Back in the spring, I, like many other people, watched my calendar rapidly empty over the course of a few weeks due to COVID-19 lockdown. Determined to make the most of the disruption, I decided this was a great time to get a handle on my therapy schedule.
I do many different therapies – physical, occupational, auditory, voice – to tackle the various symptoms of my health condition. So many, in fact, that I often lose track of what I need to work on and end up neglecting one or more.
So, with most other engagements cancelled or postponed, I drew up a weekly therapy agenda, posted it on the refrigerator, and set about following it. I also drew up an alternative schedule to use when normal activities resume. Hopefully, when that calendar starts filling up again, I’ll have a habit in place that can withstand the busyness.
Therapy is important for me in the same way exercise is for the average person. Both put your body to work with the goal of maintaining its function and/or increasing its abilities. Regular, careful work helps ensure a body continues to nourish and use its parts, maximizing its potential. A body left to itself is not going to stay strong and healthy for long.
Our souls are similar to our bodies. If you’re a Christian, you begin your new life in Christ with a certain amount of faith – faith in what God has done for you through Jesus. That faith is there for you like a muscle that helps you get through life’s obstacles. But if you want to keep that faith healthy or make it stronger, you’ll need to exercise it – in good times and bad, whether you think you need it or not.
But how do you do that? Here are a few of the most basic yet important ways:
It sounds so simple, yet it’s vital. If you want to grow, or even stay healthy (dare I say, survive?) as a Christian, you’re going to have to pray. The Christian life begins with a prayer of repentance and faith, and we’re meant to continue living it in prayer.
Why is prayer such a big deal? Because prayer connects us to God. Yes, He’s always seeking us whether we pray or not. But until we reciprocate through prayer, we’ll always be nothing more than Pursuer and pursued. We’ll always miss out on the rich blessings of a two-way relationship with our Creator, who longs to be Friend, Parent, Shepherd, and so much more, all in One.
Remember the story of the prodigal son? The son never stopped being a son. But his sonship was basically meaningless and useless until he sought out his father and asked for grace.
Similarly, our adoption in Christ is going to mean very little in our practical, everyday lives until we seek our Father’s grace on a regular basis. In fact, the Bible identifies prayer as the key to accessing forgiveness and peace, among other things. And while He knows all about our needs and wants, He likes to be asked.
He might not give us everything we ask for. But the relationship created through prayer will sustain and change us more than anything else.
I know from experience that it can be easy to rush through prayers with half your mind on what you’ll do after you’ve said “amen”. Or to get so caught up in life – even a God-given mission – that you forget to pray until you need something.
You can scrape through life like this. But I have to say that I’ve lived fullest when I’ve prayed most intentionally – when I pay attention to every word and consider how much deeper or farther my prayers could go.
You don’t have to always pray something new. The Bible is full of prayers for every occasion, from doubt to grief to praise, as relevant today as they were when they were written, Use them when you need them. And many Christians have left prayers in the form of songs and poetry that can help those struggling for words.
Read the Bible with all your heart, mind, and soul
We’re told to love God with our entire being. If loving someone involves getting to know them, then I think it’s safe to say we should study the Bible with our entire being as well.
Why? Because the Bible is the best portrait of God that we have, short of Jesus Himself. Studying it grounds our perception of Him and ourselves.
With the wild array of experiences and emotions we go through, it’s easy to lose our spiritual bearings. How do we make sense of the world? What is God saying? What are we supposed to be doing?
The Bible offers us a compass for navigating such questions. It might not give us a nice, neat Q&A with direct, detailed instructions for every situation or query. But it shows us how God acts and what He values. It gives us principles we can prayerfully apply to how we think and live.
And as with any compass, it works best if consulted regularly. Don’t wait until you’re lost to check yourself – do it while your feet are still on known ground. Make it a habit, practiced regularly and often.
