As a pastor, I often feel caught in the pull of consecutive Sundays. I wish I had more days between one Sunday and the next. It’s not a preparation issue (though admittedly I never feel “ready”—whatever that means). It’s an application issue.
First and foremost, I want to preach to myself. As I wrestle with God’s Word all week, the wrestling is not just in what to say and how to say it, but in how it speaks to my life, my relationships, my habits, my character. Am I applying it? Do I believe the promises? Do I take it seriously?
But then the next Sunday begins to call. The next passage of Scripture beckons, and the pull begins: two sermons (at least) speaking to me. If the pull from what I just preached wins out, I want to pause the week, to really soak in Sunday’s lessons or challenges or encouragements or commands. I want to get it right before moving on. But sometimes the pull from next Sunday gains the upper hand: I want the days to stretch out so I can get it down before preaching it, achieve perfection, and know of what I speak when I say that God’s Spirit can enable us to put to death sin and put on the new life in Christ.
Learning to Abide
Maybe you see the problem already. Or maybe you’re chasing the same illusion. The Christian life is not a list of boxes to check to accomplish before moving on to the next sin or the next fruit of the Spirit, achieving perfection in weekly segments. Each Sunday’s challenge or promise or encouragement or command should point us—no, should cast us—to the foot of the cross. The goal is not joy or peace or holding one’s tongue. Paul would say the goal this way: “For me, to live is Christ.”
When our life is Christ—when we drink deeply from his blood and take our fill from his body—then joy and peace and holding one’s tongue spring up out of Christ’s life through ours. This fruit spills over into the mess of this world and brings little bits of healing and wholeness to the most surprising places. It’s not that we do nothing, it’s that doing flows out of abiding. We put to death sin and live to righteousness because we identify with Christ and desire to let the life of Jesus shine through us (2 Corinthians 4:5–12).
But it’s so much easier to chase peace or joy or holding one’s tongue or being a good steward or practicing lovingkindness toward an enemy than it is to repent of self-effort and abide in Christ. Why? Because we are inherently doers. Jesus revealed that tendency when he spoke to the crowd in John 6 after he fed the 5,000 (see specifically the conversation from John 6:25–35).
The place between Sundays is not a bad place if it reminds us of two important tasks for the Christian. First, we seek a lifestyle characterized by this prayer: “LORD, do through me what I won’t do naturally in this situation,” followed by obedience to the Spirit’s promptings. Second, we develop, through continued practice, sensitivity to the Spirit such that when we fail, we immediately repent and return to the above prayer.
That is my hope for you and me as we live in the place between Sundays.