Faith Today


What God is really calling us to right now


Istill don’t understand the toilet paper hoarding. But after the ply settled, another craze took hold of people – one that makes more sense to me. In a new pandemic setting, people adopted eating plans and exercise goals, painted rooms Buxton Blue, cracked open dusty cookbooks and channelled Jamie Oliver or went crazy over Dalgona coffee, and finally tried to learn Spanish or Mandarin (but sadly not before gaining mastery over the Oxford comma).

This flurry of new activities reminded me of a vacation flurry from years ago. My wife and I were staying with some friends at their lake home in the flatlands southeast of the Rockies. On the first morning in this serene setting, I woke up to a loud thump. Then a thu-thu-thump, and a thu-thu-thuthu-thump, thump, thump, thump. Alarmed, I went upstairs.

Sweat was dripping down the faces of our friends. Their shirts were soaked through. An aggressive fitness coach on their television shouted at them. I poured myself a coffee and watched in bewilderme­nt. After they finished they enthusiast­ically told me more about their fitness regime appropriat­ely called Insanity.

The goals of self-improvemen­t that emerged in the early days of the pandemic are a dichotomy like hardcore exercise and a restful vacation. It may work for some. But I

suspect the majority of people join me in bewilderme­nt. Now, what lies behind the health goals, home improvemen­t and language learning is a mantra spurring it all on – “Make the most of it.”


Leave it to North Americans to turn a pandemic into an opportunit­y for personal mastery. The message to make the most of it appeared again and again in social media and elsewhere. But as I saw how it loomed over my own church – creating a sense of guilt or shame for falling short of pandemic-elicited selfimprov­ement – I encouraged members to reject it. I recorded a short video message to them that basically said, “You don’t have to maximize a pandemic.”

Because for many people the pandemic made life more complex rather than simple. Time got sucked up with new responsibi­lities like working from home and Zoom fatigue, navigating unemployme­nt or figuring out the ever-changing format of school (whether for yourself or your kids). At the time I reminded my church it’s okay to aim for survival. If that means deep cleaning your apartment, or reorganizi­ng your pantry or even learning a language – so be it. But it’s also understand­able if someone is just trying to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other or if all you can do is crash onto your couch exhausted.

But can we settle for mere survival? To be fair in Ephesians 5:16 Paul exhorts the church to “make the best use of the time” (ESV) or “make the most of every opportunit­y” (NIV). The same instructio­n appears in Colossians 4:5 too. Indeed, Paul tells Titus to make sure the church in Crete lives productive lives (Titus 3:14). It sure sounds like Paul is calling us to make the most of it

But we must keep the context in mind. In Ephesians Paul is concerned about our growth in holiness, whereas in Colossians he is concerned about our public witness, and in Titus he is concerned about good works – particular­ly serving others in their need.

When we can meet the needs of others, Titus instructs us to go for it. When an opportunit­y presents itself for evangelism, Colossians invites us to make the most of it. And Ephesians calls us to use our time wisely as we grow in Christlike­ness.

But none of Paul’s instructio­ns in these letters are concerned with self-improvemen­t as we understand it today.

The problem with the cultural mantra – make the most of it – is that it is rooted in a different story, one of self-improvemen­t. Selfimprov­ement isn’t inherently wrong. But it is heavily steeped in the individual­ism and exceptiona­lism common to most developed nations. The focus is often myopic. It fails to look beyond the mirror – and it quietly or overtly hopes people might gather around and gaze upon your reflection too.

In contrast Paul envisions spiritual formation – living within the transforma­tive work of God for the sake of others, even during a pandemic.

We may not want to make the most of it by pursuing self-improvemen­t, but this doesn’t mean the priority of spiritual formation is put on hold.


As we navigate our new reality, is there a mantra we can embrace? Or at least a posture we can take that may help us adapt to the change?

As the pandemic has stretched on, I’ve been trying to find a metaphor pastors can use that adequately expresses the posture Christians should take. Is this a time of treading water? Are we merely trying to keep our heads up? Are we waiting for rescue to come before our legs and arms give out? Or is this a season of hibernatio­n? Do we embrace that there is not much we can do? Is it perhaps a time to retreat, to eat and rest, and eventually come out of our caves once the season passes?

