A Note from Pastor Rick: Happy Disciplined New Year
With the startup of 2019, many of us are making New Year’s resolutions. Some years I do; some I don’t. I can’t remember ever having successfully made and kept a resolution for an entire twelve months, but I don’t think that should ever allow me to not make a resolution about improving some area of my life.
I thought about New Year’s resolutions while reading what has been a very helpful book (God Attachment by Tim Clinton and Joshua Straub). In a chapter that focuses on renewing our connection or attachment with God, the author gives a bit of attention to the classic spiritual disciplines. These are regular practices of Bible reading, prayer, quiet and meditation, journaling, fasting, and serving others.
In what is otherwise a very helpful chapter, the authors make what seems to me like a rather less-than-helpful (silly really) analogy. “Some people call them spiritual disciplines, but it’s probably more appropriate to call them ‘coffee breaks with God’.” I have never had to exercise discipline to give myself a coffee break, but I have had to employ discipline in order to break a bad habit or to learn a new skill or pattern of behavior. When I was playing basketball I spent hours and hours practicing my jump shot, making sure that I was using correct form and developing proper muscle memory. Those hours of discipline paid off come game time when I was taking shots that really counted for something.
Spiritual disciplines are not magic and they don’t guarantee anything either. They simply provide space, time, context and content for us to open our hearts to God and to focus our attention upon how we can know him better and allow him into the spaces of our own lives. John Ortberg, in his helpful book The Life You’ve Always Wanted speaks to the purpose of developing these habits:
“Spiritual disciplines are not about trying to be good enough to merit God’s forgiveness and goodwill. They are not ways to get extra credit, or to demonstrate to God how deeply we are committed to him… But spiritual disciplines are simply a means of appropriating or growing toward the life that God graciously offers. This is why they are sometimes called ‘a means of grace’.”
So as you head into 2019 you might want to make some realistic resolutions about giving space for connecting with God and growing in your relationship with him. Realistic is key to this process. Being realistic about where you are in the journey of discipleship. Set a goal to stretch yourself into the next steps of spiritual practices. Here are a couple of tips that have proved helpful to me over the years:
**“Every day” means five days out of seven. All of us have disruptions in our schedules that make it difficult to be perfectly consistent each and every day. If you allow room for this you won’t set yourself up for being frustrated when inevitable disruptions break into your routine.
**Don’t expect magical results. If you expect to have a dramatic encounter with God every day, you will surely be disappointed. Nothing in life works that way. Nor should you expect that by entering into a commitment to spiritual disciplines that you will become a spiritual giant after one month. Measure progress over the long haul. Our walk with God is not a sprint, it is a journey of a lifetime.
**Be thankful and express your thanks to God for every bit of progress you make. Thankfulness is itself a spiritual discipline, a habit that we can consciously cultivate. I have found that whenever I am conscious of God’s presence drawing near to me and manifesting in ways that I can “feel” him, if I thank the Lord for that, the sense of his presence almost always increases. Similarly, if I begin to make progress in seeing some positive development in an area of character development, when I thank God for that I make myself open to receiving more of his grace in that area of my life.
**Understand that my choice or commitment is always integral to the process. Mike Bickle of IHOP in Kansas City says that if we begin with our own choice and effort we will inevitably find ourselves flowing more and more in God’s grace. But especially when I choose to do something that is hard, I need to understand that even the desire to change or grow is a result of God’s grace at work in my life.
**Try something new, but rely on what has “worked” for you in the past. If you have found a particular practice to be fruitful in terms of you connecting with God, then make that your “meat and potatoes” while adding in some new practice to expand your spiritual palate.
**It can be helpful to find someone to help encourage you and hold you accountable to your hope for growth and change. Having a prayer and encouragement partner (read sponsor in the language of recovery) can often be the difference in succeeding or not succeeding in making any change in our thinking and behavior.
(Since you have made it this far in reading this article I will make you a New Year’s offer. If you email me your spiritual discipline resolution for 2019 I will agree with you in prayer for the Lord to help you walk this out. I cannot be your year-long encouraging and prayer partner, but I would love to hear from you as you begin. Email me at Rick@Wellspring.net)
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!