Baby steps: to make progress on something in small increments (from the 1991 movie What About Bob?).
Bob (Bill Murray): I can’t do that. It’s too big!
Dr. Leo (Richard Dreyfuss): Baby steps, Bob. Baby steps.
Back in my college days I remember taking a psychology class that focused on modern psychology theories. I was the only student in the class who was not pursuing a degree in counseling. By then, I’d been a pastor for about twenty-five years. These students took delight in tearing into me, and pastors in general, for screwing up so many people with “pastoral counseling” instead of pointing them to a professional. They all had some story about how a pastor had scarred them, or someone they knew, for life. It’s hard to argue with someone’s experience, so for the most part, I just sat there silently while thinking to myself, “Oh yeah, like no one’s ever been screwed up by a professional counselor?”
Anyway, one night the professor showed us a clip from the movie What About Bob?, and said Dr. Leo’s baby steps concept was an example of behavioral psychology, a theory of psychology founded by John B. Watson that came into vogue after the release of his 1913 paper, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.”
To put it simply, Watson believed that anyone’s behavior could be changed. Richard Dreyfuss’s character, Dr. Leo, believed this could be accomplished by taking baby steps.
Do you feel like your depth of intimacy with God is an inch deep, while your ministry responsibilities stretch you a mile wide? I want to help you experience God beyond the shallows. I believe it’s possible to go deeper.
Don’t you wish you were more deeply spiritual? Something keeps reminding you that your personal intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing, but there are so many other things that pull you in the opposite direction. There is the person you are and the person you want to be, and you wish you could close that gap. You can. It can close. It will take a lifetime, but it can close little by little.
Movement in the right direction, no matter how small, will eventually get you where you want to be. Moving toward a deeper spirituality through the spiritual practices that will get you there (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, devotional reading, journaling, etc.) is not about giant steps but about baby steps. Here’s three out of nine steps to help you get started.
Step One: Ask God for help.
I’ve got to believe it warms the Father’s heart to hear us cry out to Him:
Father, help me to spend time with You. Motivate me, change me, give me a hunger for solitude with You. I want to know You better and experience You more. My willpower is weak but You are strong. Do for me what I cannot do for myself. Cause me to grow in my intimacy with You and help me with the practices that will take me there.
Step Two: Keep your eye on the real goal.
The goal of prayer, journaling, scripture meditation, silence and solitude, worship, fasting, practicing self-denial is not prayer, journaling, scripture meditation, silence and solitude, worship, fasting, and practicing self-denial. These are simply the ways we draw closer to God, or the practices that help us experience God. The goal is quality time with God. What motivates us is the desire to keep company with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
Imagine you are carrying around a toolbox with the words Spiritual Formation stenciled on the outside. Inside you find a number of tools you can pull out and use to deepen your soul and draw closer to Jesus. The goal is not the tools. The tools just help you with your project.
Step Three: Expect a fight.
Developing a spiritual life that is meaningful and consistent is hard work. It will not come about without resistance. Sometimes keeping company with God will be effortless. Other times being alone with God will be sabotaged by interruptions, distractions, procrastination, and a strange inner struggle that causes you to avoid the very thing you want.
Coming up next? The Pastor, Baby Steps, and a Deeper Spirituality, pt. 2
The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.