But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13
Athletes know that if you stop exercising you will quickly lose muscle and turn from performer to spectator. Similarly, we lose our spiritual muscle if we don’t exercise our Faith.
As we examine our self-assessment priorities from our Reflection, different spiritual challenges are often highlighted. Many of the elements are things we could be doing every day to exercise our faith, and these actions are great to take in order to advance your spiritual growth.
For me, these actions included:
- Participating in regular prayer – At a set time each day (some set regular alarms), before specific events (like meals, bedtime), For me, it was the shower where I chose to formally give thanks for all my blessings, especially my two daughters, petition Him for help in my troubles and healing for others.
- Having regular conversations with God – Whenever you have a question or need guidance and help for yourself or someone else, you can have a casual conversation with God about whatever is on your mind or weighing on your heart. Although I prayed at least once a day, having casual conversations, and even asking and posing questions throughout the day outside of my formal prayer time wasn’t a natural for me in my spiritual practice, and is still an area I am working on improving. Just like you usually don’t have to setup a formal meeting with your dad, similarly, you don’t have to keep your meetings and conversations with the Father formal.
- Regularly read the Word – It is important to be in the living word of the Bible for learning and guidance. Initially, I download a bible app, You Version and every day I get the daily verse and participate in the learnings and scripture from a Plan or two around topics I am struggling with – Grieving, Anxiety, Change, etc. Others in our bible study read a Chapter a day at a set time, when they first wake up or go to bed. I am still working up to reading every day. And I also sought out books and audible recordings to help – works by Oswald, CS Lewis and others, to help see how they interpreted, vetted and grew their own Faith.
- Participate in regular Bible studies – Meeting regularly with a group of men or women to discuss the Word, learn from others, and discuss can be helpful in being able to understand and live the Word. I was recommended to a twice a week Bible study from one of my widower brothers, and participating was incredibly enlightening. Each week we read a different passage, one day old, the other new testament, and discuss the history, theology and meaning, Best, we share personal stories related to the Word and the lessons we have learned or how we’ve applied the learnings to our life.
- Have a spiritual mentor – Have one or a couple of people within your circle who you can meet with, call and discuss in more detail your spiritual and life struggles, and who are along enough in their journey as to be able to provide guidance.
- Regularly attend church – Learning from a good pastor who can take the Word and make it applicable to your life, for me intellectually, and celebrating your spirituality with others is important, and this is what I enjoy most about attending church most every week. It is a great way to start the week, in Faith.
- Regularly serve the church – Every church needs hands to help with each service and especially to serve others. Getting involved in service can be a great restorative practice. I am new to my church and haven’t gotten involved in service yet, but this is next on my actions list to accomplish!
For me, taking these actions was a great start and my Faith was improving, but something was still missing. I was learning a lot and sharing, leveraging this set of outside-in spirituality growth elements, but I needed to address a barrier in my growth – myself.
I only got so far in reading the word and attending church. My spiritual growth wasn’t progressing past a certain point without addressing the inside-out, dealing with inherent guilt and regrets of the past, stress over the present, and anxiety over the future. If I didn’t address these, no matter how much action I took, I was held back, like by an anchor, and at times I even regressed as a new memory or anxious moment trigger was realized.
Working from an inside-out approach includes:
- Allowing grace for yourself – You are enough. Referring to the Grace section, work on overcoming your triggers first, then resolving what you are beating yourself up over.
- Asking for forgiveness of your sins – Make a list of every single one of the sins you can remember from your past (my list was quite long!) – For each of these, one by one, say out loud: “Lord please forgive me for …”
- Forgiving others – Make a list of each person you believe has done you wrong, and what they did to hurt you (this list wasn’t as long but was significant). For each say: “I forgive NAME for EVENT / ISSUE …”
- Asking questions about the present challenges you are facing and for guidance on your best next step
- Seeking guidance on the future and know that you are in His good hands and He knows what you need and has your best interests in heart.
The journey for me started with a men’s retreat and a walk in the woods.
I started with the regrets and guilt from the past. For me, this list of golden oldies from the past was quite long the first time through and was intimidating to say the least. Don’t be frightened if your list is similarly long, and really give it some thought so that you are addressing everything possible – not just from the recent past, but going way back. Dig and try to get each out. For each regret and guilty issue on the list, I say out loud – “Lord please forgive me for …”
To clear the past, next I needed to create a list as to those I believed did me wrong, who I believed have sinned against me, and forgive them for these actions. For each person on the list, I say out loud – “NAME, I forgive you for ….”. This forgiveness of others is not providing a free pass for their sins and wrongs, or removing a boundary, and is certainly not done for their benefit. The forgiveness of others is meant for you to let go, and for your benefit.
Next, it was time for me to address the struggles of the present, I thought about some questions I had about my current life situation, relationships with my daughters and potential partners, and the apprehensions about the future. I asked God general questions about each, and for specific guidance and specific signs as to my best next steps. I also worked to acquiesce my feelings to always control the situation ( I am definitely a control enthusiast), and surrendered my anxiety about the future to His will.