“Train yourself for a holy life!”
1 Timothy 4:7b
A physician once taught me an important lesson about spiritual growth—there is simply no substitute for regularly paying attention to God. He shared this story with me. In the midst of a successful practice as a doctor, he had little time for his wife, and for his children. Seventy and eighty-hour workweeks were customary. He loved his patients. He loved his work. Time at home was for rest and renewal for the next day. Dinners with his family were rare. Hard work seemed to pay dividends. His salary rose steadily each year. Admiration for him and his exceptional work held a privileged position in the community. Everything seemed right until it did not. Both his wife and his children had found a way to get on in life without him. “The day I realized that was the most painful day of my life,” the doctor said.
The doctor held a stethoscope in his hand. “Perhaps, this is the most important tool for a physician’s work,” he shared. Doctors study and train to know how to listen to a patient with this tool. What is supremely important is to know what “regular” sounds like when we hold the stethoscope to a patient’s chest or back. If the doctor does not know what “regular” sounds like, then the doctor simply does not know what they are listening to with a patient seated in front of them. Doctors must learn well what “regular” sounds like so when using a stethoscope, they can recognize immediately what sounds “irregular.” Once an “irregular” comes through the stethoscope, a decision, with the patient, is required. This one part of practicing medicine is all about listening carefully, listening correctly.
“I was failing at listening carefully to my life, to my family,” said the doctor. “Then, I almost lost them.” “That terrified me.” The difficulty was that I did not know what “regular” was, or what “regular” sounded like as a part of a family. Here is a man who is an excellent doctor but is a poor husband and father. Training was required. Good training is about consistent, regular effort over time. Good training demands the proper tools. “I went back to school,” said the doctor. The textbook was the Bible. The classroom was a chair in his backyard for one hour at the close of every day. Reading the Bible every evening, the doctor learned what “regular” sounded like. Then he listened carefully to his own life, his daily practices, and his priorities. What the doctor heard was irregular.
It is remarkable what listening to God will do for a life. A “regular” life, a healthy life, is a lived experience of faith in God. Practices change, and as practices change, a reshaping occurs. Each life that listens carefully to God, in regular time reading the Bible and prayer, redevelops from the inside out. Such a life embodies more and more the way of Jesus. Trust in God increases, persistent hope in the coming of God’s reign expands, and love overcomes hatred and selfishness. Life moves from unhealthy “instinctual reactions” to learned behaviors—behaviors that enter the heart from habitual practice in the way of Christ. This is a trained life. A life trained by Christ.