2021 is only a few days away. In the past few weeks, we have been discussing Paul's admonition to the young pastor Timothy, "Rather train yourself for godliness" (1 Tim. 4:7, ESV). We have examined various spiritual disciplines, those means the have been provided by our gracious God to help us be more like His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 8:28-29).
These disciplines include the reading and studying of Scripture, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, and silence and solitude. One can easily see the discipline required to engage in each one of these. It is certainly not easy, nor is it left to spontaneity. It requires diligence in preparation as much as in execution.
My goal in this post is to encourage you to (if you have not already) make preparations for 2021. I will list out a few suggestions. This list will not be exhaustive. However, I hope it stirs your soul and gets your thinking juices flowing so that 2021 can be a year that you become more like Jesus.
The first thing you should do to prepare for spiritual growth in 2021 is to set goals. These goals should be practical. For example, if you are not regularly reading your Bible, you probably do not want your 2021 goal to be reading the Bible through three times. A more manageable goal would be to read through the New Testament.
In setting your goals, be holistic as possible. By this I mean to keep the goal in focus. Our goal in the spiritual disciplines is Christlikeness (or, godliness, as Paul puts it). Thus, your Scripture reading should aid you in that goal. You are not reading Scripture for Scripture's sake. You are reading Scripture to be more like Jesus Christ.
If you are planning on fasting, then plan to fast to be more like Christ. If you are plan to have time in silence and solitude, then do so to be more like Jesus.
If you have not engaged in any spiritual discipline, then I would suggest starting one or two. Focus on those for the whole year, and then in 2022 (if the Lord wills), add another one.
These goals should be written down. Place them in your Bible for frequent access and reminding. Ask your spouse or close friend to keep you accountable. Share with others how the spiritual discipline is helping you conform to the image of Christ.
Finally, these goals should be adjustable. If, after two months, you find that the spiritual discipline is not furthering the work of God in your life, perhaps you need to evaluate it. There is a potential that you do not understand that particular practice, and so you may need to do some more reading and reflecting. Or, you may need someone to sit down with you and help you work through it. Either way, do not feel like your goal is in cement. It can (and should, depending on the case), be adjusted. We are not disciplining ourselves for disciplines' sake, we are disciplining ourselves for Christ's sake.
As we consider the process of becoming more like Jesus, we need to realize that it requires faithfulness. That is, determine now to be as faithful as possible. Will there be failures? Of course! Will there be days (even weeks) where you do not want to engage in that discipline? Yes, you will.
Failure is a part of fallenness. We do not need to use this as an excuse, but we do want to acknowledge this. With that said, we must determine to be faithful. Make a commitment to follow the disciplines you have selected all year. If you hit a brief period where you fail, renew your commitment to practice them, and move on.
The last encouragement I want to offer you is to hang on! If you commit to practicing the spiritual disciplines, and you make it your goal to be like Christ, you will grow. It is nothing something that should surprise you.
There is a paradoxical aspect of growing in holiness that we must remember. As we grow into the image of Christ more, we often realize how sinful we are. That is, the closer we get to God, the more of our wickedness we see. It is like entering a dark room. The absence of light prevents us from seeing anything on the floor or the walls. If we have a small candle we can see some trash on the floor. If we use a cell phone light, we may see more trash and a few bugs scattering away. If we turn on the LED lights, we can see all the filth. We see the trash, the roaches, and the rodents. Likewise, as we embrace the holiness of God in our daily lives, we will observe our wickedness.
It may move from outward, sinful actions to inward, sinful thoughts. This should not discourage us, rather, it should encourage us! We are growing in godliness, and as such more of the sin in our lives will be rooted out and replaced with the righteousness of Christ.
While 2020 has been a wild year, hopefully, you have grown in godliness. As we quickly approach 2021, we can being preparing for training in godliness now!