Converge

The Disciplines

Bible, notebook and pen

Whether it is prayer, scripture reading, hospitality or meditation, the Spiritual Disciplines make for fantastic New Year’s Resolutions. I think we all come into the New Year with the unspoken resolution of drawing nearer to God. But it remains unspoken because we’ve had the same resolution countless years before, and while we may have had some success, we can’t really quantify it, or explain it, or really even be sure it was in direct relation to our resolution.

Nevertheless, we have been passed down the Spiritual Disciplines from countless examples – throughout history and in Scripture – as a way to intentionally deepen our walk with God. And using this time of year to make intentional resolutions for a deeper Spiritual Life will not go to waste. Growth in the Spiritual Disciplines can take significant effort, and progress can often see infinitesimally small, but no amount of effort is too much, and no amount of progress is too small when it comes to a richer relationship with our Lord and Savior.

If you are like many of my friends and family, you have given up on the idea of New Years’ Resolutions. You have tried too many and failed to often to see them as worth the effort, only to fail again. I too was there a couple years ago. Last year, however, I tried something different. I chose only one resolution, and I committed to tracking it throughout the entire year, whether I failed or not. To be fair, it was a resolution that was relatively easy to track. I resolved to read 20,000 pages in 2017, and whenever I finished a book, I simply added the number of pages to an app on my phone and it tracked how many pages I read.

I fell well short of my goal. At the end of 2017 I had read roughly 6,000 pages. It was less than one-third of my original goal, but I still felt a sense of accomplishment. I had never before tracked a resolution through the entire year. That was a win. In the past if I fell far enough behind I simply gave up, but this year because I was tracking it, I was able to know exactly what I achieved in a year of reading, something I have never known before.

But it has also given me something else. It has given me something to measure 2018 against. I had set a goal of 20,000 pages, not knowing how much I had ever read in a given year in the past. Now I know I can read 6,000 pages, and I also know that I can improve upon that. This year, my resolution is much more refined: In 2018, I resolve to read at least 6,000 pages and try to reach 10,000 pages. That is a goal I could not have set so specifically in 2017.

The same principle applies to the Spiritual Disciplines. We often set unrealistic and lofty goals of where we want to be throughout the year, without knowing whether or not we ever actually achieved anything. Take, for example, the common resolution of many people to read through the Bible in a year. Many of them don’t know how much of their Bible they read in a year on a regular basis. For them, the Discipline of Scripture reading may be so out of practice that reading through the Bible in a year might be more like my 20,000 pages. An admirable goal without any proof of acheivability.

Perhaps their realistic goal would be to read through the New Testament in a Year, and their stretch goal would be to read through the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. These are, of course, simply examples. After all, there are many who read through the Bible in a year that might benefit from doing it twice in a year, or from digging deeper into one of the Testaments. The purpose is not the goal itself, but rather the progress it shows in your Spiritual Life.

The point being made here is that someone who prays for 2 minutes a day may do better to set a resolution to increase his prayer life to 5 or 10 minutes a day, rather than immediately wanting a cumulative hour of prayer each day. Or someone who never practices hospitality may do better to host every month or every other week, rather than once a week. We cannot expect to make the jump from beginner to expert in the Spiritual Disciplines, for as the term disciplines imply they are something that is built up over time.

It is here that many of us give up on our resolution toward the Spiritual Disciplines. We fail to set realistic goals, and then we fail to measure those unrealistic goals, and then we get frustrated and discouraged at the small amount of progress we think we’ve made toward our unrealistic goals. It takes a great amount of effort to think of and commit to realist resolutions, and it takes a willingness to be okay with progress, rather than outright success.

For me, success reading 6,000 pages in a year could mean that I sit down and don’t stop reading until I reach my goal of 6,000 pages. Then I’ve had success in achieving my goal, but I haven’t truly made any progress in developing a healthy reading habit. We must learn to be okay with great effort and minimal progress in the Spiritual Disciplines if we hope to cultivate a life-long habit.

I hope this year you will join me in making a resolution toward progress in your spiritual walk through the Spiritual Disciplines. It won’t be easy, and progress will likely not be rapid, but no amount of effort is too much, and no amount of progress is too little.

I spent time brainstorming for my personal resolutions, and perhaps the list I created will benefit you. I’ve starred the ones I’ve selected for myself. Pick and choose as you see fit, modify to your needs, make it your own. Then commit to it, tell someone else that you’ve committed to it, and be diligent about tracking your progress throughout the year. I’ve also added a few resources at the bottom for further reading on the Spiritual Disciplines if this is a subject you would like learn more about.

Best of luck in the coming year on your resolutions.

2018 Spiritual Discipline Resolutions:

Fasting:
– I will fast for 24 hours(2 meals) once a month*
– I will fast for 48 hours(5 meals) once a month
– I will fast for 24 hours(2 meals) every other week
– I will fast for 72 hours(8 meals) once a month
Scripture Reading:
– I will read the entire New Testament*
– I will read the entire Old Testament*
– I will read the entire Bible*
– I will read each book of the Bible in its entirety in a single sitting (66 sittings)*
– I will read the Bible in chronological order
– I will spend more time per week in prayer, Scripture Reading or meditation than watching television*
Prayer:
– I will spend the first 5 minutes of my day in silent prayer*
– I will spend the last 5 minutes of my day in silent prayer*
– I will spend more time per week in prayer, Scripture Reading or meditation than watching television*
Mediation:
– I will spend 5 minutes every day thinking about a verse of the Bible*
– I will memorize one Bible verse every week*
– I will memorize one Bible verse every other week
– I will memorize one Bible verse every month
– I will spend more time per week in prayer, Scpripture Reading or meditation that watching television*
Service:
– I will intentionally do one random act of kindness for someone every day*
Simplicity:
– I will donate all my unused and unneeded clothes to a charity*
– I will not buy a clothing item except to replace one that is no longer wearable*
Solitude:
– I will take 3 hours per month to spend completely alone and in silence*
Hospitality:
– I will host an individual, couple or family once per week
– I will host an individual, couple or family every other week*
– I will host an individual, couple or family once per month

These are simply examples to get your mind thinking. Perhaps one or two of these stuck out to you. I encourage you to go for it! Perhaps a couple of them sounded good, but you need to modify it a little – Great! Perhaps it triggered thought of other things that you would like to instill as a discipline in your life – wonderful, but be sure to write it down!

This list does not exhaust all of the Spiritual Disciplines, nor does it cover all aspects of the Disciplines listed. What it does offer in a launching board into a deeper and richer Spiritual Life. I must, however, offer one word of caution: Any of these things above done for their own sake will result in dissatisfaction and futility. The Disciplines are simply meant to ‘opend the door’ as Richard Foster put it. The Spiritual Disciplines are meant to be a channel through which a deep reliance on God can develop and entrench itself in your life, but if your focus isn’t on God alone during these disciplines, the whole purpose is missed.

A Few Resources:

A Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
Practicing His Presence by Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney
Strides (A goal and habit tracking app for mobile devices)

May the Lord bless you richly!

Happy New Year!

Categories: Topics in Theology