One of the most common phrases heard in our modern culture is “going through the motions.” We are either tired of, feeling like or warned against “going through the motions;” either at work, school, church, ministry, in our marriages, in our Christian walk or just life in general. There is hardly a need to explain the definition of this phrase, since we have all experienced the frustration of becoming stuck in a repetitive routine of lather, rinse, repeat. It happens anytime we allow certain parts of our life to function without much thought, in the same way pilots use autopilot. Almost always this phrase refers to a negative reality, but we can also grow through what can sometimes be perceived as merely “going through the motions” of the Christian life.
In many aspects of life we should rightly avoid the dangers associated with merely “going through the motions,” especially when it comes to our relationships with other people. Many marriages have been destroyed or severely impinged by a husband and wife who succumb to a deadly routine which fails to recognize each other’s needs in the relationship. Numerous individuals have become embedded in a routine which results in an identity crisis at the mid-point of life, where they are stuck wondering if there is more to life than the same daily schedule. Warnings and methods abound for overcoming a life or a relationship stuck in the daily grind of “same stuff, different day,” some of which are very useful and practical. Yet, not every aspect of “going through the motions” should receive a negative indictment in the Christian life. Even as a Christian life is not always filled with moments of joy, excitement and celebration, although all of those emotions should set the general direction of our life as we consider what Christ has done for us and the anticipated reality of spending an eternity in God’s presence. Stories abound of godly men and women throughout church history who experienced periods in their life burdened with depression, grief and illness; all of whom lacked and sense of immediate excitement or joy. No doubt they would have expressed similar feelings of each day feeling the same; as if on autopilot.
Although we are told that reading God’s Word, gathering for worship with other believers and engaging in discipleship should never be a cycle of merely “going through the motions,” the truth is many of us reach this point sometime in our life. We are often called to examine our life to ensure each of these activities is an act of genuine worship which is the manifestation of a Spirit-filled life and a desire to be closer to God. This should be our ultimate goal and utmost desire, but we must not forget that as those who still sin we are prone to wander by succumbing to our own fleshly desires. The truth is we may reach moments where reading our Bible and attending church is daunting or uninteresting. There will be periods where it seems like we are stuck in a cycle of merely “going through the motions” in our Christian journey. However, we must never abandon ourselves to the flawed belief that genuine desire must exist before we engage in these activities. This is contrary to the ever growing modern concept that everything must be genuine or it is not worth doing. Every part of the Christian life is contrary to our sinful nature and it can only be overcome by the work of the Holy Spirit in our life. This does not happen in a vacuum, it happens through prayer, reading God’s Word and regularly gathering together with other believers, so that the Spirit is able to transform us. Sometimes we need to just keep pushing through by, “going through the motions” so that we continue to grow as believers; continually being sanctified until we reach full glorification in heaven by “working out our salvation through fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12).
If you have ever watched a time lapse of a forest as it progresses through the seasons, it seems like all the plants and trees are merely “going through the motions” year after year with very little change. Yet, as the years progress, it is evident that every tree is not only going through the same motions every year, but it is growing into a fully developed, seasoned tree. If it seems like your daily prayer, Bible reading or church attendance has become nothing more than “going through the motions,” then pray for the Holy Spirit to reinvigorate your desire to pursue godliness and share this struggle with a mature believer or leader in your church, but do not abandon these spiritual disciplines. Just like the trees in the forest, it might just be that you are still growing through the motions, regardless of how you feel.