Dieting with just the notion of eating better doesn’t have deep impact, you must have a plan. Going to the gym and working out without a set idea about what areas you need to work on will result in little overall improvement. And learning a language by just opening up a non-translated book will not get you very far if you have not created a method to learn the language. How far does your money go if you don’t have a budget?
The reason that most of our current plans for spiritual growth do no work is because we have no plan for spiritual growth. Some days we pray a little, some days we read our Bible, some days we sing a few praise songs, and some days we forget all together. But there is no regular pattern, no plan, nothing written down that holds us accountable and reminds us of what we are trying to accomplish. Often times, we are not lacking in good intentions but we fail to put those intentions into action. A strategy for spiritual growth will serve as a motivation tool for us and keep us out of the haphazard practices that often fail.
In this space, I have recommended and detailed the Spiritual Enrichment Workout. When completed, this only takes 15-20 minutes and covers scripture reading, prayer, worship, and silence. You can choose to follow this plan or create one on your own but the point is to have a plan for spiritual growth. If you don’t, you will have the same frustrating experiences that have marked many of our half-hearted attempts at getting healthier or learning a new skill. I know it doesn’t sound very spiritual to be regimented about your spiritual life but Christian history dating back to Jesus has shown us example after example of the value of intentional spiritual practices and strategies.
Now that we have established what should be included in your Spiritual Enrichment Workout we now have to discuss when we should do it. Most preachers will tell you that you should pray and read scripture very first thing in the morning. They have turned this into some kind of modern day legalism – “by not taking the time early in the morning things will not go right for you the rest of the day.” Don’t we all feel guilty enough by our limited prayer life and intolerance to Bible reading? Do we really need another aspect to make us feel guilty and why should a 24 hour period be reduced to such a short time window?
Some practice evening prayers just before bed as a precursor to the next day’s activities and a good night’s sleep. Others spend time during the day to ward off apathy and depression and some do it early in the morning when there is no one up and their home is quiet. The point is to find the time to do it. What I have described as a Spiritual Enrichment Workout takes me anywhere between 12-17 minutes. Just small enough time to practice while you wait to pick up your kids from an activity, or during a scheduled break at work, or even in the bathtub. The point is to practice Spiritual Enrichment not to fulfill some rigid prescription as to what counts and what doesn’t.
So quit beating yourself up about missing your morning quiet time and find a time that works better for you.
So we have the four elements to our workout:
1. Warm-up – Fixed-Hour Prayer (3 minutes)
2. Core – Scripture reading (4-5 minutes)
3. Strength – Prayer (3-5 minutes)
4. Cardio – Devotional reading (1-2 minutes)
I have placed the estimated time it takes to go through each element in parenthesis. On most days this takes me around 15 minutes, sometimes more, sometimes less and we certainly don’t want to be rigid about this as we need to be responsive to the Holy Spirit. If you have never tried an organized devotional time or have tried it in the past and are returning to it let me give you a few words of caution.
– Reject the temptation to do more. This is what dooms most exercise programs, we try to do too much and are not realistic with our time, ability to be consistent, and attention span. Thus, once the newness wears off we cannot sustain our lengthy and involved program. Personally, when starting out, I would choose two of the elements above and do those for a week and then evaluate how it went.
– Don’t worry if some days are dry. God seems to operate in a slow manner when it comes to our growth and pursuit of Christlikeness. Sure, we will have days where the words of scripture seem to warm our heart and fill us with inspiration and power but there will be others where are prayers are mechanical or we have to read things over and over because we can’t pay attention. Know that even on the dry days the Holy Spirit is working on you and guiding you along. No time spent concentrating on God is wasted.
Core Workout– My favorite physical workout involves an emphasis on the body’s center, or core. The idea being that it is from this center where the rest of your body’s movements originate from. In our Spiritual Enrichment Workout, the emphasis is on hearing from God and letting him focus our faith commitment. The best way to do this is to read scripture. But just as a good workout plan will start slow and build up to more repetitions and sets, our spiritual workout starts slow. I limit myself to five verses of whatever book of the Bible I am reading and five verses from the Gospels. I will discuss the value of five in a future posts. Some simple questions that you can ask when you are reading are: What is it saying? What am I hearing? How should I respond?
I always remember this quote I heard from John Ortberg, “I do not want to just get the church congregation through the Bible but the Bible through the church congregation.”
Tomorrow we will look at our version of a Strength workout.