All Things New
4 Spiritual Disciplines to Establish This Year
Published on 01 January 2021
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One of the best things about the New Year season is the opportunity to reset our expectations for the year ahead. While the last year may have been a good year for some, it may have been a very challenging one for others. New Year provides many of us with an opportunity to put those challenges behind us and look forward, with hope, to the season ahead.
One of my favourite songs from the Planetshakers album, Over it All, is called, All Things New. The verse of this song is a powerful declaration of the way God has taken all of our challenges, regrets, struggles and mistakes, and made ALL of them brand new again:
Bursting through the darkness
Shining like the break of day
Cutting through the silence
I can hear the sound of change
Things that have been buried
You are resurrecting here again
Every prayer You have remembered
True to all Your promises
Regardless of how challenging or disappointing your year may have been, God’s promises remain true, and no matter how dark your world became, God’s light continues to shine brighter. And for those who have felt spiritually dry, our God is the God of resurrection who breathes LIFE into every circumstance.
For Christians, New Year is a great opportunity to reflect on everything God is and has done for us. At the same time, it is a chance to put the circumstances of the previous year behind us, reset our dreams and expectations and look forward to a year ahead.
For many, this is a time for setting New Year’s Resolutions. Usually these manifest in the form of a new exercise routine and a desire to eat better, or a commitment to spend more time with the family, learn a new skill or break a harmful habit. All of these things are beneficial goals to pursue this year. This being said, New Year is also a chance for us to grow spiritually.
You might ask, How can I grow in the things of God this year? Well, just as there are things like exercising and eating well that we can do to get physically healthier, there are also some simple things we can do to press into God and get spiritually healthier. I like to call these things ‘spiritual disciplines’.
4 Spiritual Disciplines to Develop this Year
Before we go on to look at four spiritual disciplines, there is something very important to establish first, and that is, the difference between a ‘spiritual discipline’ and a ‘religious works’ mentality. Sometimes these two things can be confused because they can often appear similar externally. The key difference between discipline and religiosity lies in its motivation. Thankfully, you can easily differentiate between a spiritual discipline and religious works mentality by asking yourself a simple question: Am I doing this in order to earn God’s approval or am I doing it as a response to the love and grace that God has shown me?
The Bible is clear that there is nothing we can do to earn righteousness or God’s approval. Rather, righteousness is given to us as a free gift from God. The following spiritual disciplines are therefore, a commitment we make as a thankful response to what God has done for us, and out of a reciprocal desire to draw closer in relationship.
Daily Bible Reading
One of my favourite illustrations of a healthy Christian walk, is Ps Russell’s ‘dinner analogy’. “Sermons and podcasts are good,” he says, “but they are the dessert, the treat that you have after the main meal.” He goes on to talk about the way in which it would be unhealthy to just eat dessert. The main meal is where the nutrition and sustenance comes from. The main meal is prayer (we’ll get to that in a minute) and reading the Word of God.
It is hard to think of a more fruitful New Year’s Resolution than to start reading the Bible more. There is no better way to learn more about who God is than by reading His Word. In my experience, there are two things that you can do to make sure this isn’t just another resolution that gets forgotten about in February. Firstly, create a healthy habit by reading/listening to at least a small amount every day. Secondly, set a clear goal of what you want to read in the year. Following are some suggestions. You can find reading plans for all of these easily online:
- Bible in a Year (about 3-4 chapters a day will get you through the whole Bible in a year)
- Chronological Bible Plan (read through the whole Bible in the order that the books were written)
- New Testament (if reading through the whole Bible sounds like a bit too much, 1 chapter a day will get you through the New Testament in 260 days).
Going back to Ps Russell’s dinner analogy, one of the components of the ‘main meal’ is a healthy prayer life. Prayer is essentially speaking to God. It is hard to think of a resolution that would grow our relationship with Him better than simply speaking and listening to Him more. As it says in James, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) Amongst the busyness and routines of our lives, it is easy to forget the importance of prayer.
I have a strange memory from my childhood that I believe God helped me to remember. While I have an infamous reputation within my family of having no recollection of various important events or (much to my parent’s dismay) family holidays, I do however, remember a random bumper sticker on the back of a car at the local shopping centre. It simply, yet profoundly read, “Too Busy Not To Pray”. Even though I would only have been about 8 years old and wasn’t even a Christian yet, it often comes to mind, 20 years later, now that ‘busyness’ is a regular part of life.
In the midst of the busyness and challenges that will almost certainly come in the year ahead, the simple resolution we can make as Christians is to turn TO prayer, rather than sacrificing it when the ‘to-do list’ builds up. Remember, prayer is powerful (Mark 11:24, John 14:13-14). As with Bible reading, the best way to establish a healthy prayer habit is to spend a bit of time every day in prayer. You could start by praying for:
- Anything in your life that is challenging or that requires a big decision
- Friends and family
- People in your life who don’t know God
- For your church and your church leaders
- For God to speak to you
Earlier, we talked about the way in which healthy spiritual disciplines should be done as a response to what God has done for us. What better way to respond to God’s abounding grace and generosity than try to reflect this generosity to the people around us. This doesn’t need to be complicated. It could simply be buying people around you coffee, paying for lunch or offering to help your friend move house. Generosity means thinking of others’ needs as if there were your own. Jesus confirmed this by declaring, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Generosity can be of the financial kind, but there are many other ways to be generous too. For example, you can be generous with your time. It is also worth remembering that one of the best places to be generous with your time is in your local church. There are always opportunities to bless those around you and your church, if you are willing to look.
Develop Your Calling or Gifting
Lastly, this coming year could be one in which you focus on growing and developing the gifts that God has given you. For some, that could mean sowing into a musical gift through a practice routine, while for others, practising and developing their preaching skills, studying or going to Bible college.
The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) talks about the importance of not burying the gifts that God has given you, but to use and multiply them. Once again, it is worth noting that we should not do these things out of a religious, works-based effort to win God’s approval, but rather, that God has a plan for you and has given you gifts to use for His glory. It is simply our role to steward those gifts.
Whatever you choose to focus on this coming year, whether it be starting a Bible reading plan or commencing a new exercise routine, I pray that God would bless you and cause you to grow and mature in every area of your life.
Remember, He is the God that makes all things new, so keep looking forward to the great things that lie ahead!
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