Have you started a bible reading plan this year? Or made other goals for your spiritual growth?
Setting goals for the year can be daunting. We want to accomplish a task, but 12 months is a long spread to plan for. As we talked about goals, one of my friends talked about her plans for January. Instead of planning for the entire year, she simply looked at January and the tasks she would do in the next 4 weeks.
I think this was a helpful insight. Rather than a huge new year’s resolution, it was a look at this month, habits to grow today, this week and this month.
Whether you like to set goals for the year, or the month, let’s face it, we won’t accomplish a task if we don’t plan to do it. Developing habits requires our time and effort. Whether it’s a checklist, a progress tracker, a group collectively working together, there are many ways to instill habits into our life, if we take them time to practice them and use the tools that will work well for us.
In our practice of spiritual disciplines, I’ve struggled to understand the relationship between disciplines of spiritual growth and legalism. How do we know that our disciplines aren’t legalistic?
In “Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines” David Mathis writes, “God is shamelessly pouring out his lavish favor on undeserving sinners of all stripes and thoroughly stripping away our self-sufficiency.”
Scripture reminds us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8) and that we are saved not by works but by grace (Eph 2:8). As we have received this grace, and follow Christ, God “gives us his ‘means of grace’ for our ongoing perseverance and growth and joy this side of the coming of new creation. And the grace of God inspires and empowers the various habits and practices by which we avail ourselves of God’s means.”
So we see the pattern of grace given to us in salvation, and grace given to us in the practice of the spiritual disciplines, because, “God has revealed certain channels through which he regularly pours out his favor. And we’re foolish not to take his word on them and build habits of spiritual life around them.”
He categorizes the spiritual disciplines into three groups, “hearing God’s voice, having his ear, and belonging to his body. Or simply: word, prayer, and fellowship.” So the book is broken up into these 3 sections, with short chapters full of great practical encouragements.
On hearing God’s voice, he encourages us toward time in the Word, to shape our life with Words of life, by taking time daily to be in the Word, to meditate on it, memorize it, and study it. We won’t start this all tomorrow, nor will every season in our life allow us to take time in all these areas, but as we put God’s Word first, we will expand our knowledge of him, and our love for him; one step at a time, in the direction of his heart. Jen Wilkin says, “the heart cannot love what the mind does not know” and so growing our love begins with the Word.
On having God’s ear, we discover the beautiful privilege we have as his children to call out to him, knowing with confidence that he hears us. Mathis reminds us, “He has spoken first. This is not a conversation we start, but a relationship into which we’ve been drawn.” Isn’t it amazing to know that our Creator is the initiator, that what he begins in us, he also provides a way to continue, as we seek him in prayer.
Mathis encourages us to pray alone, and pray together, to fast, to journal, and spend time in solitude. What stands out to me is how many ways we have to relate with the Father.
On belonging to his body, he writes “the healthy Christian, introverted or not, of whatever temperament, in whatever season, seeks not to minimize relationships with his fellows in Christ but maximize them.” Christ has called us into community, which rails against our individualist culture of “you do you.” It takes time, experience and humility to listen well, and to love well.
In these days of lockdown, it’s a challenge to be sure. Yet I pray this season will find us becoming more creative in our methods of reaching out, and deepening our longing to worship corporately again.
My own goals for this year include reading through the Bible again. I’d also like to spend some time studying both a book from the old testament, and the new testament. While I don’t know what this year will hold, I’m grateful for the opportunity to build on a solid foundation, to grow in my knowledge and love for the Lord.
Reading a book about spiritual disciplines was a nice way to start the year! It’s been helpful for me to become discerning and prayerful about where and how to grow my spiritual habits. So, if you’re looking for a book like that, “Habits of Grace” is a great place to start, I highly recommend it! 5 stars.