Steer Clear of the Ruts

Our potato crop is our largest by volume and is a staple for area food banks. Potatoes travel well, need no refrigeration, can be prepared in many ways and can be part of every meal. What’s not to like about the common spud?

After we plant them in late April/early May, we wait for the plants to get just tall enough so that we can hill them. If they’re too short, the hiller can bury the little plants; too big and we might run over parts of the plants and the rows will be harder to see.

As with many things associated with farming, timing is crucial.

Notwithstanding this year’s challenging weather, we were able to hill our potatoes while soil conditions were just right. The four-row hiller did beautiful work as its moldboards made tall, well-shaped hills around each potato plant. You have to love growing potatoes to appreciate how enjoyable this is when the timing is right.

As I sprayed a potato field in preparation for harvest the other day, I remembered how hard it was to move over a row or two if I had miscalculated my spray overlap. Once the tractor and sprayer were in those two rows, the high potato hills made those rows like ruts. Once committed, you were pretty much in those ruts until the end of the row.

We all know how easy it is to fall into ruts. The Oxford dictionary defines a rut as “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.” We can all relate to various earthly ruts, such as becoming a couch potato. What about spiritual ruts?

Habits or patterns of behavior are not in and of themselves bad. Ritual is an important part of a full spiritual life. The commandments of God as revealed in the Torah were there to provide a pattern of righteousness. However, due to mankind’s inherent sinfulness, the people of Israel struggled to follow the spirit of the law. As compassionate as Jesus was with sinners, lost sheep who needed a shepherd, he was as profoundly disappointed and full of righteous indignation with those who claimed to honor God but whose lives did not.

In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus reminds his fellow Israelites, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. ... For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In a sense, what happened over generations was that God’s people had begun worshipping the commandments, rituals and the traditions of the elders. Indeed, many of Israel’s prophets had warned the people about this danger. They had lost sight of the original intent of God’s word. They were in a spiritual rut.

As the Scriptures recount, Jesus repeatedly tried to get them to understand what fulfilling the law meant.

“On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered had, ‘Come and stand here.’ And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’ But they were silent.” (Mark 3:1-4).

The Bible says the Lord was both sad and angry at that moment. Sad that the heart of God’s people had become so dull, and angry that the religious folks of his day were trying to twist the law of life he had given them into something devoid of God’s love.

It is surprisingly easy to get into a spiritual rut. Meaningful relationships take time, are intentional and take effort. This is true with people, and even more so with God. Through prayer, worship and time in the Word, God invites us to have intimacy with him. Our merciful God knows our weaknesses and our tendency to get stuck in a pattern of behavior that is dull and unproductive. We need to steer clear of spiritual ruts, even in our prayer life.

Jesus said in Matthew 6, 8-13, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus gave us this great gift of the Lord’s Prayer as an example. The next time you offer this prayer, focus on the meaning of the words, rather than reciting it without thought and purpose. The aroma of prayer is pleasing to God when it is lifted with the sincerity of heart and mind, rather than in a rut of religious ritual.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.