The minimalist approach to spiritual disciplines

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” – G. K. Chesterton

Introducing…the minimalist approach to spiritual disciplines! No, it’s not about how little you can get away with doing in your spiritual life. It is, however, a great way to tend to those desires you have in you and possibly build some new habits.

Here’s how it works: when you think of a spiritual exercise you want to do, figure out the smallest possible way to do it, and then commit to doing that! For example, say you want to start reading the Bible (again). Okay, what’s the smallest way to do it? Read one word.

Other examples: If you want to pray, say “God” and that’s it. If you want to pause with God, close your eyes and take one deep breath. If God has inspired you to do art, doodle for one minute. If you want to practice gratitude, say “Thanks, God” once a day.

Are you still with me? Some of you think this sounds ridiculous. Let me convince you that it’s not.

You see, if we get those urges to connect with God, we need to act on them now. The longer we wait, the more excuses we can find to not do it. Or we forget because of everything else we have going on.

But if we act now, we start living out that desire. And then it gets easier to do it again. We’ve given ourselves permission to act rather than saying, “I’d love to, but I don’t have the time.”

Here’s another reason. You ever try one of those Bible reading plans? You know, read the Bible in a year? To do one of those, you’ve got to read 3-4 chapters per day, which takes about 15 minutes. For some of us, 3-4 chapters sounds intimidating. Or we’ll start, and then a few weeks later (coincidentally, around the time we hit Leviticus), committing to read 3-4 chapters every day suddenly sounds gigantic. Or then we miss one day, and now it’s like, “OK, now I’ve got to read 8 chapters the next day to catch up.” (Yes, you could skip a day, but I imagine lots of us would go crazy thinking about the chapters we missed.)

So how about this instead: We commit to reading one word a day, and if we read extra, BONUS! That’s much more encouraging than committing to reading 3-4 chapters, getting through a chapter and a half, and constantly feeling guilty because we’re behind. We can build a lot of positive momentum doing this.

But won’t God be offended this? One-word prayers? Reading just one word of the Bible? Perhaps the question is: who do we think God is if we think He’ll be offended by this? It’s more reasonable to think that God smiles on every act of love made toward Him, no matter how little. Like how parents celebrate wildly when their toddlers give them handmade cards with three squiggles and a bunch of dots. God looks at the heart, not at the size of the action.

Besides, God knows you’re in process. He knows that you can’t be instantly super-disciplined. He is willing to be patient with you. Perhaps the more relevant question is: how patient are you willing to be with yourself and your own growth process? I wonder if many times we take on too much too quickly because we want our growth and our deeper connection to God to happen sooner rather than later.

So next time the urge to connect with God strikes you, act on it now, and feel free to start small! Enjoy those one-word prayers, those brief moments of connection with Him. Laugh at the absurdity of reading just one word of Scripture (and laugh again when you find that you can’t put it down!). And if you’re dying to meet God in nature but all you’ve got is one minute to go to a park on your way home from work…then embrace that one minute for all it’s worth!

Question: How do you want to connect with God right now? What’s the smallest possible way for you to do that?

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  • Renee Shaeffer

    Feeding my newborn … watching him eat leads me to worship … my simple prayer is “YOU are awesome” . . . “You are so so awesome.”

    • andrewcyee

      Renee, thanks for sharing! I love how you take so much pleasure in God from watching such a simple, yet profound, act.

  • Jenni Key

    Amen and amen–bite sized chunks without the guilt of unfulfilled expectations–what a great entry level “do it now” approach. Thanks Andrew for making it so accessible.

    • andrewcyee

      You’re welcome, Jenni! You summarized the post so nicely for me – I couldn’t have said it better myself.