John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Mandatory Items?

You might not be able to tell it from looking at my desk, but I'm a pretty regimented kind of guy. I like routine. My routine may not look like yours, and it probably wouldn't work for you. But I like it. It brings me comfort to do familiar things in familiar, well-worn ways. Over the years I've found that certain spiritual routines work well for me. I've gone through seasons where I prayed the Lord's Prayer every morning. I've done the same with the 23rd Psalm. I've systematically read through the Bible in a year. Some may find these things boring, but they've been beneficial to me in the past.

But I went through a really, really rough patch in the last year. I've mentioned it before, but prayer was maddening. Reading the Bible was like eating stale bread. Nothing was working -- especially not my normal routines. God seemed silent, distant, absent.

I trust you'll excuse me for confessing that I began to pray less and read my Bible less. I began to journal more and listen to music and look at photographs of creation. Eventually, I chose to read smaller portions of the Bible -- a paragraph each morning -- instead of several chapters at once. I found that slowing down allowed me to think more deeply. The goal, after all, is not for you to get through the text but for the text to get through you.

And then, not too long ago, I felt God whispering something to me. It wasn't a really big deal -- the thing he told me that day. But it was huge for me. Since then, my routines have come back to life in a new way. It's pretty exciting.

But it made me think about how Christians often talk about spiritual formation -- as if there's some kind of one-size-fits-all approach. Just recently, I heard someone say that if you're not reading through the Bible each and every year, you're just not taking your faith seriously. I also heard someone say that if you're not having a daily quiet time of reading and praying (again, in a very systematic and routine sort of way), you're just not taking your faith seriously.

Through the years, I've heard many variations of this theme. I remember when everything was about spiritual warfare and intercessory prayer. I remember when it was all about evangelism. I went through my contemplative and mystic stages -- when it was all about worship and meditation.

But how much of this is really totally necessary? Is it absolutely essential to read your Bible if you want to grow spiritually? How much prayer do you need to make it as a Christian? Must you fast or intercede or spend an hour in solitude?

What are the mandatory items for spiritual growth?