We’re only a few days into 2016 and I’m sure that many of us have made resolutions for the coming year. This is the year everything is going to change, right?
But as we’ve all experienced at some point and on some level the change we seek–that deep, real, seismic change–eludes us. I’ve only ever been able to rearrange the furniture in my dilapidated house, so to speak. For real change to come, I need to be willing to raze the entire structure and let it be rebuilt brick by brick. I need reconstruction, not resolutions.
The only Person I know who can do this well and with a minimal amount of damage (because there will be damage) is God, who sees who we are and loves us! Every choice to pursue a dynamic day-to-day life with God instead of my own self-
salvation improvement project is like a jackhammer, knocking down walls and removing blight. There is no way I can benchmark God’s progress or measure the result, just as there is no way I can sound the depths of his love for me. I can only keep saying yes and making more room for God. The only resolution I’ve made that has mattered has been to be loved by God and to love God as best I can. And we can make this resolution any day and every day.
But how do we make more space for God in our lives without it turning into a chore? Here are some ways and resources that I’ve found helpful–and I have seen my heart and life change as a result. Feel free to take what works and leave behind what doesn’t.
Why read the Bible? If we take it to be true that “the word of God is alive and active” then engaging with it regularly must do something. I have found that the daily reading of and meditating on scripture somehow gets inside of me and the more I read and absorb, the more those truths come to me when I most need it. Every moment I embrace one of those truths allows God to jackhammer at the hard and stony places at my heart.
A few years ago one of my mentors turned me on to this Bible reading plan by Professor Grant Horner. This plan has everything: it is highly adaptable, contextual, and easy to use. You read 10 chapters a day in total (or, I like to do split them and do five a day) from different categories of Biblical literature: the gospels, the books of the law, Paul’s letters, other letters/Revelation, Wisdom literature/poetry, Psalms, Proverbs, history, Prophets, and Acts. Every month or so you will read through Acts and Proverbs and if you keep going with the cycle, you will eventually read several books many times.
Tip: Pray before reading. Read for enjoyment. If something jumps out at you, write it down and use that as the basis for a meditation or journal reflection.
Maybe this is the year you delve deeper into scripture through a Bible study. I can’t recommend Beth Moore’s Breaking Free or Jesus, the One and Only more. Yes, they are both geared toward women, but they are practical and effective. I feel like I know Jesus so much more as a result of her studies.
Tip: You’ll probably get more out of a Bible study if you do it with friends!
For the past eight years, I’ve regularly journaled my prayers. I am comfortable with out-loud praying, but have found that it is easier to put down my prayers in writing. It provides a means of gratitude as I can look back over years and see how God has answered prayer. So if you are not comfortable with praying out loud, even by yourself, you might want to consider a prayer journal.
Maybe you’re more of a liturgical sort of person or at a loss for what to pray. The Book of Common Prayer offers morning and evening prayers, as do the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. And I’ve recently begun to use John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer when I feel a bit stuck.
But over the past couple of years I’ve realized that rather than approaching prayer as a means to listen to God, I would dominate the conversation, partly because I just didn’t know how to be still and listen. Here are some ways to do that:
Lectio Divina: This is an ancient practice that involves allowing the Spirit to help us listen to scripture. It’s a great blend of Bible reading and prayer. Here is a step-by-step guide to Lectio Divina from a Catholic perspective. For those of you who are uncomfortable with having an icon or holy image on which to fix your gaze, I suggest using a candle (or scrapping it–it’s not a necessary part of the practice).
Centering Prayer: Sit in a comfortable position with your feet on the floor. I like to do this with my hands out, palms up in a position of receptivity. I will either light a candle and focus on the flame and my breathing or I will close my eyes and contemplate a short scripture verse (i.e. inhale: I am my Beloved’s, exhale: And my Beloved is mine) for 5-10 minutes at a time. If your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to focus. The point of this exercise isn’t necessarily to hear God within that time period, but to sort of prep yourself to hear God throughout your day.
Tip: Don’t get locked into the concept of a morning “quiet time.” That might be what you need to discipline yourself to do these practices, but may not go with your natural rhythm. Also, life with God is so much more than a morning Bible-reading session followed by a hasty prayer. God is present with us every moment of the day. What would life be like if we were constantly awake to God’s presence in our lives? These are all practices that can be done throughout the day (centering prayer in particular).
This is an exciting journey we’re on! May I offer a prayer for us as we go?
Loving Father, we don’t know how to pray as we ought; teach us to pray. What a crazy thought that you love us! That the God of all the universe, is so intimately concerned with our lives that he bottles our tears and records our tossings. What an even crazier thought that connecting with us pleases you! Would you awaken us to this truth? We confess that we do not love you as we ought and we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves. We confess that we need your help in order to simply live with you. We repent for the ways we shut you out of our lives, for the false gods we worship, and the feast we forego every time we choose our own way. Please forgive us. Thank you for the new mercies you will provide every day this year. Please help us to perceive and receive them, to see and hear and know you more. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.