With his cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and holding up his index finger, the old cowboy, Curly, played by Jack Palance in the movie, ‘City Slickers,’ asked the question, “You know what the secret of life is?” Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, sarcastically quipped, “Your finger?” But Curly’s stoic gaze remained unbroken. “One thing. Just one thing.” If Mitch could figure out that one thing, everything else would come together.
In response to a challenge I gave several months ago, I have been meeting with members of our church and teaching them how to get something out of God’s word. All they have to do is buy my coffee and give me 45-minutes and I am certain that I can get them heading in the right direction. So far, so good. And every time I sit down with someone, I lead off with Curly’s words, “One thing. Just one thing.” Actually, it’s a variation of his words. “The secret to getting something out of God’s word is one word. Just one word.” There’s no cigarette dangling from my mouth, but my index finger is raised. If you forget everything else I say, remember this one word, I tell them. (At this point, I’m really beginning to embellish on this. “You can’t ever forget this word for the rest of your life.” “This word is everything.” “Without this word, you may not survive the Zombie apocalypse.”)
Consistency. There. That was it. Go back and look at it again. C-O-N-S-I-S-T-E-N-C-Y. Recall what we talked about last week, in the third entry of this blog series. Our habits track along the same path as our emotions. The only way that we can overcome this is to prepare for the emotional valleys that we will face that lead many of us to cast aside our healthy habits until we emotionally peak again. And why is it imperative to remain consistent? Because, as we discussed in the second blog entry, we’re not talking about merely studying information or ideas. God’s word is God’s reflection. It’s an extension of his personhood, his identity. When we thoughtfully and worshipfully read God’s word, we are spending quality time with God himself! We must be consistent in our relationship with God.
Spending time with Jesus should be motivation enough to remain consistent in our study of the Bible. But here’s another caveat to consider: consistency breeds inspiration. In the Scriptures, we are often directed to continue doing something that God commands. Rather than performing a certain act only once, we are to continuously keep doing a certain action and as we do so, that action leads to growth in our lives.
For instance, consider Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” At first glance, we might think the verse is directing us to keep on doing good. But a closer look reveals that what the Apostle Paul is concerned about is the condition of our hearts as we carry out good works. Weariness of heart will lead to a cessation of good works. The idea Paul is conveying here is not as evident in our English translation. But the original language actually implies that we should always be on the watch, examining our hearts for signs of cynicism, bitterness, fatigue, and so on - attitudes that will corrupt our empathy and serving of others. This should be a habit. Something to be carried out as a personal custom. And as we do so, we will reap.
But what will we reap? In verse 8, Paul reminds us that if we sow to the flesh, we will reap corruption, but if we sow to the Spirit, we will reap eternal life. Eternal life is more than living forever. It is the state of immense and unending joy that fills the heart as we consume the life of God unhindered by our sin and selfishness.1 Think of the absolute most joyful time in your life. Maybe it was your wedding day. Maybe it was when you got your first car. Or maybe it was when your favorite team won the National Championship. Reflect on the depth of happiness you felt in that moment. Now remember how those feelings have subsided. Yes, looking back brings a smile to your face, but the intensity of joy is no longer there. Did you know that when Christ returns to claim this world for himself, delivering it from all sin, suffering, and the power of Satan, that those who were faithful to him will experience that kind of joy? The difference, of course, will be that the joy that Christ brings will never subside. Can you imagine that?
I believe that this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he said that we will reap if we do not give up. Eternal joy. So consistency is the key. Perseverance is the only option. What helps me to stay the course in my prayer life, the study of the Scriptures, and other important spiritual disciplines (though I often fail) is to remember promises like these, that I will reap if I don’t give up.
So remember this one word. Just one word. CONSISTENCY.
1 John 17:3