I can remember when I first started turkey hunting. I listened to tapes, watched videos, and did anything I could to learn how to do things correctly. Not only did I try to call like the experts, but I had to learn exactly when to call and when not to call. And it wasn’t just one call, but I had to learn about box calls, slate calls, glass calls, crow calls, owl calls, mouth calls, and a few other rare ones. I can remember wondering at first light, if I was calling too early or too late, or right on time. I didn’t know if I should do a fly-down call, a yelp, or just a quiet cluck. And if I missed out, I always blamed myself for some miscue in doing just the right things at the right time, and with the skill it demanded. But then there were those times when I knew I did everything just right and the harvest still escaped me. It was then I realized even the most disciplined efforts were no guarantee for success. I had to depend on several other factors going my way.

              I can remember a few decades ago when the topic of just about every sermon started with “How to…” It was subjects like…

“How to overcome fear.”

“How to hear the voice of God.”

“How to pray like Jesus.”

“How to live a happy life in an unhappy world.”

“How to break free.”

“How to quit worrying.”

“How to grow.”

“How to care.”

“How to care if you grow!”

And here’s what happened. We got fired up about the Christian life because we finally begin to hear, step by step, how we could live it completely and successfully. But then something else happened. We started applying these techniques and how-to’s, but no matter how many times we applied those lessons to certain things in our life, we could never muster up enough willpower to tame our most difficult struggles. And we gave up and many left the church. And here’s why. They got the idea that Christianity was all about self-discipline.

“I can learn it.”

“I can apply it.”

“I can make myself accountable.”

“I can do it!”

But let me ask you. If the Christian life is all about how to’s, methods, and self- discipline, then how is a Christian self-help book any different than a non-Christian self-help book? And how is what Paul wrote any different than what Tony Robbins, Steven Covey or any other motivational person writes today? The truth is found in what Paul asked the Galatian church when they tried to do the same thing. He asked, “After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” Paul was reminding them, the Christian life was not about their self-discipline but about their Spirit dependency. It was not our power that would bring about spiritual fruit but God’s. And now, instead of all praise going to you and your ten-step “how-to” book, it will go to the God who didn’t give us the Bible as an instruction manual, but as an autobiography.

Gary Miller