The end of the year and all that it brings is upon us: food, family, fun…snow, ice, and winter chill. The natural cycle of life requires that the end of one year beckons the beginning of the next. With the new year comes a fresh start. A logical time to try on new habits and take off old ones. We, of course, call this exchange of habits a new year resolution. Many of us make them, and those of us who make them often break them. That’s just how things go, right?
This is why I invite you to consider a pre-new year resolution. Why not give your resolution a swing early this year? Why not mix things up and make some changes before the end of the holidays? You could make a resolution about anything, but I would like to suggest directing your resolution towards spiritual matters.
I don’t mean to presume to know where all of you stand on spiritual matters. I have had conversations about this with some of you, and I hope to have conversations with more of you about this matter in the future. Yet, I am limited in my knowledge of each of your situations. That being said, I know myself, and I know how I’m doing. I wager that many of you encounter the same challenges in your spiritual life as me: busyness, distractions, apathy, a lack of direction, a lack of motivation, confusion as to where to begin and what to expect. All of these challenges and many more stand in the way of our spiritual growth.
So how do we persevere? How do we overcome? I contend that there are three keys that can give us the tools to overcome the challenges that hold back our spiritual growth. These keys aren’t exclusive but rather a starting point. Certainly we will discover more helpful tools along the journey. These three keys are: 1) plan, 2) partner, and 3) the Holy Spirit.
Here is an old training schedule that I found on the internet from the days when Michael Phelps was preparing for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio: 6:00am - wake up, 7:00-9:00am - swim, 9:00-10:00am - lift weights, 10:00am-12:00pm - eat, 12:00-1:00pm - nap, 4:00-6:00pm - swim, 6:00-8:00pm dinner, 8:00-10:00pm - spend time with family, 10:00pm - bed. I have no idea how accurate this schedule is, but it certainly reflects the type of discipline required to be an olympic champion. What do our schedules look like? How do we plan our lives? What sorts of things do we do to train our bodies and minds for the tasks we’ve set out to do? If we want to grow spiritually, and break old habits, then we need to have a plan.
One of the best and least known tools for spiritual growth are the spiritual disciplines. These tried-and-tested practices have been passed down from generation to generation for over two thousands years of church history. While the list of practices is almost limitless, this core group has been most common throughout the years: 1) meditation, 2) prayer, 3) fasting, 4) study, 5) simplicity, 6) solitude, 7) submission, and 8) service. These disciplines are not magic. Keeping them doesn’t automatically make us grown spiritually. They are simply bricks on the path that make the way of Jesus more visible. They shape our lives into likeness of Christ by guiding us closer to Jesus. The beginning of spiritual growth comes from a plan that includes the spiritual disciplines.
However, a plan alone is not enough. We need partners who are on the way of Jesus with us. People who are also following the path—the way of Jesus—toward Christlikeness. A good partner (or several!) for the journey is indispensable—people with whom we can share our struggles and celebrate our successes. Partners can help us plan, offer advice, and hold us accountable.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the role of the Holy Spirit in all of this. Our journey on the way of Jesus is never without the Holy Spirit who empowers us, teaches us, convicts us, and leads us. The wild card in all of this spiritual discipline stuff is the Holy Spirit. We haven’t been left alone to wonder without a guide. But the Holy Spirit is like a map, not a GPS. The Holy Spirit doesn’t give us the direct path to where we are going. Instead, we must orient ourselves on the map and make our own way. The Holy Spirit is always there to guide us, but we can’t always know what roadblocks or traffic jams lay ahead. We might know the direction we are going, but we might need to take a detour here or there to get to our destination.
Where are you on the way of Jesus? Are you on the road somewhere? Have you taken a wrong turn? Are you still at home packing? Has your car broke down somewhere along the way? As we enter the final days of the year, I invite you find where you are on the map, and make a plan to get back on the road that is the way of Jesus, the path toward Christlikeness. Want to learn more about spiritual disciplines or need a partner on your journey? Please ask! I’d love to share more. That’s one of the best parts of my job. May we all continue down the way of Jesus, together.