I have a Bible reading plan, four different Bible apps on my phone, the capability to listen to the Bible on audio, and around 7 paper Bibles. And I didn’t read my Bible the day before I started writing this post. Therefore, it would seem that the absence of the Bible in my life came not from a lack of resources, plans, or technology, but rather from a lack of discipline.
I think that this is important to point out, because often, when we moderns have a failure in our life, we tend to attribute it to not having the right tools. Now, tools are helpful, tools definitely can help you towards your goals, but tools without discipline are useless. We tend to think of things as complicated when they are really just hard. You are not gaining weight primarily because your watch doesn’t track your calories, you are gaining weight because you can’t stop eating what you know you should not be eating. Reading a finance blog may be helpful, but you don’t need to read one to realize that you can’t buy something for $120 when you have $100 in the bank.
I remember telling one of my friends what was necessary to be a good small group leader. It boiled down mainly to 1) pray for everyone in your group every day, and 2) call and check up on each one at regular intervals. All you need is a phone and your knees. But I struggled so much to do it simply because I wasn’t disciplined enough. And I think therein lies the secret to why we overcomplicate things so much. The solution to a complex problem is a plan, an invention, a hack, while the solution to a difficult problem is self-control, discipline, and grit.
C.S. Lewis makes a similar point. He writes, “There is something which unites magic and applied science (technology) while separating them from the “wisdom” of earlier ages. For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem had been to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men; the solution is a technique.”
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Which is to say, when we have a problem, we moderns tend to look for something to fix it with. Can we buy a gadget, download an app, or find a technique to fix our problem? Rather, the old wisdom was that we should change ourselves. Instead of trying to conform the world to ourselves, we should see how we can develop ourselves into the sort of person who can deal with these situations.
And this bleeds into the Christian life. I worry sometimes that an overreliance on technology has atrophied the muscles we need to become good Christians. It is hard for me to pray, in large part because I’ve trained myself to entertain myself with my phone in every silent moment. It’s hard for me to make necessary phone calls, because it’s easier to listen to a podcast while driving.
Most things in the Christian life are not complex. We pray, we tell people that Jesus died for them, we read our Bibles, we fast, we attend church. But though those things are not complex, they are difficult. Fasting requires self control, evangelism requires humility, Bible reading requires discipline. And those are not things that we can buy or download. Those are things that the Holy Spirit builds in us through prayer and self-denial.
And the hope of the gospel is this. When we fail (and we will fail) we can rest in the fact that Jesus was perfectly virtuous on our behalf. We are accepted in him. Because of this, we can still be accepted while doing the slow work of conformity to him. We don’t need quick fixes, not only because they will not work, but also because our worth is not tied to our success. So be a failure for a little bit, don’t short-circuit the hard work of discipline. Do the long, hard work of character development, don’t just shoot to do the things you want to do, become the type of person who does those things.