I know, I know, December is a little late for a post on how to survive 2020. After all, we are almost at the finish line! Soon we will be able to chalk this whole year up to hindsight. Get it? However, at much as we wish it were true, there is nothing magical about January 1, 2021 that will make all the stresses and pressures of 2020 go away. The coronavirus will still be here. Racial tension will still exist. The political situation . . . well I don’t see that getting resolved any time soon.
Here is what I have noticed in my own life and in the lives of others. Are you ready?
Whenever we are under extreme stress, we stop doing the very things best suited to help us cope.
Feeling down physically? Skip exercise and eat a pizza. Feeling down emotionally? Don’t talk with trusted friends, instead withdrawal and listen to sad music to make yourself sadder. The very things that promote health and well-being tend to be the first things we abandon under stress. Why? Because often these activities are geared towards long term gain and may involve short term pain. However, under stress, we want instant gratification. Give me short term feel good vibes, even if it doesn’t really help my situation.
This is true for us spiritually as well. There are a number of spiritual activities that are healthy for us. These exercises help us intentionally draw near to God. They help train our minds and hearts to focus on things above (Colossians 3:1-2), and they help us to put to death sinful habits, thoughts, and attitudes (Colossians 3:5-10). These spiritual disciplines are absolutely vital to help us navigate the waters of 2020 and whatever 2021 has in store for us. They are also some of the first things we abandon when the weight of the world starts pressing down on us.
Some Christian thinkers use the image of the trellis to describe the role that spiritual disciplines play in the Christian life. A trellis is a support system that lifts up a vine. As a grapevine spreads and bears fruit, gravity would like to pull it all down into the mud. Yet, for the grapes to grow properly, they need to be held up which is what the trellis provides. The spiritual disciplines are the trellis that help us withstand the world’s pressures and produce the fruit that God desires (Galatians 5:22-23; John 15:5).
So what are these spiritual disciplines that are so important? Here are the three most essential:
- Daily time in God’s Word — This can take different forms. Maybe you read a chapter a day. Maybe you have a more intensive time of study with commentaries and other tools. Maybe you focus on one passage to read slowly and prayerfully. However, you practice this discipline, it needs to be daily. Once a week on Sundays is simply not enough.
- Daily time with God — Honestly, our goal should be moment by moment awareness of God’s presence with us. However, that develops as our relationship with God grows. It starts by setting aside regular time to spend with God in prayer. Sometimes we are talking. Sometimes we are listening. Sometimes we are simply sitting still with God enjoying His presence in silence. Make time with God a priority in your life, not something to put aside to do when you have nothing better going on or when life gets too hard and you realize you need help.
- Community — You need time with other people. Even us introverts need to crawl out of our caves and engage with others. Yes, there is a pandemic going on, but we are blessed to live in a time with so many forms of technology to aid communication. If you do not have a regular group of people you meet with regular to discuss life and faith and who encourages you in your walk with God, you will fail. Too harsh? Look around. 2020 is kicking our butts. If we try to face all of this alone, we will be crushed. God has given us a family to support and encourage each other. We do not have to do this by ourselves.
If we want to be like Jesus, we must learn to live as He lived. We see through His life that these three disciplines were at the core of His life. He knew God’s Word, enough to quote it in an instant. He would often withdraw for time of prayer with the Father, but then He would return to the community of the disciples. It is His Spirit that empowers us to do the same, but we must do our part daily. So start today, not tomorrow, not someday. Start today doing what you need to do.