Ready. Aim. Shoot.
If you aim at nothing you will hit it everytime. Aim at something and you’ll have a chance to hit it sometime. Even if you often miss at least you’re aiming at something. Many years have come and gone since I started following Jesus. Too many of these years have been repeats. I mean, for too many of these years I was not sure if I grew at all. I had no plan to help me evaluate my spiritual growth or to focus on growth in the year ahead. 2012 will not be one of those years for me. I pray also it will not be one of those years for you.
By framing spiritual growth as a personal responsibility, I dont mean to imply that transformation is our responsibility. The reality is the Holy Spirit is the one who transforms us into Christ-likeness and, at times, he works alone. However, the Bible is clear about our participation in our own transfomation (see Romans 12:1-2; Galtians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
My theme for my spiritual growth plan this year is living the gospel. Colossian 2:6 encourages this: “As you have received the Lord Jesus, so live in him.” Receiving Jesus requires repentance and trust. Living in Jesus requires the same.
I used to think that the gospel is only a set of statements about salvation, but now I see that the gospel is more than our personal salvation. Salvation is the result of Jesus living out the gospel. However, the Gospel includes the facts that God created a world that has gone bad and has turned against him. God is taking charge again over his creation. He started by picking a people to live under his beautiful and wise rule. He gave them kings and prophets and priests to be in charge for him. But all the kings and the kings’ men couldn’t put this fallen humpty dumpty together again. Finally, God came himself to take charge and redeem his creation. In Jesus Christ he took charge over his creation in love. The Gospels show us king, Jesus, in charge, defeating his archenemy, the Satan, sacrificing, being killed, buried, and rising again to prove his kingship. One day when his work is complete he’ll return. The Gospels tell us what the gospel is. Meanwhile we’re to live this gospel out in our individual lives and in our communities of faith.
The spiritual growth plan I share with you is simple and personal. I don’t mean for you to adopt it, unless you think you should. If you find some things helpful, use them. If not, devise a plan with your personality in mind.
My plan for 2012 looks something like this:
First, I will immerse myself in the Gospels to get the gospel under my skin. The Gospels are the best way of understanding the gospel. They are called Gospels because those who received them thought they were the gospel. Each of them shows how God in the flesh lived among us, revealing his will, taking charge of his world by healing, teaching, establishing his rule. I will let this gospel of Jesus himself get under my skin and shape my heart.
To get at this, I will repeatedly read the Gospels this year. Here’s how I’ll do it. The first three months, I’ll spend with Jesus as Matthew reveals him. From April-June I’ll let Mark help me understand the Gospel from his point of view. July-September is Luke’s turn to form my life in the Gospel. John will shape my Gospel living from October-December.
I will read each Gospel once in one sitting. The gospel were not meant to be read one chapter or verse at a time. They were ment to be savored all at once. So I will carve out time the first week of January, the first week of February, and the first week of March to read Matthew in one sitting. That should take about an hour or two. I’ll do the same for the other Gospels. I will read Mark the first week of April, May, and June, Luke, the first week of July, August, and September, and John the first week of October, November, and December. For weeks 2 to 4 I will read each Gospel slowly and prayerfully.
Three questions will guide my reading with paper and pen close by. First, I want to know what was Jesus passionate about? I will constantly evaluate and align my own life with Jesus’ deep desires. Second, how will I love my neighbor the way I come to believe Jesus wants to love him through me. Third, how is God taking charge of this world and my world change the way I see things? If you have another plan, go ahead and use it. The important thing is to excecute the plan.
Second, I will keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a specific day each week where I will focus on worship and rest. This is very challenging given how busy life can be. I have come to believe, however, that my life is poorer not richer for being too busy. The early Christians conflated two days (a Jewish day: the Sabbath, and a Christian day: resurrection day or the first day of the week) into one: a day of rest and a day of worship. A day to cultivate holiness, and a day to let me realize that God is in charge of my life again. So one day a week I will cease from labor and I will worship. The Sabbath commands in Scripture are associated with creation and work and with holiness and worship. What does that look like in practice?
To rest I will cease from working on the Sabbath. I will put the electronics away. I will not strive produce anything. This will rest my body and my soul. I will spend time with loved ones, enjoying any number of soul nourishing activities, such as reading, talking, walking, cooking (for me cooking is restful), and the like. And doing good! Any activity that nourishes me and expresses love toward others is fair game.
Along with ceasing from work, I will keep the Sabbath holy. That means the Sabbath is the day set aside for worship in community or with other Christ followers. It’s a day to pray extensively. It’s a day to take prayer walks, pay attention to how God has been working in my life and around me. Each week I’ll remember that God is holy and to cultivate a deeper understanding of holiness, of being set apart for God’s purpose.
The formation of our lives in Christ happens by the power of the Holy Spirit and with our participation. I know the Holy Spirit will do his part. Those who walk with the Master will also do their part in learning to live the Gospel. I invite you to plan your spiritual journey this year and to track your progress in imitating Christ of living the gospel and in keeping the Sabbath holy.
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