**This post was originally posted on the Women’s Life blog June 23, 2016.
How do you respond when a pastor, small group leader, or friend encourages you to daily prioritize time with the Lord? Guilt – Do you immediately experience pangs of guilt from endless attempts to carve out time ending in old patterns of busyness and disordered priorities? Apathy – Do you feel unmotivated to begin a consistent habit that will cost you precious time and energy? Legalism – Are you wary of taking their advice in fear of getting into a wooden, legalistic pattern? Perhaps you have experienced all these at some point when attempting to start a regular “quiet time” and are presently feeling both stuck and discouraged.
I too have experienced each of these responses at various times in my walk with Christ and tasted the bitterness of discouragement. While there are many reasons to forge through such discouragement and prioritize time with the Lord, I wish to present one crucial incentive that I failed to recognize until recently: survival.
The Damage of Distance
A few weeks ago my husband Clint and I visited my parents for a couple days. Packing, travel, and activity took over our weekend visit, crowding out any one-on-one time with the Lord. On our return drive home, the conversation in the car was uncharacteristically tense as I lectured Clint on a few things I was “encouraging” him to change. Once home, the heated atmosphere of the car followed us into the house, where I remained impatient, curt, and unkind the remainder of the evening.
Had I been infected by the air of my hometown? Was I just tired from all the activity? Though I do enjoy a good finger-pointing, I realized that my actions were flowing from none other than me—my unchecked, sinful heart. The absence of time with the Lord had left my natural bent towards a critical spirit and selfishness unimpeded, permitting them to slowly infect my marriage. That weekend I sadly discovered that without daily inviting God to help me recognize, repent of, and wage war against my sin, the health of my relationship with Christ and others will slowly die. I must daily pursue God as a means to survival.
The Severity of Our Sickness
The reality of our ever-present sinful nature is humbling and should prompt us to take daily action. However, to make it to the point of action, we must first acknowledge the severity of our sickness. My father worked with a man who smoked for decades. Many friends and family urged him to stop and warned him of the health risks, but he persisted. When doctors told him he had developed lung cancer, he quit instantly. The realization that he was dangerously sick prompted him to change his daily habits.
Our sickness lies in the heart. Although as Christians we have been given new hearts (Ezekiel 26:36), we still possess a chronic sin nature that seeks to rule our bodies (Romans 6:12). Our hearts are not the plushy ones appearing on Valentine’s Day cards. They are desperately wicked and bent towards doing evil rather than good (Jeremiah 17:9), driving our outward actions via sinful desires that are opposed to the desires of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18). This severe diagnosis should prompt us daily to welcome God’s conviction and power to wage war against the ungodly desires of our hearts. This is a war to keep our relationship with Him and others surviving instead of dying.
The Consequences of Untreated Sickness
Second, understanding the consequences of an unchecked sinful heart further prompts us to take daily action for survival. I experienced the consequences after just a few days of distance with the Lord! My pervasive sin slowly began damaging my relationships with Christ and my husband as I cut off all accountability with the Lord. Scripture amply warns of such consequences.
In Galatians 5:16-21 Paul paints a dark picture of the “works of the flesh.” Found in his inventory are impurity, hatred, jealousy, fits of anger, selfishness, dissension, and envy. He warns further that our sin is destructive (Galatians 6:7-8) and leads to bondage (Romans 7:14). Our marriages will turn sour as rampant selfishness dominates our hearts. Our friendships will become shallow as laziness develops unimpeded. Our growth in Christ will be stagnant as we follow the desires of our flesh rather than the desires of the Spirit. Our sin will seek to rule our lives.
The seemingly bleak reality of our sin should not depress us, but rather jolt us to a keen awareness of our need for aid. The survival of growth and relationships does not happen naturally. Romans tells us that when we actively present ourselves to God as His instruments rather than to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, sin will have no dominion over us (6:12-14). Galatians offers further hope that the fruit of the Spirit—the results of walking closely with the Lord—is attainable when we actively pursue Christ. This famous list of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control encourages Christians that victory over sin is possible when we engage in the fight by pursuing a relationship with God (5:22).
The Hope of the Gospel
The gospel is the good news that God has not only saved us from our sin, but also has given us His Spirit to help us continue the battle. If you are weary of seemingly endless defeats with your sin, hear both the warnings and hope of Scripture and begin prioritizing time with the Lord. Begin viewing time with the Lord as a means to survival. You cannot function the way you were intended to in a thriving relationship with Christ and others on your own. These relationships will slowly die without daily repentance and empowerment to fight sin. Daily arm yourself for the fight and allow the precious hope of the gospel to woo you into a relationship with the King.