“Nine chapters, one hundred fifty two pages—how hard can this be?” I thought as I loaded a well-known Christian classic onto my Kindle.
Slogging through chapter two, reality began to set in.
I had always been an avid reader but felt a need to be more intentional in my reading choices.
The holes in my theology needed sturdy patches of truth, and I longed to benefit from the wise words of classic Christian writers.
By the time I reached chapter three, I was seriously discouraged . . . and I never made it past chapter four.
Reading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy seemed like a great place to begin, but I soon learned a lot of really hard paragraphs lived between all those inspiring quotes I had swooned over on Instagram.
If I had chosen a book closer to what I’m accustomed to, would I have had more success?
Look for Small, Positive Steps
The concept of ‘The Adjacent Possible‘ has changed the way I approach adding spiritual disciplines and healthful practices to my life.
Adjacent means ‘in close proximity’.
If I am looking for The Adjacent Possible, I stop scanning the horizon for a “eureka” moment and begin looking close by for a small positive step in the right direction.
I first heard the term The Adjacent Possible in reference to the iPhone.
There was no way the iPhone could have come into being in 1977.
The technology just did not exist. However, advancements in computer design and improvements in mobile phones paved the way for Apple to roll out its world-changing invention in 2007.
But not before!
The Adjacent Possible means that people, no matter how well-intentioned, make forward progress in certain prescribed ways.
One step leads to another more advanced step.One step leads to another more advanced step. One small act of obedience enables the next.Click To Tweet
In my reading life, this meant that I gave up on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, but I didn’t give up on my determination to read with intention.
I began reading short blog posts written by living theologians who expressed themselves in modern parlance. Then, I moved on to reading books by some of the same authors.
Next, I joined an online book discussion group that traveled slowly through an older, more challenging book written long ago by the Puritan theologian, John Owen.
As I gained skill and confidence, I returned to Orthodoxy—and I finished it.
What’s your goal?
Do you want to:
- Spend more time in prayer?
- Observe a few minutes of reflective silence each day?
- Read through the whole Bible?
- Heighten your spiritual awareness through fasting?
- Memorize Scripture so you can meditate on its truth while your hands are busy?
Don’t fall for the same mistake I made in tackling my reading objective.
Spiritual disciplines are not unattainable goals set aside for “advanced” Christians.
However, we may acquire these habits of holiness more readily by patiently trusting for grace to make small steps.
The prophet Isaiah invited his readers into a slow ascent:
let’s climb God’s Mountain,
go to the House of the God of Jacob.
He’ll show us the way he works
so we can live the way we’re made.” (Isaiah 2:3 MSG)
Lean into a Long Obedience
As the Spirit of God calls you into a closer following, resist the allure of the instant!
Eugene Peterson called this “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” One small act of obedience enables the next.
One tiny “yes” to God opens the door to a bigger and more challenging “yes.”
The biblical record shows that God is at work in this journey.
In fact, the slow, patient path often delivers the most impact.
My own experience at times has led me to exclaim, “God is in the slowest hurry I’ve ever seen!”
In a world that depends on microwave ovens, Amazon Prime free and fast delivery, and the convenience of high-speed internet, we’ve lost patience with the notion of process.
Here are three things I’ve learned about The Adjacent Possible that have helped me to be realistic in my expectations, but consistent in my determination to meet spiritual goals.
I hope these simple strategies will encourage your faith and help you to grow.The slow, patient path often delivers the most impact.Click To Tweet
#1. Pinpoint a weak spot in your Spiritual growth.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23, 24 ESV)
The Spirit of God will reveal His ways and His desires to the searching heart.
He may use others in your life to put a finger on your spiritual growth points.
Pioneer missionary Amy Carmichael was known for saying to her orphanage workers, “Hold one another to the highest!”
The example of other believers and their reading habits played a huge role in making me aware that my reading choices were mostly entertainment.
While fun fiction is great for vacations and relaxation, I wanted to invest precious reading time in content that would build my understanding of God and His ways.The Spirit of God will reveal His ways and His desires to the searching heart.Click To Tweet
#2. Set your heart, by faith, in a better direction.
“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6 NKJV)
Rest assured that God is willing to meet you more than half way in discerning your next right thing.
Make your goal a matter of prayer, and begin by reducing it to a single sentence. For example: “I want to read challenging books with solid biblical content.”Make it your practice to begin working on your spiritual goals by addressing today’s adjacent possible.Click To Tweet
#3. Look for The Adjacent Possible and begin!
“Endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:4 ESV)
It might be very satisfying to set a goal of praying for a half hour every day, but if a time of focused prayer is not currently your habit, you will quickly become discouraged as the minutes drag.
Better to make the move from zero minutes to the nearby number of five minutes, and to spend ALL FIVE of those minutes in worship, thanksgiving, and petition for those you love.
Memorizing an entire chapter of the Bible is a long process, but The Adjacent Possible is verse one of that chapter.
Take an entire week with that verse. Say it out loud in the car. Carry it on a 3×5 card in your pocket. Then, rejoice that it sits adjacent to the next verse in the chapter, which can then become your goal.
John Henry Newman, 19th-century theologian, and poet, is cheering us on with this blessing:
“May it be our blessedness, as years go by, to add one grace to another, and advance upward, step by step, neither neglecting the lower after attaining the higher, nor aiming at the higher before attaining the lower.”Discipleship is a lifelong process, and Jesus is our traveling companion.Click To Tweet
What Does the Adjacent Possible Look Like for You?
You can be an active participant in your own spiritual formation and follow hard after Jesus one glorious step at a time.
Want to explore what this may look like for you?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What would happen if you made a point of asking God to put His holy finger on some aspect of your life that could be stronger for His glory?
- Is there a sister in Christ who manifests traits or who practices spiritual disciplines that you aspire to? Initiate a conversation with her and ask for her input.
- What small change can you make in your life today that will start you on the “long obedience” that brings about bigger changes you can only dream of today?
Discipleship is a lifelong process, and Jesus is our traveling companion.
Make it your practice to begin working on your spiritual goals by addressing today’s adjacent possible.
Patience and perseverance will reveal that Jesus’s words are true:
“With God, ALL things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26 NKJV)
– Michele Morin
Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who blogs at Living Our Days. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. She has two adorable grandchildren and is active in educational ministries with her local church. Michele loves hot tea, well-crafted sentences, and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy, finds joy in sitting around a table surrounded by women with open Bibles, and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” You can also connect with Michele on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.