“Consider which religious behaviors you have engaged in that you now realize you used in the hope of fixing yourself (e.g. longer prayer times, more intense Bible study, doing volunteer work). Describe your feelings about doing each of those things at the time (joy, impatience, hope, frustration, boredom, anger, fear, etc.).” J. Keith Miller, A Hunger For Healing
I’ve read a lot of books and heard a lot of sermons that advocated more prayer, more Bible study, and more volunteer work and missions trips. These things are important elements of spiritual growth, but that is not always the reason I engage in these activities. Here are some examples of the ways I’ve tried to ‘fix myself’ with religious activity:
“Maybe if I pray an extra 15 minutes every day I can increase my faith.”
“I bet that if I did a really in-depth study of Matthew 5:27-30, used a concordance and a Greek dictionary, and read some commentaries, I’d finally understand what Jesus was really saying about lust and figure out a way to solve my problem!”
“I should do more volunteer work serving women so I will learn to see them the way God does and not be tempted to use pornography any more.”
The temptation to misappropriate God’s power to ‘fix myself’ is strong, and it is easy to misuse the tools of spiritual growth as self-help techniques. That’s why the second part of this quote is so helpful: “Describe your feelings about doing each of these things at the time.” During the times I am guilty of trying to ‘fix myself’ with prayer, Bible study, or volunteer work I don’t feel joy or hope. Rather, I feel impatient at God’s slow work in my life; I deal with frustration and anger when my problems don’t go away; I hold myself rigidly to boring Bible reading plans. However, in light of this quote I can see I am trying to fix myself with these activities. What a great litmus test for religious activity!
More often than not when I read Scripture and pray, I do so because I am desperate to know God more. In those times, reading God’s Word and speaking with Him bring me joy and peace; these are good indicators that the intentions behind my religious activity are healthy. However, I need to beware of the times I start using religious activity like a self-help formula. The warning signs are obvious: I experience negative emotions like fear, anger, boredom, and impatience.
How have you been guilty of trying to fix yourself with religious activity?