Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Brushing Your Teeth: Spiritual Efficacy

We've all (I hope) brushed our teeth before. About a year ago I had a realization while brushing my teeth that I had a lot to learn from this menial and everyday task. Sometimes I find that the simplest things that I do throughout the day can contain profound analogous truths. This might speak to how strange I am, that I see a toothbrush and think...well, that's what I was getting to, wasn't it?

I would guess that most of us, especially since we live in a culture and time where we are more and more easily distracted, have had the "chewing on your toothbrush experience'." You know, the time when you stop to talk to your roommate or family member and leave your toothbrush hanging in your mouth while you mindlessly sort of chew it. Or it might have been when you (and by you I really mean I) have had your phone with you while brushing your teeth, probably texting someone or checking Facebook. Or perhaps you stopped to ponder the wonder and meaning of life and were left distracted.

Distracted enough to let the toothbrush sit there in your mouth while a lovely mixture of white-foam-drool runs down your chin. It's a very profound experience, wouldn't you know it, and I know that we all look very philosophical whilst we drip  and grind our poor toothbrushes.

But I really do think there is something to be learned here. Something spiritual, something about efficacy.

Efficacy and efficiency are important ideas in many fields. They are important and, I think, intuitive concepts that we can all relate to. For instance, we all know what it means to 'get our money's' worth, even if how that is actually manifested may vary from person to person. For example, person's A and B both want to get their fair deal, even if person A wants a dog and person B wants a piece of art for the same price. We want the best for what we have given, whether or not we define that concept colloquially or technically (like say, ROI or something economic).

And this concept of getting our money's worth is not limited, interestingly enough, to money. It is a concept that we apply to objects of value. And something that we value is time. So, if I were to say "this is a waste of my time," you would know exactly what I meant. In the same way that we want a fair trade for our hard-earned cash, we want our time to be valued and not wasted.

So, how does this all relate to brushing your teeth, then? While we sit there, distracted by whatever it is that has taken our fancy, we stop brushing our teeth. Our teeth are not getting cleaner, the bristles are being worn down, and spittle dribbles down our faces.

Essentially, we are not being effective. We are wasting our time. We are distracted.

These principles, which I hope you can easily grasp, seem to be rather universal. We can see them in our homework when we text or listen to music or 'study' with friends (I am guilty of this, too). We can see them in our relationships when we do not intentionally seek to love each other and intend selfishly idle. We see them when we run and exercise, as a "3-hour workout" really equates to a 30-minute workout. And we see it in our spiritual lives.

When we are not running, not straining and striving, just sitting there chewing on the toothbrush in our mouthes, we are stagnant. We are not growing closer to the Lord, not loving others, not growing in maturity—spiritually and otherwise, not fulfilling God's call on our life.

You see, spiritual growth is not a spontaneous process. I have never known a Christian (nor expect to ever) who, sitting by themselves without doing anything suddenly stands up and proclaims
"Well, it's about time. I am finally spiritually mature! The whole of the Bible just lodged itself deep into my brain. I can now go win souls for Christ! It's about time, I've been waiting here for quite a while."
It doesn't work that way. God has ordained that we do things. That we, by and through His grace, do good works through which He sanctifies us by His Holy spirit into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, Christian, I ask you today: are you sitting there chewing on a toothbrush? Or are you scrubbing away at sin in your life, seeking after a spiritual hygiene that is in accordance with the high (so very, very high) standards set by Christ? Are you being effective in your life or are you simply stagnating? Is whatever ministry you are involved in bearing fruit? Is your time well-spent? What is your true return on investment?

Is the time that God gave you to use being put to good use? To a use that would please Him?

These are questions I need to ask myself often and be honest with myself about the answers. I trust and hope that you will do the same.

Brush your teeth.


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