If there’s one thing that everyone told me before I went to seminary, it was this: spend time alone with the Lord. Don’t let your faith dry up in an academic pressure cooker.
And there are some people I need to apologize to, because I rolled my eyes.
I thought, “Do you know who you’re talking to? There’s a reason I want to go to seminary! I love Jesus and I want to talk about Him all the time!”
Maybe that was part of the problem. I was already more interested in talking about Him than talking to Him.
But I think this is where the real problem lay: they kept saying I couldn’t do ministry without spending time alone with the Lord. (Or, insert here a different Christianese synonym: “doing devotions,” “quiet time,” or “studying the Word.”)
I wish someone had told me that that was a lie. I wish someone had told me that, actually, you can do ministry without spending time alone with the Lord.
I wish someone had stepped in and said, “You absolutely, 100% can. You can spin your wheels and run yourself ragged and exhaust yourself on the altar of Doing All the Things. You can be successful. You can have people praise your work and you can get good grades and you can impress people with how thoughtful and spiritual you are. Your ministry can flourish and your work can look fruitful.
And it will be the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.”
You can do it all, but you’ll lose everything.
I wish someone had told me that you can do a million things really right, but if you do this one thing wrong, nothing else will matter.
Because my brain jumps straight to report cards and nods of approval, so when they said “you can’t do ministry without spending time with the Lord,” I heard: it won’t work out, you won’t be successful, it’s not pragmatic.
I heard: if you want to be really good at Doing All the Things, you’ll need to add this to the list. So when it slipped off the edge of the page and the show went on without it, it didn’t even register. I could do it. I could take the tests and read the books and write the papers and do my job well and volunteer with the youth and write articles and keep up with All the Things. I can play the part of the slightly-stressed-blessedly-busy-thank-you-for-asking Good Church Girl so stinking well. I won’t admit it to you, but I relish in the knowledge that you wonder at how I do it all. I imagine how good my life would look in the montage of a made-for-TV movie. It’s the part where the main character finally figures out what she wants and they flash through months of hard work in just a few minutes – shots of a crowded desk, empty coffee cups crumpled on the floor, a messy bun. There’s a killer soundtrack.
But something funny happens when the noise dies down.
We took a two week break and suddenly everything came to a screeching halt. Sometimes, time alone with your thoughts is the opposite of time alone with God – He won’t lie to you. That screeching halt was an utterly hopeless attempt at preventing the inevitable train wreck.
Finally I understood what all those pleas about spending time alone with the Lord were about. It’s not uncommon to start viewing your spiritual life like you do everything else: another place to be approved, graded, justified by your own hard work. In fact, it’s probably the most common thing of all. A natural tendency for human beings intent on believing that we’re capable of measuring up. Or at least, everyone else seems to be.
So we work and we strive and we claw our way to another rung that always seems higher than it really is, right up until the exact moment we reach it.
You can’t do ministry without spending time alone with the Lord.
I can check that box. It’s basically a magic potion, a secret serum, right? Add in twenty minutes of Bible reading and ten five minutes of prayer, mix until blended. Take twice daily, and your ministry will be 10 times more effective by Monday!
Here’s the tension that’s been driving me crazy: I’m simultaneously horribly incapable of doing anything without Him and also fantastically effective at making everyone around me think I’m pulling it off.
You can do ministry without spending time with the Lord.
Notice the lack of qualifiers. It’s not that you can do truly effective, God-glorifying, earth-changing ministry without spending time alone with the Lord. It’s just that you can do it. You can get it done, you can check the boxes, you can look really busy-yet-capable. You can pull it off.
Really you can do anything without spending time alone with the Lord. Any job, task, calling, assignment. You absolutely 100% can do it without spending time alone with the Lord.
It just won’t be worth it. It won’t mean anything. It will probably destroy you.
This semester, I’m not so worried about doing All The Things. I’m focusing on one thing: time alone with the Creator of the universe, the lover of my soul, the God who is with us, the Savior of the world. I have this sneaking suspicion that everything else will follow.