Train for Godliness: A Resolution for 2017
In 1 Timothy 4, the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, a young pastor, to train himself for godliness. It is a theme Paul repeats multiple times in this passage, drawing a comparison between spiritual training and physical training: “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” -1 Timothy 4:8.
Spiritual training, like physical training, requires discipline. Both are, according to Paul, beneficial. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive, but only one of them will carry eternal weight. And while some spiritual growth may be occasionally incidental—where we learn truth about ourselves or about God through the everyday circumstances of life—our spiritual growth will never be consistently accidental. Like physical training, spiritual training requires discipline, commitment, dedication, consistency, perseverance, and intentionality.
The Spiritual disciplines are not meant to be a list of dry, religious activities that we sporadically oblige in order to satisfy the occasional moral requirement in our own minds. They are the very well from which we should daily return to taste of living water and to be reminded that the only satisfaction to be found in this world is that which can be found in Christ.
The New Year is always a great time for goals and resolutions. By all means, make your plan to eat healthy, get in shape, and get your finances under control. But make it your first and greatest ambition to train yourself for godliness and pursue every ounce of joy that God offers for you in Christ Jesus. The spiritual disciplines are the means He has provided to aid us in our pursuit of Him.
Below, I’ve listed a few practical steps and resources to help you discover new joy in Christ through the coming year by establishing a consistent, healthy, vibrant, personal devotional life. This is not an exhaustive list of the spiritual disciplines, but will hopefully help you grow into a daily time of prayer and meditation on Scripture.
1. Set a Time
Simply put, we make time for the things we value. The reality is, for the vast majority of us, we will spend at least one hour every day watching TV or scrolling through social media. We will, most likely, spend the first and last 15 minutes of each day looking at a screen. The majority of us in the South will go to extremes each Saturday to ensure we get 4 undistracted hours to watch a college football game. Without a set time, we open ourselves up for limitless conflicts. For a number of reasons, I am, personally, an advocate for the morning. I’ll list a few:
-There are far fewer distractions. There are less live entertainment options, my phone isn’t ringing, and, with the exception of occasional early-morning pastoral emergencies, nobody needs me yet. Most mornings, except for when there is a newborn in our home, I can count on a distraction-free hour between 5 and 6 a.m. I can have an un-rushed time of prayer and reading. But this also means I have to be disciplined about going to bed at a decent time.
-Sin is waiting to take you down before you ever get up. I believe there is something to be said about consecrating the beginning of each day to the Lord. You might say, “well, I’m not a morning person,” which may very well be true. But I would make the case that we are all sinful people. And sin is ready to destroy us before we’ve had our first sip of coffee. It wants you focused on you. It wants you to attack your to-do list, relationships, and work day in your own power, strength, and energy. We should begin each day with a renewed mindset to put to death the deeds of our body by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:13). As John Owen so pointedly wrote in The Mortification of Sin, “be busy killing sin, or it will be busy killing you.” Don’t give your sinful desires a foot in the door of your heart before you step out of the front door of your home.
-This is what Jesus did. Of course I had to throw that card down! Seriously. Look at how many times we see in the Gospel accounts a variation of “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” -Mark 1:35.
D.L. Moody once said, “We ought to see the face of God every morning before we see the face of man.” Jesus thought it was important to start His days in prayer. I think we should, too.
2. Set a Place
Think about it. Where will you read? Where will you pray? Where can you be where you are unlikely to be interrupted, where you can cry tears of confession, repentance, and praise, recite and memorize Scripture, and maybe even (gasp) sing! Personally, I have found that my most undistracted reading is at a table because I get too comfortable on the couch. Conversely, I have found that my most focused praying is while kneeling because I get too distracted sitting upright. Determine where you will have your daily time of worship. This will help you to establish a healthy, consistent rhythm and these spaces will become sacred to you.
