If you’re anything like me, you will know the feeling of setting yourself new resolutions and goals. After hearing a talk, reading a book or meditating on scripture we may feel prompted to act on the message we’ve received.
But how should we respond.
It may be tempting to respond by implementing a Spiritual discipline, such as prayer, fasting or solitude. We may want to commit to a 30 day plan of Bible reading, purity or a couple of months of attending Church whatever the weather.
This is all well and good. I love spiritual disciplines! But as many devoted Christians will have already discovered, after the 10th quiet time, our lives can quickly become full of new spiritual practices. And we soon struggle to maintain our new morning routine, exercise regimen, Thursday Fast, 1-on-1 weekly discipleship meeting, helping out at a local charity shop on the weekends, all the while serving our family with lovingly made dinners each night.
This is why the framework of Spiritual Regimens, Rhythms or Intentions is helpful!
Dr. John Coe, in his course on Spiritual Formation, recognises that as zealous Christians we may be tempted to overload our lives with activities and plans. But we must also remember that we are finite Christians as well (- and his finiteness, should draw us to God, just as much as our zealousness!) And so Dr. Coe suggests three categories of response (and they’re not complicated!):
- Spiritual Regimens – This could be a set time period (e.g. a week, month or year) whereby we will stick to a plan/regimen of particular conduct, in order to give God room to challenge and grow us in the area. For example: taking an online course, watching a series of lectures, starting a small group for a book, not buying anything online, etc.
- Spiritual Rhythms – This could be a particular discipline, such as Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, fasting from cakes, Netflix or video games, silence, etc. We agree to incorporate such a discipline in our daily/weekly lives to strengthen the “muscles” of our faith.
- Spiritual Intentions: This is where we acknowledge, a calling from God to change our behaviour, grow our character, exhibit a virtue. But also acknowledge that there isn’t room in our finiteness, to incorporate yet another discipline towards this end. And so we offer up ourselves in prayer to God.
- Present – “God, here I am, confronted by the challenge/example/conviction of x, y, z”
- Recollect – “God, I understand that this is my current status because of everything you have done for me”
- Honesty – “And yet, I am reluctant for whatever reason to change, thank You for revealing this to me.”
- Discernment – “God, what are you doing, what is Your will, what is from You and what is not. Please give me wisdom on how to respond”.
It may be after praying in such a way, God will lead us to a regimen or a rhythm. Or it may be the case, that God simply wanted us to talk to Him about it and leave it in His hands. In Spiritual Intentions, we lean upon God’s power to transform us, and rely on His grace to work in our weakness. Yes, there will be times to actively co-labour with God, but there are also times to trust God’s Spirit at work – producing fruit – in us.
There is a real danger when we try and bring about the formation in our own strength, with countless lists of disciplines and plans. Rather, it is better to seek wisdom and ask God how we ought to respond to such truth.
And so next time you are challenged in a quiet time or talk, or even a walk in the park. Consider whether to turn this challenge into a Regimen, a Rhythm or an Intention.