I really enjoy the Christmas season. In fact, Thanksgiving and Christmas all seem like one big holiday. It’s crazy that Christmas is around the corner and New Year’s is already upon us. You know what that means. It’s time to make resolutions for the new year. As much as I enjoy worshipping our Savior and Lord, spending time with people I love, and eating lots of good food and sweet treats, I really do not enjoy New Year’s resolutions because 1) I don’t keep them and 2) go back to #1. We often start off well and then drop off somewhere in the cold and dark abyss of February. Sometimes we don’t even get started because we just wait too long. I mean, who wants to start out the new year already behind?
Unfortunately, this is often our approach to starting off spiritually as well. We start out with good intentions but give up after a short time. So with this in mind, we have intentionally planned a 3-week, churchwide time of fasting. We’re not planning to fast for the rest of our lives but only for 21 days. We encourage everyone to start off 2022 with an intentional time of fasting and feasting.
FASTING FROM THE GOOD TO FEAST ON THE BETTER
First, we are fasting, or going without something, for a spiritual reason. You can fast from food, technology, or anything else that competes with your time with the Lord. This could be skipping one meal a day for 3 weeks, going 24 hours without eating once a week, deleting social media apps for the entire duration, cutting out movies/TV/shows for the entire time or limiting screen time to certain days of the week. Keep in mind that we are not just talking about fasting from sinful things (we should be doing that already!). We are talking about fasting from good gifts from the Lord that could potentially keep us from spending time with Him.
Second, we are not just fasting for its own sake. You’ve probably heard the axiom, “Good is the enemy of great.” Well, we are fasting from the good in order to feast on something better—God Himself. The spiritual reason for fasting is to reorient our hearts from the chaotic holiday season back to feasting on God and His Word. Whatever you are going without, fill that time with intentional time with the Lord. Maybe it’s spending more time in prayer. Maybe it’s picking up a plan to read or memorize the Bible. Maybe you quit listening to the talk radio and podcast and fill that time with listening to uplifting sermons or worship music.
PRACTICAL STEPS TO GET STARTED
There are any number of things you can go without in order to intentionally fill that time with the Lord. Just think to yourself, “What is something in my life that competes with spending time with the Lord?” The answer to that question is something from which you could potentially go without for 3 weeks. When you have something in mind, then you can begin to make a plan to grow in the Lord.
Engage the Word of God
There are many Bible reading plans ranging from a few days in one chapter to reading the whole Bible. Whatever you do, have a plan. Here are some great plans to get you started:
Read the entire Bible section by section — This plan takes you through the entire Bible in a year by reading four sections each day from the Psalms/Wisdom, Pentateuch/Israelite History, Chronicles/Prophets, and Gospels/Epistles. The BibleProject has great Book Overview videos that are tremendously helpful in making sense of individual books of the Bible. You can follow along on the YouVersion Bible app. You can also modify this plan to read through the Bible in 2 years by reading 2 chapters each day instead of 4 chapters.
Read the entire Bible chronologically — This plan takes you through the Bible in the events as they happened rather than topically as the books are traditionally arranged. You can follow along on the YouVersion Bible app. When reading through the Bible chronologically, I find it helpful to use a Bible Timeline to help keep the storyline in order. This plan also has devotional material for those who want more of a guided reading of the Scriptures.
Read the Major Storyline of the Bible — This plan takes you through select passages of the Bible to give you the overall story of the Bible. It does not cover the entire Bible but comes out to about 260 actual days of reading. You will read 1-2 chapters per day for 5 days with 2 days for rest or make up days. It is also on the YouVersion Bible app.
Chrono-Harmonic-Ecclesiocentric Bible Reading Plan – This is the plan Sam is doing this year, not just because it sounds so fancy. It is mainly chronological, except that it starts the NT reading earlier in the year and alternates back and forth. Additionally, it leaves Sunday open for reading the sermon text, which is an excellent practice for any Christian
Whatever you do, have a plan. Plan to read a chapter a day. There is nothing inherently wrong with turning to a random place in the Bible each day and reading, but it helps to have a plan. Simply reading straight through books of the Bible provides structure.
Make a Plan to Pray
Below are a few practical ways to cultivate communion with God.
Pray out loud for 15 minutes every day, either at once or throughout the day. Put away your phone or other distractions.
Pray a Psalm each day. You can simply start by praying Psalm 1 on the first day, Psalm 2 on the second day, and so on. This way you will also have something to pray about. As you are praying, ask the Lord to bring requests to your mind, and then pray the specific verse or passage accordingly. Five Psalms app is a helpful resource.
Keep track of prayer requests on note cards or a prayer app. An alternative to making a prayer list (by the way, lists are completely fine) is to write prayer requests on individual note cards. This will help you to focus on one prayer request at a time rather than having an overwhelming list. And, as an added perk, you can easily update prayer cards by making a new one. You can also put answered prayers in a separate pile to revisit for encouragement that God does answer prayer. You can also use various prayer apps on your phone to keep track. But remember, your phone doesn’t pray for you. So set reminders to pray throughout the day or whatever you need to do to actually pray.
Additional Ways to Intentionally Invest in Spiritual Growth
- Memorize the Bible using Fighter Verses.
- Meditate and ponder on a passage of Scripture.
- Start a journal and write down what you are learning from your daily Bible reading and prayer time.
- Go on a prayer retreat.
- Get together and pray with other people.
- Study a specific book of the Bible at a greater depth.
- Seek to grow in a specific area of the Christian life by taking up and reading gospel-rich resources on that topic.
- Expand your mind by taking a free class from biblicaltraining.org or TGC Courses.
Whatever you plan to do, keep in mind that it’s not just about checking a box but growing in the Lord. Seek the Lord to fellowship, not to finish. It can be easy to fall into a mindset of doing, doing, doing. Remember, we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). We love God by reading His Word and bringing our requests to Him because He first initiated that love with us. We love others, especially in the holiday season, because God first loved us. We do not fast and feast to prove our love and worth as God’s children. Jesus already did that on our behalf. We are called children of God through faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:26-27), not by keeping or failing to keep our spiritual resolutions. That frees us up to grow in the Lord out of love and not obligation. Fear and guilt are decent motivators, but love is an even greater one. So let the grace of God motivate us in 2022!