In my last few posts we discussed what the spiritual disciplines were and how they can put some strength into your spiritual life through practice. There is a problem though… The list of disciplines is long and challenging and doesn’t seem like a basket full of fun. It’s worth it to gain some level of competency in each discipline for your own spiritual growth and longevity in the Christian faith, but what happens when you forget to do what you set out to do? What do you do when you try to do what is good and right and fail?
Enormous volumes have been written in the business and fitness sectors under the topics of goal setting and personal growth. They tell us that we can be motivated and that it takes a special sort of motivation to get good at any sort of skill… but they only cover the mental and physical aspects of the problem. You can do great things under the tutelage of mentors like Jon Acuff, Tim Ferris, Amy Cuddy, Angela Duckworth, Anders Ericsson and others. I highly recommend their work. However, these writers often come from a strictly nonspiritual perspective and can only address behavior from the physical or psychological standpoint.
To gain wisdom in all areas of spiritual, physical, and even psychological truth the Bible provides us with many examples and a whole body of advice for life. More often than not, Biblical examples are narrative and descriptive rather than prescriptive, meaning that they don’t tell you what you should or should not do but rather what someone else was doing or thinking and then let you figure out how you can apply the story to your situation. Reading these stories is the first of the spiritual disciplines. The second is meditating on them, which gives us a gateway into understanding and application.
For example, in the New Testament, Paul spends a long time explaining that he just can’t make himself do the things that he knows he should. Also, he does those things that he knows he should not, things he hates doing. This is the scenario I find myself in constantly. When I get mad at my dog and throw away her treats in frustration or when I refuse to do something my wife asks “because I don’t wanna,” I know that I am acting as a child. When I sit and stare blankly at my Bible or look at my phone during what should be my prayer time, I know that I’m not doing what I ought. My knowledge of sin does not prevent me from sinning.
According to Paul, there is no amount of time or effort that can keep me from failing to do as God asks. I, like the Hebrew people of the Old Testament, am too stubborn and thick necked, unyielding in my commitment to self-devotion. My desire to be better cannot not simply bear for me the fruits of the Spirit.
Keeping this in mind, there is still hope for us. The Bible offers us an example for how we can move forward in faith when we have failed: Samson.
Most of us know Samson for having strangely long hair and performing unusual acts of strength. What we often miss is the terrible lifestyle he led and the fact that, in spite of this lifestyle, he goes down in history as a great Hero of the Faith.
Samson began his life as a Nazarite. His mother dedicated him before he was born to live as a Nazarite, serving under the high priest for his whole life. Now, we know from the book of Hebrews that Samson had great faith. However, when we read his story it’s easy to wonder if he had any faith at all. Samson was known for partying hard, drinking a lot of wine, and most notably, killing a lot of people and several animals. He was also selfish, ignored many of the commands God laid on his people, and acted out of anger at perceived wrongs against him.
Samson married a Philistine woman named Delilah who made it her goal to find out his greatest weakness in order to sell him out to the Philistines. When Samson finally gave in to Delilah and told her the secret of his strength, he told her that he was a Nazarite and it was his hair that gave him his strength. His mother had made a promise to the Lord that no razor would ever touch his head and so far, none had. When Delilah cut off his hair Samson became weak as any man and a group of philistines seized him to mock him and God.
After capturing Samson, they gouged out his eyes and chained him in the temple of their own god, putting him on display as if to show that the hero of Israel and the God that he represents were weaker than Dagon, the god of the Philistines. Now stripped of his sight, and his hair, the symbol of his faith and the God he worships, Samson is in a dire situation.
So how can a raucous law breaker, taken captive in a foreign land find himself among the famous faithful?
The text indicates that Samson’s hair began to grow back, foreshadowing a future return of his strength. But Samson went down in history as a hero of the faith, not as a champion of hair growth. In his final day of need he remembered that his strength came not from the hair on his head but from the Lord, the God of Israel.
The same is true for us. Losing in our struggle to be faithful to God is part of our journey. We are going to suffer embarrassing defeats, wreck the good things that God has given us, accidentally (or intentionally) encounter unclean things, and so much more. However, like with Samson, the true strength in our relationship with God is God, Himself. The secret to a strong, heroic faith is believing that God, having started a good work in us, is going to complete it. He is faithful to us in that so that we can be faithful to him.
Any can grow hair, only God can provide strength.