Written By James Bunyan, England
James Bunyan is a bit of a fidget, to be honest. His inability to sit still tends to spill over into all sorts of areas of his life; he loves travelling, good writing, all sports (except frisbee), the sense of purpose that the gospel gives him, exotic teas and the satisfaction of peeling off a sticker all in one go. He lives in Teddington (London), where he is training to be a vicar in the Church of England. For James and his wife Lois, lockdown in London was improved by the arrival of their daughter, Galilee, who just learned to clap.
I know exactly how you feel.
Christianity is meant to be brilliantly exciting. Jesus is meant to be the most dynamic person of all history, the powerful resurrected king, the most scintillating teacher. Preachers speak of eternal life, of light conquering darkness, of lives revolutionarily changed. Churches are supposed to explode with growth, friends are supposed to have their lives turned around, you are supposed to be living in victory.
So why does your Christian life feel so ordinary? You read your Bible, you say your prayers, you go to church, you feel guilty occasionally, but very little ever changes.
Perhaps it did not always feel like this; once upon a time you loved being a Christian but now you wonder if those earlier days were just a sort of honeymoon, filled with naivety.
Dealing with suffering or persecution is one thing. But how should we deal with boredom?
Well, first of all, don’t worry; this feeling is normal. It’s worth saying that, even as a Christian, everyday life can feel a bit . . . everyday. A bit ordinary. Even as the most amazing destiny awaits you, even as God invisibly works in and through your life, it can feel like you’re going through the motions.
But that’s not all there is to say. And to say more, let me point you to three long dead, but brilliant Christian friends whose works brim with lessons learned from long, difficult years of following Jesus.
1. Persevere because you are slow to learn . . .
[The gospel] is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consists. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.
– Martin Luther
Fairly colourful chap, old Marty. Here, in his famous commentary on the book of Galatians, the great Reformer is commenting upon the difference between the law and the gospel; the former shows us our need for Jesus and the latter shows us Jesus.
Why does he implore us to beat the gospel into one another’s heads? Simply because, as fallen humanity, we are slow to learn to love as we ought. It is rare for someone to hear the gospel one time and then live the rest of life buoyed by an inexpressible feeling of love. Our hearts are a lot harder and our minds more closed than that, so teaching ourselves takes more work than we realise.
Probably, part of the reason you feel like you are going through the motions is because you have found teaching yourself the riches of God’s grace difficult and have slackened off a bit. Quiet times are short and trite. Reading is non-existent. Questions have dried up. The remedy is to persevere in teaching yourself the good news every day until your mind catches alight and your heart begins to follow. This takes time—sometimes a whole lifetime—so persevere.
And the good news is that the good news is far from dull. The Bible expresses it in a myriad of different ways; the truth of it is simple enough that a child can understand but deep enough that a seasoned scholar would still have plenty to learn.
So, beat it into your head every day.
2. Look often to Jesus because you are quick to forget . . .
For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!
– Robert Murray McCheyne
Chances are that when we are a little bored or going through the motions, we begin to think much more about ourselves, our comfort and entertainment, than we do about Jesus. Or we are too pre-occupied with all the things we are failing to do for God, rather than dwelling often on all He has done for us. And as our eyes drift downwards to ourselves, it becomes a lot harder to see He who is above us.
Well, as Robert the 19th century Scottish preacher would tell us, the remedy to this is to wrench your gaze from your navel and to lift your eyes back to Jesus. You should think about Jesus more than you think about yourself, especially when you are tempted to wonder why your life is so ordinary.
After all, He who is with you is far from ordinary.
3. . . . and, sooner or later, joy will come!
. . . as if Christ had said, “You will lie prostrate, as it were, for a short time; but when the Holy Spirit shall have raised you up again, then will begin a new joy, which will continue to increase, until, having been received into the heavenly glory, you shall have perfect joy.”
– John Calvin
Calvin has this reputation of being a misery. It is totally unfair. Here he is in his commentary on John 16, talking about the brief time that the 12 disciples had to go without Jesus after his death, before His Holy Spirit came to fill them with an unconquerable joy. He shows us that the apostles will find a new sense of joy growing in them and continuing to grow until the day they walk into eternity and their joy is consummated. Whilst their joy will always have room to grow this side of eternity, it will be no less genuine for it.
And that is the normal Christian experience. The Bible makes clear that considering Jesus and all He has done for us does bring us a real joy. But it is a joy that, whilst perhaps seemingly slight and fragile, is designed to grow and grow, all the days of our lives until we are with Him. It is like a deposit, guaranteeing greater things to come.
So, friend, if you feel like you are going through the motions, carry on. Your joy will increase as you press on, and one day it will be perfect.
As we come to a close, having heard three kind words from three dead men, it’s worth hearing this word confirmed by God’s Holy Spirit, alive and speaking through God’s Word today:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Dear friend, you may be in a tricky season. Your joy may feel buried under a landslide of the worries of daily life. You may wish for more than you feel.
Know that Jesus has given you so much! He gave you his Word. He gave you his Spirit. He gave you a new destiny and a whole church, bursting with brothers and sisters who will run with you. For your joy, He endured the agony of Golgotha and all its shame. He rose again to sit at the right hand of God, interceding for you by name. He pioneered your faith and He will not stop until it is perfected.
Therefore, throw off anything that stops you from knowing this gospel deeply! Rid yourself of the sin that stops you from looking to Christ! Persevere in learning His gospel. Look often to this Jesus. And, He promises you, your joy will grow and grow until it is all you know.
See you soon.
P. S.: You may be struggling to do something because you are not sufficiently motivated to do it. Indeed, there is a trend among Christians these days to believe that an action is not legitimate unless it is wholehearted, as if it is somehow hypocritical to do something unless you really, really want to. I’ve heard, for instance, Christians decide not to read their Bibles on a given day because “I’m not feeling it and I don’t want to bring my scraps to God.”
The problem is, that’s not how our desires, feelings, or affections work. In the New Testament, love is always action first, a feeling second (for example, see John 13:34-35, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Thessalonians 4:9). Therefore, desires are fed by actions or habit and starved by lack of action or habit. But, sadly, it seems like our generation has gotten out of the habit of cultivating habits. It means an awful lot of good is left undone simply because we are too scared of hypocrisy; therefore, we rob ourselves of some of the joy that could be ours.
Listen to one more saint talking about the habit of love:
Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him… [What about loving God?] The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, “If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?” When you have found the answer, go and do it.
– C. S. Lewis