Practical Steps to Shining the Light of Christ, Part II
September is National Yoga Month. That doesn’t have much to do with shining the light of Christ, except I’d like to borrow a concept from yoga to apply as a practical step in following Christ. Indulge me a bit here, please. Stick with me until the end and see if you agree or disagree with my idea.
One of the fundamental skills that makes yoga a success is one’s ability to focus, and I don’t mean focusing on some goal like winning the lottery or making all your dreams come true. What I am talking about is focusing on your own body, going inward with your thoughts to really feel what is going on inside your body.
By connecting the mind with the body in this way, in theory, you ultimately reach the kind of centeredness that allows you to stand on one leg for an hour or feel like your strongest, most peaceful self. When you are centered in this way, you are not affected by the things that happen around you. A rainy day doesn’t make you sad. Your decisions and your actions are not easily swayed like the wind.
To achieve this focus, yoga beginners first have to understand the difference in observing ourselves between watching and judging. All the while you are in a difficult pose, or even a relaxed, breathing posture, you are supposed to be paying attention to what you are feeling in your body. This can be hard to do at first. Most of the time, your mind wanders to what you didn’t finish on your to-do list for the day or what you plan to eat after workout.
As you improve in your skills at looking inward, the next difference between watching and judging becomes even more important. You may observe that your left leg feels tight. If you are watching, you breathe through the pain of the tight leg. You accept the tightness. You understand that, if you continue to practice your stretching and breathing, the tightness will eventually go away. Your mind stays inside your body. It stays focused.
If, instead of watching your left leg pain, you begin to judge it, you have a different outcome. As soon as thoughts like, my leg is always going to hurt, or I’ll never be able to do this enter your mind, you are no longer inside your body. Your focus has scattered and in a negative way that will not help you achieve your goals of a healthier body.
Just like a yoga master, a practical doer of God’s word has to master the art of observation: watching instead of judging. Watching means paying attention to our thoughts, words and actions. When we note that these do not align themselves with the word of God, we should immediately shift our efforts into getting back on the right path.
Jumping right into judging ourselves, and most often others, instead of watching is a sure way to get us focused on the wrong thing. In fact, I would venture to say judging is exactly what the devil would like to keep us busy doing.
But, judging is NOT in our job description. God tells us He is the judge. Christ tells us to worry about the log in our own eye before worrying about the speck in someone else’s eye. When the town wants to stone a woman to death, Christ challenges the crowd that if anyone there can look inside and see no sin, then let him cast the first stone.
At the same time, Christ holds us up to the Gold Standard. He promises His yoke is light, which means He is prepared to help us stay on the narrow path. When He tells the woman whom no one stones that He will also not judge her, He also tells her to “leave your life of sin” (John Chs. 7-8). It isn’t enough for the woman to acknowledge her sin. True repentance comes with her leaning on God to turn from the life of sin she had been leading.
So, not judging doesn’t mean not doing what is right in the eyes of God. And, the only way to really know what God says is right and wrong is to study His word. Some people like to think that they can go by how actions make them feel. “God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy,” they say. But God’s definition of happiness is not restricted by the vagaries of the human heart, “the great deceiver” (Jeremiah 17:9). God’s happiness includes what is ultimately the best thing for our spiritual life, which is the most important thing.
When we take it upon ourselves to judge our sin instead of observing it, we take away the strength we need to fight the nature of our flesh. Think about it: what do we gain by telling ourselves we don’t deserve to be loved by God because we have done something bad? Wouldn’t it be more productive, as an observer, to tell God, I acknowledge my sin. I need your help to do better the next time?
God knows we are going to stumble. That’s why He came to the world as a man and died for our sins to save us from our own weaknesses. He loves us enough to give us the freedom to choose Him. He loves us enough to forgive us. All we have to do is ask.
Spiritual watchers acknowledge their stumbles, repent, and continue trying to do better. Like becoming a Kung Fu master, growing as a Christian is a life-long practice that takes commitment, patience, and love.
Observation leads to improving your Holy Spirit muscle, just like watching your body in exercise instead of judging leads to improved muscles and health in the body because observing your spiritual life instead of judging it helps you stay inside yourself, where the Holy Spirit dwells and is waiting to help you back into the Light.
My shine-the-light practice for this week: I will work on improving my spiritual focus by practicing watching my spiritual walk this week instead of judging it.