In the early 2000’s, a new term entered the lexicon of internet users: the “life hack”: a little tip or trick that can help you get more done, simplify your life, get organized, or speed up or eliminate a common, annoying, everyday task. Life hacks were perfectly designed for easy viral sharing among the proliferating blogs and social media networks. The productivity genre came into its own, far beyond the limited bookshelf between the business books and the self-help books where such topics had previously been confined. Sites collecting and sharing life hacks became explosively popular and today are big business.
I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. I subscribed to lifehacker.com early and was one of those countless thousands that helped to spread the productivity wisdom that came with it. By bringing my work habits and the methods I was using under regular scrutiny, I was able to implement a long series of practical improvements that helped me to succeed in my consulting work. I suppose I should note in retrospect that I used few of the actual life hacks themselves, but rather adopted the general mindset.
It is very easy to adopt the same kind of mindset with spiritual formation. Seen from a distance, spiritual formation looks like a diverse set of practices and methods that can be managed, tweaked, and streamlined like any other set of practices and methods. There is a whole subculture in Christian publishing, complete with blogs (like this one!), books, podcasts, and even whole conferences that offer countless ways to do just that.
But therein lies a great temptation. Spiritual formation is not a series of life hacks. It isn’t a set of practices and methods to be managed and tweaked. So easily, such thinking leads to a surface dabbling with spirituality, trying out the latest blog headline or buying the latest book that promises to take us deeper with God. We skim the headlines and scan over the content, moving from blog to blog and book to book and sermon to sermon, the act of consuming the content becoming a substitute for the hard work of actual relationship with God. And after a while, we wonder why we feel shriveled and restless. Empty.
Spiritual formation begins and ends with the determination to know God. We offer ourselves to him completely because he loves us and we love him. He reveals himself to us a little at a time, in ways that are appropriate to our level of spiritual maturity. We return again and again to the wells of prayer and the scriptures. But our spiritual maturity does not deepen quickly, efficiently, or evenly. Our sin cannot be managed. God’s love is not a resource. Only by patient endurance do we daily receive and enter the kingdom.
By all means, read widely. Follow the great teachers of our day—or better, those reliable saints who left for us prayers, writings, and sermons used for centuries or millennia to discover and deepen the good life. But stay with their wisdom. Linger in prayer. Ruminate on the word of God. Know that God is real and present to you, and that he himself wants to call forth in your soul streams of living water.
Beyond the life hacks, deeper than the latest book or blog, the good life is waiting. Are you ready?