3. Make a Plan
Next week, gyms and fitness centers will be packed. Lots of people are currently spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on fitness gear. And within 45 days, the gyms will clear out and the treadmills will be collecting dust, mostly because, for many, there was no dedicated time, place, or plan. What’s your plan for filling your mind with the Word? For Praying? For reading & worshipping? Here are a few personal recommendations for resources.
It is never a wasted pursuit to try read through the Bible once each year, and most don’t realize that you can do this in about 15 minutes per day. youversion.com and the Bible app have dozens of reading plans to help you reach this goal.
This past year, I completed the M’Cheyne reading plan, which draws from 4 different sections of Scripture daily and will take you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in one year, and each daily selection only takes about 15-20 minutes.
In 2017, Emily and I are completing a 260 day reading plan together. Each week has two built-in “grace” days, which we fully expect we will need with a new baby and subsequently unpredictable sleep schedules on the way. We’re also excited about how this will grow us together spiritually and the avenue it will give us for discussion.
Pick one and stick to it. It will be even more effective if you have an accountability partner or small group.
I recommend the Fighter Verses app from Desiring God. It will be a very worthwhile $2 investment. Each week, you are given a new passage to memorize. There are quizzes, commentaries, and activities to help you in your memorization. I have utilized this resource for the past 2 years and it has been invaluable.
I’ll just list one. Biblically faithful and contextually sound devotional books are few and far between, and I tend to be skeptical of most. But in 2016, I completed New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp, and I could not more highly recommend a resource for daily reading. Each day packs a punch of Gospel-saturated truth. This is not your average fluffy-thought-for-the-day devotional book. Each day is an honest look into what is happening in your heart before re-directing your attention to the Savior who can meet your every need.
This year, our church planting team participated in two separate seasons of prayer and fasting with an 1) upward, 2) inward, and 3) outward focus. We pray upward to orient our attention toward God: His name, glory, power, holiness, goodness, faithfulness…the list goes on! We prayinward and ask God to reveal the sin we can’t see, to confess and repent, and to be reminded of the Gospel. And we pray outward, for God’s glory to be made known among the nations and those who are far from Christ.
Outside of this, make a list. Pray for specific needs within your family of friends. Pray for your church, Pastors, and leaders. Pray for needs within your city, state, country, and around the globe. Pray for persecuted believers across the world. Pray for those affected by humanitarian crises and resolve to help in some way. Pray for the salvation of lost friends and family. Ask God to align your desires with His will. The upward-inward-outward focus will help you develop a well-rounded prayer life and provide you with a useful framework to stay focused while praying.
These were my top 5 books for 2016 from the realm of Spiritual Growth and Christian living.
1) Habits of Grace by David Mathis
This book is a concise but rich overview of the spiritual disciplines. It is biblically rich but also very accessible and practical.
2) The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken
This will deepen your understanding of the globally persecuted church.
3) A Peculiar Glory by John Piper
This is one of Piper’s best and a great read for anyone interested in understanding the historical background, reliability, and scope of Scripture.
4) Jesus, Continued by J.D. Greear
Thispowerful reminder of the ministry of the Holy Spirit will encourage your faith and embolden you to attempt courageous work for God.
5) Why I am a Christian by John Stott
This very short work will give you a deeper understanding of God’s pursuit of you. I found myself in tears multiple times in a book that took me less than an hour to read as I was reminded of the unrelenting work of God to draw me into saving faith.
There will, most undoubtedly, probably be a time where you get two or three days behind. There will be passages of Scripture you don’t understand. But whatever you do, don’t beat yourself down and don’t give up!
There has never been an effective follower of Jesus who has not been grounded in the Word of God and serious prayer. None of us will come to the end of 2017 and say we wish we had spent less time in prayer and personal pursuit of God through His Word.
Even on the days we don’t feel like it, cling to the promise of knowing that God’s Word is always working even when our emotions tell us otherwise. It always accomplishes its purposes.
For 2017 let’s strive to say, along with Jonathan Edwards in his Resolutions:
“Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer.”