O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
(Psalm 63:1, emphasis added)
Anyone who's known me for any length of time knows that I am a singer. I play other instruments as well, but I've spent more time training my voice than anything else. I've studied voice consistently for the past five years (four of those at The Master's College, a fine institution), and one of the things that I have learned over and over again is that you can't just do whatever and expect your voice to be fine. I've discovered certain vocal exercises that help warm my voice up so that I can really sing properly. (shout out to Dr. Jones, my college voice teacher, who displayed a ton of patience with me all four years at TMC!)
After I had graduated from Master's and returned to the States after a choir tour in Israel and Switzerland, I stopped singing for a while. My voice, thankfully, never gave out during the tour, but there were times it felt pretty darn close. I decided to take some time to give it a rest as I re-acclimated to the California time zone. When I did start singing again, I realized that my range had shrunk. Some of the really high and low notes I had been able to hit were gone.
While this may have seemed disappointing at the time, it makes total sense that it happened. I stopped working my vocal cords consistently, and they settled in right in the range that I use to talk. Fortunately, thanks to my wonderful instructor in college, I had learned that even though this does happen it is not permanent. I simply started those same vocal warm-ups to retrain my singing voice. Again, it takes time and I still don't have my full range back, but it is getting better. Just a few warm-ups each day down to the lowest and highest that my voice feels comfortable, and as those notes become second nature I can continue beyond them and develop back to where my voice had been.
Hopefully you were able to track with all that, because I want to make a point: If you stop doing something, you're not going to just stay where you are. Usually, if you stop for any length of time, without realizing it you begin to go backwards. Those muscles you had trained running suddenly aren't used to it, and your endurance is weakened. You can't run the 5k you used to tackle with ease.
Think of it also in this way: If you stop practicing spiritual disciplines for any lack of time, you make yourself much more susceptible to sin.
I've spent the past few months hanging around my parents' house while looking for jobs. Right now I'm anticipating some travel in September for a possible job, but other than that I don't have much to pass the time. It can be very easy for your mind to wander when you're just sitting around the house wishing you had something to do. Christ condemns wandering thoughts in the Sermon on the Mount. He takes the Old Testament Laws that condemn sinful actions, and shows His disciples that even their crooked thoughts are sins. Usually a sinful action is just the manifestation of a string of sinful thoughts that you fell into because you weren't guarding your mind. Jesus is warning us of the consequences of complacency, and we ought to fear it!
James also warns us of the dangers of complacency in his epistle: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:7-8). Pay close attention to the verbs in this passage addressed to the readers. They are all active, except the command to submit to God (which we cannot do in our own strength anyway). We can't just try to stay away from things that may cause us to sin and do nothing else; soon, all you will be able to think about is that thing you're trying to stay away from, and you give in. We have to actively keep ourselves away by focusing our minds on other things.
What would happen if we all were truly able to say this alongside King David?
Some of you may remember singing this in youth group way back when, but do we really live it out? If you were in a desert valley and were parched for water, would you still find your full satisfaction in God?
I'm not trying to say that you shouldn't care for your physical needs (and David didn't mean it either), but the point is that our thoughts and actions should reflect a constant desire to know and praise God more fully. Martin Luther considered it a waste of a day if he was not in prayer almost as soon as he woke up. "If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day."
Remember also that the book of Psalms begins with a warning about consorting with evildoers: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers" (Psalm 1:1). It can be very tempting to ease into the pathway of sinners; Jesus tells us that the way is wide that leads to destruction. We let our complacency take precedence and soon we see sinful patterns forming in our lives.
I think in some ways this all comes down to our comforts. Culture has determined that we are entitled to getting what we want, and whether we like it or not, we have taken the bait. Actively pursuing the Lord means that we are giving up our desires for the sake of God's glory. Think of the eternal perspective of that sentence; will our minuscule desires compare to the glory of God even just a few days from now? Satan would like us to believe so, in order that we may continue falling into his trap.
Because I'm still waiting until mid-September to hear any more about this potential job, I'm still hanging around the house a fair amount of each day. But now, I have a different perspective. I'm not sitting on the couch watching Netflix all day; I've been doing things to keep my mind active and free from wandering. Yesterday I washed my car (which it desperately needed), and it looks like tomorrow I'll be washing my mom's car, as well as doing other odd jobs around the house. I've also been very busy lately leading worship for different services in my home church, as well as taking the proper time to prepare beforehand. (Looking back to the beginning of this post, my voice has started to return to full strength because I've been using it more, and in the right way.) In addition, I've been reading 10 Psalms a day and doing an in-depth study of the book of Romans.
I'm not trying to say that I have it all together, but I am making a concentrated effort to keep my mind focused on appropriate things. It's easy to just let your mind "veg out" for a while, but it is more fulfilling to keep your mind engaged in the things of the Lord. Interact with the sermons you hear on Sundays during the week; maybe even listen to more sermons or an audio Bible or something. (If you're looking for a good resource for something like this, RefNet is an excellent app for that. Hosted by Ligonier Ministries, it's basically a Reformed radio station of sermons by people like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Steve Lawson, etc., as well as reading through sections of Scripture and classic Christian books. My dad and I both would say that this is a great resource, though if you're like us you may lose track of time listening to it all.) Commit to specific times when you are reading Scripture or praying, and make sure that these are considerable amounts of time. The only way you can grow is by taking the time to learn more about our Lord and Savior.
Make a plan for yourself how you are going to combat complacency in your life. The Lord will continue to bless your efforts as you continue to fight for His glory.
A simple servant of the Master.