This last week found me incredibly busy. As my wife and I are trying to learn more fully how to be “adults,” we are introducing more routine, planning, and discipline into our lives. This manifests itself in everything from planning our daily meals, to foregoing television to finish our reading for class, to praying the Daily Office nightly, when possible. Over the last five years discipline has become increasingly important to me, as I am more and more convinced that it is something our society could desperately use more of.
But I am starting to realize that there is a subtle danger to be found in living a life of discipline. Those of us who have found life in the structure and rhythm of liturgical worship and prayer run the risk of forgetting that progress is impossible if we do not meet the living God in our prayer and give him space to work within us. We confess our sin, read the assigned Scriptures, pray the suffrages, and can easily believe—consciously or otherwise—that we can take spiritual growth for granted. We can fall prey to the same temptation as those who chase after the American Dream, believing that by doing these things we are “making something of ourselves.” Progress will come if we work hard and long enough, because it is ultimately our responsibility to provide for our own spiritual wellbeing.
But the apostle Paul tells us something different: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7, NRSV) The answer to this question is, of course, nothing. Everything, be it a breath, a meal, or a spiritual insight is a gift from God, a means of life and nourishment. This is an easy concept to understand, but a difficult reality to recognize, and even more difficult to live into. How do we practice the knowledge that God is the provider of all things? Perhaps those of us who participate in structured prayer should make better use of the times in our liturgies that allow for silence. After all, there is no better time to comb through the details of your day and reflect on the ways in which God was present and working than during your daily time of confession, adoration, and supplication. Perhaps this kind of reflection will produce in us more gratitude, and our time of personal intercessions and thanksgivings will be more balanced between the two.
As we pray this week, we would do well to thank our gracious Father for his perfect provision in all areas of our lives. And, as we aim to be better stewards of the gifts he has given us, let us ask him to remind us constantly that there is nothing we have not received from him. Let’s pray that he will help us recognize his hand upon our lives, cultivate gratitude, and give to others as liberally as he have given to us. For everything we have is a gift, and it is our duty—and joy—to share those gifts with our neighbors.