A New Year's Spiritual Discipline Checklist
I would like to offer up one more take on how to approach the New Year. This is the time to evaluate, plan and prepare for what you are going to do differently in the coming year. That is usually a good thing to do. Doing it only once a year normally doesn’t help much, but once is better than nothing. So what kind of planning and preparing should you do? Well, probably all kinds. But the kind I want to focus on is the category of planning and preparing for spiritual disciplines. However, I don’t want to focus so much on the disciplines themselves as I do on the goal behind practicing them. As 1 Timothy 4:7 says, we should discipline ourselves for godliness. That means we always have to aim for more than just action. Right heart motives and soul health are the targets. Becoming like Christ is the bullseye.
If the heart is the target, what does that mean in concrete terms? Let me give you eight things to aim for.
- Pray until you have prayed – This is an old saying, and figuring out who said it first is a challenge for another time. The fact that it seems many have said this points to the reality that many godly people have recognized that prayer is regularly difficult. Many obstacles stand in the way of true prayer. Formality, distraction, apathy often keep us from praying even while we are praying. So what is the solution? To pray until we have prayed. Perhaps another word would be helpful. How about: pray until you have communed with God! The point is to pray until you know that you have been in the presence of God, that you have poured your heart out thoroughly, and that you have feasted on Christ and rested in him.
- Read until you see – Just like prayer, reading the bible can flip over to autopilot very easily. Have you ever been driving in your car and you realize that you have no recollection of the past 5 miles of road? The same thing happens as we read. Sometimes our eyes are just passing over the page; so we must read until we see. See what? Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:18 for the eyes of our heart to be enlightened. We have to read until we see glory, until we see riches, until we see hope, until we see power. This is what our soul needs, and it is in the Word to be sure. But we must read until we see it. Don’t stop reading and/or rereading until you have something that your feeds your soul.
- Meditate until you marinate – This is the next step. Once you have found something glorious in God’s word, don’t just highlight it. Shake it, and search it, and scratch it, and sniff it, and draw it, and flip it over. These are descriptive ways to say: think about it in every different way; get it lodged in your mind so that you come back to it over the course of the day; let it be a slow-release capsule of glory in your brain. As Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7 “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” Consider it by meditating on it till you are marinating in it.
- Confess until you hate – Confession is a part of what happens when truth breaks upon a soul. If we haven’t been all that we should be – we must confess it. But we don’t just want to become serial confessors. We want to deal a real blow to sin. This happens when we really begin to loath our sin. Our confession should crack open the evil that a sin really is so that all the putridness really hits our senses. Confess until you start to hate it with a holy hatred.
- Forgive until you forget – The old saying is forgive AND But it really doesn’t work that way. Ken Sande reminds us that forgiveness is a series of promises we are making. We are promising that we will not dwell on an incident, we will not bring it up and use it against our offender, we will not talk to others about it, and we won’t let it stand in the way of our relationship. As you work on keeping these promises, you will move toward forgetfulness. Forgetting an incident won’t happen immediately. But it will happen eventually as you keep those promises.
- Give until you Sing and Sting – Giving of our resources is an act of worship and a true evidence of what is happening in our heart. But how much should we give? Here are two of the ways to get to the answer of this question. First, we should give until we feel the blessing. Jesus said that is more blessed to give than to receive. If you are not feeling that blessing, you need to make a change in your giving. A cheerful heart is the goal (2 Cor. 2:7) The second way to evaluate giving was said best by C.S. Lewis. “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”
- Care until you share – Our love for others should move us to real action. Our caring should result in some kind of real sharing of life. It might be giving of resources as mentioned above, but it could many other ways as well. It could be sharing our abilities to meet a need, our experiences through some discipleship, a hug, an encouraging note, a fun outing and countless other ways. If our lives are not being shared in real ways with people, our care is probably not what it should be
- Serve until you bless – now it is probably true that all service is a blessing in some way. But we should not be content with vague, nebulous blessing. We should want to bear fruit and bear a lot of it. How should we do that? First, look to serve in ways that meet a pressing need. Sometimes God opens an opportunity right in front of you. That doesn’t always mean you should take it, but it will sometimes. And the more pressing the need it is, the more we should be open to it. Second, look to serve in your areas of gifting. God has given you gifts and those are the areas where you are going to bear most fruit. When you serve there, blessing will cascade upon people. Serve until you find ways that bless in big ways.