I remember the doxology by heart.
When I was growing up, the congregation of my church sang it after every offering:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
At some point, the congregation switched out that song for another, but despite not having sung it in two decades I still recall it exactly and how it sounded, sung, in the sanctuary of that church.
What we repeat, what we practice, leaves an indelible mark.
Our spiritual formation doesn’t happen by accident. It is, of course, sparked by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. On the most fundamental level, we should recognize that God does the work of change and renewal in every believer. Our own efforts, without the Spirit, would avail us little in the way of growth.
But to be receptive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, to grow spiritually, we have to be willing to put in the time, effort, and discipline. As Beth Moore put it quite memorably on Twitter:
“I’m not much of a New Year’s resolution person but I do thoroughly believe in planning and preparing to live in pursuit of God & Christlikeness, in pursuit of love, faith & joy in a coming year. Our natural default is to sow to the flesh. We won’t sow to the Spirit by accident.”
We don’t magically grow closer to God by default. Or, as Tish Harrison Warren puts it in Liturgy of the Ordinary, we are what our habits make us. We are what we do most. We are what we revere—and what we revere can be identified by where we choose to spend our time and energy.
So, on the cusp of the New Year, what has been making you who you are? What do you want to change? Where do you want to grow?
I wanted to share three questions I try to ask myself as I enter the new year to shape my spiritual practices moving forward. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you, too:
- What holds power over you? What do you worry, anguish about, or brood on the most? Who do you most worry about impressing? Where do you most worry about failing? Where do you spend the bulk of your time, effort, and energy? In the answers to those questions is often a clue about what really motivates you. For me, it’s my work more often than I would like: I want to do a good job in order to be praised and to accomplish more, and I want to impress my boss, and I want to be seen as an expert and an up-and-comer in my field. For others it might be a fear of death or a fear of failure that holds power over you, or it might be a specific person, a hobby, or even a device (do you worship your phone?)
As Christians, we submit to God. Submitting to other things like those mentioned above can be a sign of sin (for me, the workplace stuff is tied up with a lot of pride) and a sign of idolatry (again: do you worship your phone with your time and your energy?)
This question often holds a hint, to me, about what priorities need to shift, where boundaries need to exist in my life, and where I need extra spiritual help.
- Who is the best you? Imagine the kind of believer you want to be. I don’t mean I wish I was like Paul or I wish I was like my aunt Sue. Considering your own talents, abilities, resources, passions, desires, and understanding, what does the best Christian version of you look like? What might your daily life look like if you were focused solely on God and His glory? What would change in your relationships, your behaviors, your choices? How does that differ from now-you?
Envisioning where we could be, with a little effort and energy, is far more fruitful than envying what others are that we aren’t. It can also give us a sense of what we need to move forward with God in our lives. This question can get you at the heart of where you want or need to go and grow. What are areas that need to be addressed? Where do you want to improve? How can you become more like the you God has placed a desire in you to be?
- Where is your delight? God is good and giving, and God delights in our delight. Where does your deep joy come from? Is it from spending time with family? A hobby, a habit? Long walks? Pets? A really good cup of coffee?
I think it’s worth integrating and appreciating these joys, even the small ones, in our lives. Really appreciating what you possess is an antidote to greed and envy, a reminder of God’s presence, and a good way to stay in the present moment with the Lord. And sometimes finding your deep desire can also be a way to discern God’s will and God’s gifts in your life: these little surprises can lead to unexpected places.
When I triangulate those three questions, I usually come up with a series of practices that I’d definitely like to continue and develop, and a few things I’d like to stop doing. Much like Moore, I don’t make resolutions, per se, but being conscious of the habits I want to develop and the person I want to be for Christ—being mindful that I will be formed by the culmination of my influences, either by my own choice or otherwise—makes a world of difference to how I approach daily life. I hope it might for you, too.
I’ll see you in 2021, and by the grace of God, we’ll pray it will be a better year for all than the last.