Spinning Tires and Spiritual Disciplines

by Scott Mehl
Has your car ever gotten stuck in snow or ice? It’s a common experience that most people in the country can relate to. But not here in L.A. There are a lot of common driving lessons that Southern Californians don’t have the opportunity to learn. Lessons like: replacing your windshield fluid in the winter so it doesn’t freeze, downshifting when going down a hill, or not braking while hydroplaning. When you live somewhere that’s both flat and 72 degrees and sunny every day, you just don’t learn these things.

But let’s go back to getting a car stuck in the snow. There are a lot of things to know about how to get a car unstuck, but there’s one dynamic that comes to mind a lot for me: the importance of spinning your wheels when being pushed or towed out.

When you’re stuck in ice or snow (I’m picturing some kind of ditch covered in ice/snow) you’re not going to be able to get out by yourself. Someone is going to need to reach into the ditch and help pull you out. Maybe that comes in the form of a truck with a tow cable; maybe it comes in the form of a handful of friends pushing on the back bumper. One way or another you’re going to need some help.

What you’re also going to need, though, is to spin your tires. Now, when you’re stuck in the snow, spinning your tires might seem worthless. You push on the gas, the tires spin, and your car just stays put. No matter how many times you do it, the tires fruitlessly turn over and over, to no apparent benefit. But the same action that seems pointless on your own is actually necessary to get out of your predicament. It doesn’t matter how many people are pushing on the back of your car, they can’t get you out of the ditch on their own. Their extra help will only prove worthwhile if, while they are pushing, your tires are spinning. It’s the combination of the tires spinning and the friends pushing that together can accomplish what neither could alone. Even though spinning your tires isn’t going to magically get you unstuck, you can’t get unstuck unless you’re spinning your tires.

I think “stuck” is a good way to describe how many of us feel from time to time (or even most of the time). Whether we’re battling deep sadness, overwhelming anxiety, relational tensions, or a lack of work satisfaction, we often feel stuck in our struggles. I talk with people all the time who feel stuck, not knowing what to do or where to turn. When I do, almost inevitably the first thing we talk about is the need to get back to the basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.

It may feel a little simplistic or unhelpful to talk about praying, reading your Bible, attending Sunday services, or prioritizing community group when you’re struggling. It probably feels a bit like spinning your tires when your car is in a ditch. Reading your Bible, praying, and attending corporate worship may not magically deliver you from your struggle.  But just like your spinning tires, you’re not going to be able to get unstuck without them.

In order for the impact of a sermon or the counsel of a friend to take root and make a difference in your struggle (whatever it might be), it needs to come in the context of an ongoing, regular relationship with God. Sometimes we view a sermon or a counseling session as some sort of “magic hour” that will alone bring resolution. But our struggles are more complicated than that. And our God wants more for us than that.

Our God is a personal God who wants to be more to us than simply the dispenser of blessings.  He desires to be the source of our blessedness. He desires to draw us in, closer and closer, even in the midst of our struggles, so that we might find our true contentment and true power in him.  He invites us to abide (John 15) and to set our minds on him (Col 3), regardless of whether those actions seem to immediately get us “unstuck.” Because he knows that, while we also need the help of others, or the help of various practical tools, ultimately what we need is him.

One of my favorite quotes about this dynamic is buried on page 755 in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:
The New Testament does not suggest any shortcuts by which we can grow in sanctification, but simply encourages us repeatedly to give ourselves to the old-fashioned, time-honored means of Bible reading and meditation (Ps 1:2; Matt 4:4; John 17:17), prayer (Eph 6:18; Phil 4:16), worship (Eph 5:18-20), witnessing (Matt 28:19-20), Christian Fellowship (Heb 10:24-25), and self-discipline or self-control (Gal 5:23; Titus 1:8).

There’s no shortcut to Christian growth. And there’s no shortcut to getting “unstuck.” But when we prioritize the “old-fashioned, time honored” spiritual disciplines of spending time with God and spending time with his people, God will bring about the strength, endurance, joy, and peace that we desperately need.

Ultimately, the strength and fruit we need in the midst of the struggle is the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23)
Ultimately, that fruit only comes as we patiently abide with him.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Ultimately, we can abide with confidence knowing that God hears our prayers and is eager to provide the good things we ask for.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened….If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7–8, 11)
So if you’re struggling and finding it hard to see the point of reading your Bible and praying, and if spending time with God feels dry, fruitless, or pointless right now, don’t give up. Keep spinning your wheels. Ask for help. Let those God has placed around you give a push or at least a nudge in the right direction. But don’t assume that even the best advice, counsel, or input from a friend can, alone, be all that you need. God wants you to continue to come to him, to continue to spend time with him, to continue to put your trust in him even in the midst of the struggle.

And he will use your willingness to come back to him again and again. Through the basic spiritual disciplines he will produce the comfort and fruit your heart longs for.  No matter how long it’s been or how inconsistent your time with him is, he is always happy to spend time with you and always waiting with open arms.

You will get unstuck. I can’t tell you when, or even exactly how. But I know you will. Of all the times I’ve gotten a car stuck in mud or snow, it’s never stayed there forever. I’ve also never gotten it out the exact same way twice. You learn things along the way, but no two ditches are ever the same. The one thing I can tell you for sure is: I’ve also never gotten out without spinning my tires.
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