And while you read, give it your full attention. Learn how to navigate it. Explore every book. Read the footnotes. Look up cross-references. Study passages in their contexts. Ask its Author-Subject questions about it. Memorize it. Discuss it with wise Christian friends. Consider participating in a Bible study, alone or in a small group, to get familiar with some of its themes, background, and applications.
Personalize it. Put yourself inside the stories. Try to imagine how different characters felt experiencing the events firsthand. Ask yourself if you’ve ever faced something similar, and what you can learn and apply.
Remember: this is a Story you are a part of. It’s a story that continues and is relevant for today. Because the God who was there, acting then, is still here, acting now. His Word has shown us His plan for the world; we are living in that plan while He works to finish it.
Connect with other believers in Jesus’ name
Although our relationship with God is ours alone, it connects us with other believers in a deep, binding way. Nourishing those connections is vital to our spiritual health.
The apostle Paul compares believers to the various parts of a single body , whose head is Jesus. Jesus leads and sustains us all, but we must work together to fulfill His will for us.
We depend on each other for growth and support. An eye by itself might still be able to see, but it can’t hear or walk. In the same way, believers need each other if they want to be part of God’s work as they were meant to be.
But it goes even deeper. As Christians, we’re family. God is our parent. We can’t claim to be God’s children without acknowledging we’re brothers and sisters to God’s other children. And we can’t imitate our Parent’s example without loving our siblings – because He loves us all. Jesus actually tells His disciples that non-Christians should be able to recognize them by their love for each other.
Love is intentional. It reaches out and follows up. It celebrates together, mourns together, and seeks to understand so that it can build others up.
In times of social distancing, connection can seem difficult. The good news? Wherever we are, we have the Holy Spirit to connect us. And we can use whatever technology is available to check in with each other and encourage each other. And if we have Christian household members, we can worship and study together. Jesus Himself told His disciples that if even two people meet in His name, He is there with them.
And in any circumstances, we can pray for our fellow believers.
No, we aren’t saved by good works. But we were saved in order to do good works. Freed from the pressure of perfectionism, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are able to boldly go and serve others with the same sacrificial love we’ve been shown.
Service doesn’t have to be dramatic. It can be a prayer, a listening ear, an encouraging note, a quick errand. It can be patience in a tense moment, kindness in a painful moment, humility in an uncertain moment. It can be sharing the Gospel with someone who’s never heard it, or using our gifts for others’ benefit. Simply asking God each morning, “What do You want me to do today?” and then spending the day watchfully can open our eyes and hearts to opportunities to minister grace to a hurting world.
We were made for this, made to become more and more like Jesus, who gave up everything to gain everything for us undeserving humans. We were made to love our loving God, and one way we do that is by loving His other creatures.
Living our purpose nourishes our souls. It corrects our perspectives and places us right where we need to be, where we see God the clearest and experience Him the fullest.
It’s not always easy. And sometimes it hurts. But it’s the richest, most satisfying way to live. And the results – deeper faith and stronger relationships with God and His people, to name a few – last forever.
We Christians tend to emphasize the fact that we are saved by grace, with nothing more than faith required. And that’s certainly true.
I personally believe I have been forgiven of sin, have a restored relationship with God, and look forward to spending eternity with Him in a world made new – all because I decided to trust what Jesus did for me, and because God considered that trust sufficient.
But the Christian life is so much more than that one decision followed by a waiting game until eternity gets here. Faith is so much more than an idea, a ticket we tote around until we get to Heaven’s gate and present it for admittance.
Faith is a force that prompts us to action, to live like we believe Jesus died for us. If we yield to it, it will propel us all the way to eternity. If we stifle it, it will sputter and leave us stranded. We may still get to eternity, but we’ll be poorer and more battered than we need have been.
So let’s cultivate our faith. Let’s practice it (in every sense of the word) with the goal of keeping it healthy and making it strong. Relying on God’s grace and power, let’s ask Him to bless, fuel, and guide our efforts.
Let’s receive His grace with joy and then live it out in faith. And let’s support each other in our faith journeys.
Let’s get to work!
“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. … In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained.”
–Philippians 3:12-16 (CSB)