From a Puritan Prayer:
Guard my mind from making ordinances my stay or trust, from hewing out broken cisterns, from resting on outward helps.
How many times have I made a tradition or a preference “my stay or trust”? How many times have I made a religious practice my benchmark for righteousness or fellowship?
It isn’t that I discount traditions and practices per se; in fact I’ve learned to honor many practices and traditions because in honoring them I honor my brothers and sisters – whether I understand or am entirely comfortable with their practices and traditions.
I do know, however, that times without number I have used traditions and practices as criteria for fellowship and…danger of dangers…as a form of self-righteousness.
As a pastor I’ve shepherded parishioners who knew more about the practices of their denomination than they did of Scripture. I once heard a parishioner use the term, “the Congregational religion”, in a small group Bible study; I thought, “What is the Congregational religion?”
As a young Christian I recall being taught how the denomination with which I was associated differed from other denominations; I would have been better off had I been taught more about Jesus and about the unity of the Body of Christ.
There are times when outward helps can be helpful, but when they become that upon which we place our trust they are dangerous for they are then our support and we no longer need rely on Christ. Scaffolding is helpful when building a structure, it provides a platform on which to perform work, but there comes a time when the scaffolding is taken down; how strange it would be to leave the scaffolding as part of the permanent structure.
Many years ago I was in a situation/movement in which certain experiences were highly valued and sought after; the spiritual experiences were considered to be evidence of God working in His people and of His approval. When we gathered together the measure of the success/fruit of our gathering was the measure of our experience. A mental image came to me of broken cisterns; we were pouring water (experience) into ourselves but as fast as we poured the water into the cisterns it ran out through multiple holes and splintered staves.
A danger in a consumer society is that we can be so focused on consumption that we fail to realize that growth in Christ is not measured by the consumption of spiritual goods and services; it is not measured by reliance on ordinances or the construction of cisterns or the success of outward helps; I’m not even sure, as a rule, that we can measure our own growth – individually or collectively. But I am sure that the world can measure us; by our love for one another and by our unity in Christ (John 13:34-35; 17:23).
Oh Lord Jesus, please deliver us from broken cisterns; teach us to drink the water of life that You freely give us and to find in You our all in all.