Ever since Ike and I became engaged we started working out together. I should note that I did not go to the gym regularly at any point in my life until I married someone to whom it was important, so I’m still adjusting to this new activity in my schedule. For the most part I really enjoy it, but there’s one thing that is kind of frustrating about it–you can’t take a week off. At least, not really. As you probably know, muscle strength isn’t something that you can store up. If you don’t continue to build your strength, or at the very least maintain it, you’ll lose it. So while a week off won’t erase ALL the work I’ve done, I can’t expect to return to the gym with quite the same degree of strength. There will be a small amount of deterioration.
Interestingly, our spiritual lives are a lot like that. We tend to think of spiritual knowledge as something that we learn and then file away in the same way that a computer stores data. But spiritual growth isn’t really like that. It’s more like building muscle. If you step away from communing with the Holy Spirit, your spiritual growth will stop, and then start to whither.
Another helpful way of thinking about this is to remember the Israelites in the desert. In Exodus 16, God sustained the Israelites by providing them with a funny substance to eat called “manna.” Here’s an excerpt from the story:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. (16:4-5, 19-20)
Our time with the Lord, our spiritual bread, is just like that manna. While we can certainly store away knowledge about God, it’s our intimacy with Him and our growth in the Spirit that doesn’t keep. It’s essentially got an expiration date on it–not in the sense that you will lose your salvation if you go too many days without spending time with God–but you can’t expect to experience the fruits of God’s presence if you’re never actually in His presence.
That’s one of the traps I hear a lot of Christians fall into when they remove themselves from Christian fellowship and time in the Word, claiming, “I was raised in the church. I already know all of that stuff.” Unfortunately, that knowledge is about as useful to you as knowing that manna is nourishing, yet refusing to eat it.
That is why it is crucial to spend time with God every day, reading His Word and talking to Him in prayer. The main point of your quiet time is not learning some new insight or blessing. Yes, those things may come, but if that’s your main goal then a quiet time will seem like wasted time when you don’t glean those things. The main point of a daily time with God is just that–time with God. God, not knowledge about God, is your spirit’s daily manna. If you skip a day you may not notice a difference, in the same way that someone can skip a meal without much fuss. But if you skip too many meals your spirit will eventually starve, no matter how much knowledge about God you might have.