Confession: My life and ministry have suffered greatly for lack of working systems. My problem is not laziness or lack of passion. Pretty much, I like just about every idea I come across. I don’t miss opportunities for lack of desire. I miss out for lack of knowing how to take good ideas (and more critically, “God ideas”) and design systems that move those ideas forward.
Why do systems matter? Think of it like a pile of bicycle parts. That pile, theoretically, is a bicycle. Everything is there to make a bicycle. Of course, in the form of a disconnected pile, it isn’t going anywhere.
There is no system to a pile of parts.
Now suppose I know something about bicycle construction (which I don’t but suppose I did). Suppose I know enough to be able to look at a pile and know it has the makings of a bike. In fact, I could call that pile my bike, and even be very proud of my pile of parts. “Look at that pile!” I’d say. “There’s one heck of a bike in that pile!”
Now suppose I find in my bike pile a rusty bolt. This bolt won’t do, I think to myself. I become angry about this one bolt and return it to the people who gave me the pile. I yell at them for giving me this bolt. “Self-respecting people don’t use rusty bolts!” I exclaim. In an attempt to placate me and keep my business the bike people sheepishly replace the bolt with one more to my liking.
Which I then throw onto the pile.
Which still isn’t moving.
Now I have a better bolt but I’m no closer to riding a bike. Why? Because while my pile of parts is a bike in theory, it is not a bike in reality. Until the parts are connected so they make a system that moves me forward, I don’t actually have a bike … just a pile. And a pile without a system won’t take me anyplace.
Let me say that again: A pile without a system won’t take you anyplace.
And here is the challenge for far too many folks who follow Jesus. What we call a spiritual life is for most of us no more than a pile of disconnected parts. We attend a worship service, maybe check in at a small group, pray before meals, and read a devotional book over breakfast or coffee.
We have the parts, but no system.
Then, when we discover a piece of the pile that isn’t to our liking — a small group that isn’t fun enough or a worship service that doesn’t “feed us” or music that doesn’t fit our taste — we pull that part out and hold it up to the person responsible so we can complain. “This piece is rusty! No self-respecting person wants a piece like this!” And maybe the person to whom we complain adjusts to keep us happy. They give us a better part. Or we go someplace where that part is more available. Then what do we have? All we have, really, is a shinier part to toss back onto the pile. Which is taking us no place, because we have no system.
Brothers and sisters, this is an oppressive way to live the Christian life. It is life-sucking and fun-sucking, both for us and those around us. Who wants to carry around a heavy and oppressive pile of parts that are actually designed to fit together into a system that carries us and takes us someplace spiritually?
This is the point of the means of grace — prayer, Bible reading, worship, journaling, fasting, group accountability. These parts are meant to fit together into a cohesive system that takes us closer to Christ. They are meant to be fashioned into something that serves us spiritually, so we can become all we were created to become.
Do you have a system designed to take you someplace spiritually? Or do you have a pile of parts? Are the activities connected to your faith in God oppressive or life-giving? Do they leave you frustrated and angry, burdened and tired? Or are they moving you forward?
Hear this: The system on which you build your life determines not only your growth in grace but also the quality of your joy.