Not long after a new pastor begins his ministry at a little rural church, he notices something interesting that would happen every Sunday. At the start of the service, the entire congregation would sit on the left side of the building. After the offering is taken (this was during pre-Covid days!), they would stand up and move to the right side of the building.

It was such an odd practice. He was more than intrigued. When he asked people in the congregation about this, they would simply say, “This is just how we’ve always done it”. Finally, the pastor asked the oldest member of the congregation. She told him that a long time ago, the church had a wood burning furnace that would heat the sanctuary. A few minutes before the service started, someone would light the furnace but it would take some time for the place to heat up. When the time came to collect the offering, it was too hot on the furnace side so everyone would stand up and move to the other side of the building!

This was the routine. Over time it became a tradition so entrenched that even after the furnace was gone, people kept up with the practice. They had no idea why they were doing what they were doing. They had just assumed it had some kind of spiritual meaning.

I wonder if we ever ask why we do what we do? I believe it is an important question. Don’t get me wrong. Traditions can be wonderful. My family has just started a fairly new tradition where we come together to have a meal every second Friday. Sue and I have had a long tradition of going on a ‘date’ once every week. Even spiritual disciplines like reading, studying and meditating on the Scriptures, praying, fasting can enrich our lives and bring about spiritual growth but why are you doing them? Why do you keep doing them?

Many years ago, I discovered the importance of having a daily ‘Quiet Time’ (QT) with the Lord to pray and read his word. It was best to do this in the morning before you do anything else. Made perfect sense. I started out enthusiastically. Never missed a day. I was actually looking forward to having my ‘QTs’! My relationship with God went to another level of intimacy. After a while, I noticed something else. My ‘QTs’ began feeling like a chore, a burden. If I missed having my ‘QTs’, I’d feel guilty and condemned. I’d feel God didn’t love me as much. 

Let me make it very clear. The issue isn’t the practice of ‘QT’s per se. It is an important discipline to cultivate. So what happened? My QT’s became a crushing burden when my sense of love, identity, security and approval had shifted from God’s unmerited favour through Jesus to how well and faithful I was keeping my ‘QT’s’. This is what the Bible calls self or works righteousness.

Why do you do what you do? Or why are struggling doing what you loved doing once upon a time?

“Lord, increase our faith in you!”

Mark Ng