These metaphors don’t sit well with me.

After playing around unsuccessf­ully with many metaphors, I’ve been forced to relearn a message from my book Rhythms for Life (InterVarsi­ty Press, 2020) – there is no one-size-fits-all metaphor for spiritual formation, not when everything was normal and especially not during a pandemic. Instead we must discern the rhythm God has for us in a given season.

I believe everyone can benefit from developing a rhythm for life – a set of spiritual practices to help you become who God made you to be. Traditiona­lly, these include regular engagement in your church, a commitment to reading Scripture, prayer and generosity with your finances and time. However, there is an even wider wealth of spiritual discipline­s and practices that can help us keep in step with God – and what works for one

The problem with the cultural mantra – make the most of it – is that it is rooted in a different story, one of self-improvemen­t. . . heavily steeped in the individual­ism and exceptiona­lism common to most developed nations.

season might not work in the next.

It is important to find expression­s of a particular practice that work for you right now.


My own rhythm for life has changed multiple times. It changed drasticall­y when my children were born. As a new parent it became much harder to carve out the same amount of time in the morning and evening for Scripture, prayer and journallin­g, let alone the same amount of undistract­ed quality time. I barely had any contemplat­ive capacity. When I tried to sit quietly with Jesus, I fell asleep.

Initially I tried to double down and make my routine work. But it didn’t work. And I fell into the mistake of feeling far from God solely because of my slipping discipline. But God’s presence isn’t contingent on my performanc­e.

Instead of lingering in guilt, I sought to discover new expression­s of practices for that sleepless season. As my children have moved out of the “destroy any resemblanc­e of adequate sleep for mommy and daddy” stage, my practices have changed again.

A few years ago I experience­d a prolonged season of depression. Once again my practices changed. Part of my recovery involved discoverin­g new practices of self-care, such as running and medicine, along with renewed discipline­s of gratitude and encouragem­ent.

Although my depression made it hard to feel “close” to God, saying thank you for something as basic as a warm home helped me remember that all of life is grace. I also pressed into a vision bigger than the here and now, which kindled my hope in a difficult time.

When the pandemic hit my practices changed again. Sunday worship took a virtual shape. I never signed up to be a televangel­ist, but suddenly I was thrust into filming sermons and preaching through a camera.

But this was not nearly as difficult as learning how to worship in a new online expression. I have struggled and made some progress in learning what I need to connect with God and remain connected with people. For example, to combat Zoom fatigue my community group decided to limit our meetings to one hour every other week, instead of every week. We also turn our video off during parts of our gatherings and focus on contemplat­ive practices like lectio divina or Ignatian Imaginativ­e Prayer.

Our practices adapt and change along with the seasons we are in. If we embrace rhythm as a metaphor, it allows us to accept that what works for one person during these trying times may not work for another. It’s okay if all your previous practices just aren’t working at this moment. They might work again in the future. No matter what, keep your sights fixed on Jesus and adopt the practices that achieve this aim.


No matter what, whether our capacity is high or low, I believe we are all invited to walk at the same tempo – Godspeed. Jesus walked at roughly three miles per hour, just like the average human. This was quite literally God’s speed on earth. Spiritual formation doesn’t function like self-improvemen­t.

With self-improvemen­t you can set goals and measure them – the eating plan, the book club, the new project. But with spiritual formation? You can read the whole Bible in a year, but can you measure how it shaped you? You can devote time to pray, but can you evaluate where it changed your heart? You can serve the marginaliz­ed, but can you quantify its impact?

You could try. But it misses the point. The goal of all our spiritual formation is to be with Jesus – even in a pandemic.

We have crossed the threshold, once again, into another year. As usual, self-improvemen­t rises to the forefront with New Year’s resolution­s. The cultural mantra – make the most of it – has another shortlived resurgence.

But if you are going to make the most of anything, let it be the truth that God is with you in Christ and He is walking alongside you at a gracious pace. If you make the most of being with Jesus, He will help you find your next right step – even if it is just crashing onto your couch.

Jesus walked at roughly three miles per hour, just like the average human. This was quite literally God’s speed on earth. Spiritual formation doesn’t function like self-improvemen­t.

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