Happy New Year y’all!
This year’s resolutions are all about getting back to the basics. This will be the last time I say this (I promise!), but last year was hard. There were a number of reasons and factors that contributed to that, but excuses aside I did not do a good job of getting in the Word and in prayer as consistently and fervently as I had in years past. This year, I am determined to get back to the basics in order to grow in grace and truth.
In particular, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the spiritual disciplines book I read last year. There were so many nuggets of truth that I gleaned from it that I wanted to think through how to put it all into practice. But in order to not overwhelm myself with twelve resolutions as I have done in the past, I decided to focus on the four “Inward Disciplines” (as Richard Foster calls them in the book). They are meditation, prayer, study and fasting.
Foster says, “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us” (7).
I love this. God wants to transform us to be more like himself and one way he can do this is by us focusing on our spiritual disciplines. It’s like disciplining yourself for a marathon. Sure, you don’t have to do it. But your stamina, running abilities and body will suffer if you don’t train and discipline yourself for the actual race. This is the same with our walk with God. We need to discipline and train ourselves so that we will be able to run fervently no matter what is thrown our way.
So with all that said, here are my resolutions for each of the four inward disciplines this year:
Thomas á Kempis called meditation “a familiar friendship with Jesus.” Unlike Eastern meditation that attempts to empty the mind, Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind, “to create and inner wholeness necessary to give ourselves to God freely” (21). There are not necessarily particular steps to “practice” meditation, rather it is a way of life.
In order for me to be successful in keeping my resolution though, I need to take an actionable step in order to incorporate meditation into my daily quiet time. Each day, I am going to find a verse that I feel like the LORD wants me to focus on. I might need to marinate on this verse for weeks or maybe only a couple days — I’m not going to set a specific time limit. It should a verse that the LORD has been using to tug at my heart.
I saw evidence of this happening with Joel 2:13 at various points throughout 2015. Because the LORD kept placing that verse in my life, it allowed me to think about it a lot and soak in its truth. I’m hoping that mediating before prayer will help me to get more out of my quiet time because I have prepared my heart for communicating with God and have spent time thinking about his Word.
Thomas Watson says, “The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fires of meditation.” Oh, how I can relate to that.
I’ve thought of so many ways I could improve upon my prayer life this year, especially after reading so many books on prayer the past couple of years.
First and foremost though, I want to get back to the basics of being prayerful everyday. This means carving out the time necessary in the mornings to pray for an extended period of time. Jesus prayed for extended periods of time all throughout the New Testament (Luke 6:12), so how much more should I be spending ample amounts of time in prayer before beginning my day?
I still find journaling my prayers to be effective because it helps me to focus on what I’m saying and not babble. But I need to spend more time journaling and make sure I am well-rested enough in the mornings to have a fruitful quiet time (a.k.a. not falling asleep). I will keep the journaling in place.
Also, I want my life to be more prayerful and not just something I do every morning. Tim Keller in his book on prayer found that praying in the morning and evening with maybe a brief midday prayer was most helpful for him. I’m going to try to incorporate at least an evening and morning prayer in my own life.
Overall, I want to make sure I am praying no matter what. We have been given such an amazing gift to be able to communicate with the Creator of the heavens and earth, and a lot of times I take that gift for granted. I hope that by the end of the year, I can see growth in my prayer life and therefore growth in my love and affection for God because of the time I was able to spend with him each day.
I’ve always thought of myself as “good” at this spiritual discipline, but unfortunately I think I’ve been selling myself short of what God intended “study” to look like. Instead of fully meditating on Scriptures that I’m reading, I have a tendency to get through as many studies and as much material as possible. Very seldom do I allow myself to marinate on a verse or go through any application steps/questions regarding a particular passage.
John Piper’s Desiring God team has recently put out a series of wonderful articles on this subject (here and here) that really convicted my heart for why this discipline is so important to apply rightly. If we don’t, we become Christians who are just checking a box and getting through our quiet times.
Imagine how frustrating it would be if whenever you talked to a loved one on the phone and shared your thoughts and feelings with them, but they didn’t respond? Were they even listening? Did they hear what you said? Think about this next time you are reading God’s Word. We are to move from reading to meditation to prayer. We need to have the proper response to God’s Word and treat it for how valuable it is. This is something I greatly need to work on this year.
I also want to make sure I am being as consistent as possible in my quiet times. Last year I made a lot more “exceptions” for myself than in years past for why I was “okay” to skip my quiet time for the day. Though there may be times an exception has to be made in the future, it should be an infrequent occurrence.
I knew very little about fasting before reading this book let alone putting it into practice. To be clear, fasting is not for vanity or a desire for power. It is not to be used to get God to do what we want. Instead fasting must be centered on God and must be God-ordained and God-initiated.
So my fasting resolution for this year is to try it once, since I’ve never tried it before. I’m not going to force it to happen, but to prayerfully consider what prayer request or decision I need to make this year that would benefit from spending time in fasting and prayer. I’m not even sure what fasting would look like for me yet — whether it’s food, social media, TV, etc. I’ll wait and see how the LORD uses it this year.
I recently purchased a journal that I hope will be helpful in organizing my thoughts for my quiet times. I love this woman’s Instagram feed and had purchased the memory verse card booklet a couple months ago (and love it!). I’m hoping the structure of her journal will help me to meditate, study (take notes) and pray through the Scripture I read this year. I’ll let you know how I like it!
- Read 40 books this year. Setting 52 as the goal last year was a little too ambitious considering I only ended up reading 35. But I have been able to increase my book count by five for the past few years, so I should be on track to meet this goal.
- Keep my #SomethingNew resolution from last year. I had so much fun doing this last year that I want to keep it going this year. Here’s to trying many more new things and stretching myself to get out of my comfort zone even more.
- Practice thankfulness. My “word of the year” is thankful, something that I am not good at expressing in the midst of my busyness and selfishness (or focus on my self and my own issues/concerns). So I created a Thankful Jar for the year to write out and keep track of one person, moment or thing I am thankful for each day. The LORD has blessed me with so much to be thankful for. I’m hoping that this small act will give me an attitude of thankfulness throughout the day and all year.