I clapped along to the beat as the offense passed the basketball around the top of the circle. I heard their coach call out some strangely named play and watched as his players made beautiful passes, dodged the defense, and shot a sweet layup for two points. The defensive players looked a bit stunned, but regrouped and started running towards their basket. The point guard dribbled down the court to the top of the key. She dribbled right and then left, while her teammates waved their arms and called her name, screaming that they were open, even though they really weren’t. In desperation, she dribbled into several opponents, threw up a kind of side shot that slammed against the backboard while her teammates stared hopefully at the basket. The other team boxed out, grabbed the rebound, and ran another beautiful play to increase their lead.

I shifted on the hard, uncomfortable gym bleachers and cringed as I looked at the score of this middle school basketball game. I found myself wishing for a mercy rule so that the massacre might end a little sooner than the nine minutes left on the clock.

The winning team was led by a veteran coach who obviously taught his team how to run a successful defense and equipped them with ways to run a beautiful offense that at times mirrored a high school varsity.

The losing team seemed to only know the “Dribble as fast as you can, shoot if you are open, and try to look like you know what you’re doing” approach to basketball. It was difficult to determine if they really knew any plays or understood what a zone defense might look like.

And the glaring difference between the two teams was blatantly obvious on the scoreboard.

I left thinking about the difference a good coach makes and how important it is to not only have a plan of action in an athletic event, but to appropriately and diligently train in order to accomplish the plan.

And I wondered if this might be important in our relationship with Christ too.

I fear that I might sound like a yo-yo throughout this Lent journal, one day saying it is all about grace and another saying it is all about works, but what if both are important?

As much as I love thinking about God’s undeserved grace and mercy, I can’t help but think about how I often use this as a pass or an excuse to avoid the “training” aspect of a relationship with Him. I want to know Jesus, but don’t always like the idea of sacrificing my time or practicing spiritual disciplines in order for that to happen. Is this important? Does it make a difference?

It helped to read something Dallas Willard wrote about spiritual discipline:

“In the process of spiritual reformation under grace, passivity does not exclude activity and activity does not exclude passivity.

What is discipline? A discipline is an activity within our power–something we can do–which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort. Discipline is in fact a natural part of the structure of the human soul, and almost nothing of any significance in education, culture or other attainments is achieved without it. Everything from learning a language to weight lifting depends upon it, and its availability in the human makeup is what makes the individual human being responsible for the kind of person they become. Animals may be trained, but they are incapable of discipline in the sense that is essential to human life.

An intelligent, balanced, persistent course of the standard disciplines, well known from the sweep of Christian history and sources, can serve the individual well and are in fact essential to the development of her cooperative relationship with Christ.  They are “indispensible.”

They do not take the place, and they cannot be effective without, the word of the gospel and the movements of the Spirit of God in our lives. But neither will the gospel and the Spirit take their place.”

Our Church website describes Lent as “a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline.” Do we practice spiritual discipline? Is it important? Does it really make a difference? What are spiritual disciplines?

One discipline is Solitude and Silence. If you know me well, you might know that I am somewhat of an extroverted introvert. I love solitude and being by myself. While I love fun moments in a crowd, it is solitude that allows me to feel reenergized and refreshed. Silence, however, is a completely different issue.

I decided to try and spend ten minutes each night during Lent just being quiet. I head down to a quiet room in the basement, turn off my phone, and make an attempt at quiet. If I were to compare this to a running race, this would not be marathon training, but more like a 50 yard dash.

And I find myself resisting every step.

I catch myself explaining a lot to God, negotiating with Him about what I think He might want to tell me in the next ten minutes. I then tend to focus on my “to do” list, laundry that needs to be done, or our busy weekend schedule. I wonder if anyone needs me upstairs or if I am missing an important email. I try to remember if I paid a certain bill and then consider what I will write about for my next blog.

It is ridiculous how much my brain resists quiet, even for ten minutes.

And if I actually DO get quiet, I confess it often leads to me dozing off three minutes into the exercise.

I have a long way to go.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know I am God.”

I have started bringing that verse into the room with me for my “eternal” ten minutes. There is a lot to consider in those seven words. I encourage you to take some time to consider them with me during this Lenten season.


This is the third post in current Lent Series.