Who likes diets? I mean seriously, I cannot think of anyone who likes them. The best thing about diets is that the very nature of a diet is that it is temporary. Usually whenever I go on a diet, I do a 10, 20, or 30-day diet. I can typically handle a diet, because I know that soon, I will be off the diet and back to my normal eating. My goal is to lose weight and get healthier, so I tell myself that I’m going to do that in an allotted timeframe. The only problem is, when the timeframe is over, I go back to eating what I want and not exercising, and I end up with the same unhealthy lifestyle I began with. And my life becomes this endless cycle of short diets to enable me to eat the way I want for a time until I need to diet again. Essentially I diet to prevent death, not to be the healthiest me I can be.
Unfortunately, many students in our ministries follow the Jesus diet. In fact, many people in our churches follow the Jesus diet. No, I’m not talking about a literal food diet, like what would Jesus eat. I’m talking about a spiritual diet. I fear that our ministries and churches sometimes even foster and enable people to be on the Jesus diet. What is the Jesus diet?
The Jesus diet is just like a physical diet, yet it’s a spiritual one. It’s when we feel compelled to enhance and better our spiritual lives for a time being, yet after that timeframe, fall back into our “normal” ways. It’s a natural thing. We hear a convicting message, we get back from an awesome conference, we go on a mission trip. Essentially the results of these things is a Jesus diet. We become compelled to change, and so we change…for a week or two. We become compelled to serve on a mission trip or even days after, but then stop. We’re compelled to change after a conference or camp, but we eventually tire of the diet and go back to pre-diet days. We want to better our spiritual lives, until we get tired of it or hit a goal, then we go back to where we were pre-diet days. How can we, as leaders and pastors and volunteers motivate lifestyle change instead of dieting?
I think we need to teach…
1. Consistency Over Intensity
If I was serious about getting healthier, I would stop dieting and change my lifestyle to incorporate health and exercise throughout, without putting a timeframe on it. Dieting is typically super-intense and then stops. I don’t have to be super-intense with my healthy eating and exercising, I just need to be consistent. It’s the same for our spiritual lives. The days following camps and mission trips and messages can be super intense only to fizzle out. Too often we (myself included) base a lot of our ministry around these things. This promotes intensity. And while I don’t believe intensity is a bad thing, I do believe that intensity rarely sustains. I believe our ministry should be equipping students for consistency in their relationship with Christ, and that means
1) Teaching them to live and grow their faith daily in their normal environment.
2) Giving them tools to study the Bible on their own and have an effective personal quiet time.
3) Showing them ways to serve people they’re around everyday.
4) Equipping them to talk to their friends about their faith. It’s much easier and more normal to talk to people about your faith when you’re living a consistent one. It’s typically the intense, inconsistent Christians that scare people away or repel them from Jesus.
I believe consistency is more effective than intensity…just ask the tortoise and the hare.
We always witness how camp is a mountain top experience, and weeks following coming off that mountain top, our faith fizzles, the intensity wears off, and we end up taking a spiritual nap. It’s because of the intensity of the week, we cannot sustain it! The ones that do gain from weeks like this are the consistent ones. They’re not going from zero to 100 in one week trying to sustain that pace. It gives them a boost in their faith, but not at unsustainable speeds. The thing about mountain top experiences, it suggests there is a top, which in turn suggests there is an end. Then the rest of their life is spent trying to reach that top again, only to be let down.
Let’s help students see that there is no mountain to climb, only a narrow road to travel.
2. If You Mess Up, Don’t Give Up
When I mess up on my diet, I usually call it quits. Try again next go-around. I feel like a failure, and that there’s no use to try to continue it. If I miss a day or two of working out, I just stop. Once I lose momentum on my diet, it’s very difficult for me to continue it. Unfortunately, many people feel this same way following Jesus. A sin or a mess up, and we give up. We miss a day reading our Bible, we put it back on the shelf for a while. Missing a few days is better than missing them all! When following Jesus is a lifestyle instead of a diet, we won’t feel defeated when we mess up, but instead learn from our mess ups, and seek to grow stronger from them.
A mess up becomes a speed bump instead of a roadblock.
I believe that our students (and ourselves) can benefit tremendously by getting off the Jesus diet and living the Jesus lifestyle by being consistent and not giving up every time we mess up a little. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get back on the treadmill. I seemed to have fallen off 3 months ago.