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Christian Practices and Habits for 2014: You can Succeed if Thoughtful and Realistic
Is It Really All That Bad?
Back in the 1990’s when accountability groups were all the rage, I remember being in a group when a brother said, “I know I wouldn't have my daily quiet time if it wasn't for the fact that I’m in a group where you all are asking me the hard questions.”
Even then I knew this was not quite right. Is reading the Bible and prayer such an onerous drudgery that the only way one is able to get through it is the dread of being called on the carpet by a group of burly in-your-face men? What happened to “sweeter than the honey and the honeycomb?”
I have come to believe that if spiritual disciplines are drudgery and a burden, then I am probably doing something wrong. I am going about my walk with the Lord with a wrong attitude or in the wrong way. The angst of Evangelicals “I don’t pray as much as I ought” is more about unrealistic expectations and lack of a plan than being a spiritual deadbeat. We long for the spiritual milk of the Word. Being in prayer is turning our hearts back to the one we love. This is not difficult. If it is, then I need to rethink the way I am going about it.
Finding A Fulfilling Process
I think sometimes we can get tripped up over method. I have friends who love exercising in the gym. Others look forward to playing tennis. Tennis would be a burden for me because I really don’t know how to play. I tried the gym but decided I really don’t like lifting heavy things. For me, exercise is jogging with the dogs. It invigorates me and I always feel uplifted. Of course, there are cold, damp mornings where I have to push myself but once I get out and get going, I am refreshed.
Now, if I tried to run a marathon every morning, I would soon get discouraged and give up or if I didn’t get out for at least a half an hour, it would probably get meaningless and I would get bored with it. I had to come up with an exercise plan that was sufficiently challenging for growth, and was balanced with other responsibilities and demands.
Taking spiritual disciplines in this spirit, what do they look like for you in 2014? Instead of saying “what are my resolutions for 2014?” let’s just cast a picture of the practices you want to grow into in the coming year. It may not be perfect and it may take some effort and some experimentation to get it going. But we should all be exercised in our Christian walk and for the most part, it should be a delight.
Some Questions To Get You Going
- What does my time in God’s Word look like? For one, it may be learning the gospel of Mark, reading commentaries and studying the book for an hour or two each week. For another, it may be reading a short passage of Scripture daily very slowly out loud, letting it speak to the heart, and journaling about it. For another, it may be reading three pages in a Bible (without chapter/verse references) each night straight through.
- What does my time of prayer look like? For one, it may look like taking a set time at a certain special place each week such as a den or a chapel to pray over prayer lists. For another, it may be taking a walk at lunch twice a week to pray. For another, it may be a set series of prayers of devotion, surrender, and consecration prayed from the heart each morning while enjoying first light and a cup of coffee.
- What does my worship and contemplation of God look like? For one, it may be making use of worship or sacred music, focusing in on the words while one drives in the car. For another, it may be memorizing inspirational passages of Scriptures, Psalms, hymns or prayers and using these to set our heart on God. For another, it may be writing original hymns or poems about God to be prayed back to Him.
- What does my service to others look like? For one, it may be volunteering to meet a known service need in church or community. For another, it may be seeing a need and starting a ministry or responding with your family. For another, it may be anonymous gifts of kindness. For one, it may be being available to counsel, visit and encourage the downcast or dropping people a note in the mail. For another, it may be working with your hands, fixing or building things where others can’t.
- What does my repentance and confession before God look like? For one, it may be becoming more intentional of doing personal inventory, comparing one’s heart against the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins (and seven Virtues) and asking God’s forgiveness with thanksgiving. For another, it may be honestly sharing one’s internal thoughts with a trusted spiritual mentor or director.
- What does my thought life look like? For one, it may be dealing with unchecked mental fantasies about food or sex by quickly turning to short prayers when these appear in the mind. For another, it may be dealing with a consistently angry or critical heart by reflecting on a gratitude list and asking for the grace to forgive.
- What do other areas of my spiritual growth look like? There are other areas not discussed such as evangelism, service on our jobs, shepherding and disciplining of others, parenting etc.
How do you feel about your Christian spiritual practices and disciplines?
Spiritual disciplines are a process. Trying to be the Michael Jordan of the prayer world will lead to frustration. However, if you just get things going, take a day at a time and are willing to refine - throwing away what doesn't work and emphasizing what does, this will be a good year for spiritual growth.