings are for walking if August was the last time you pulled your hiking boots on.
So, what are your good intentions? And will they remain so, or are you going to turn them into good actions?