It seems to be this kind of a trendy thing to list “The 10 things…” or “23 Things to Do”, or the “Top 10 Movies”. Here is my contribution with fourteen things to do in the next year to care for your soul. I’ve tried to make them brief and not cheesy. Also, keep this in mind. I don’t expect anyone to take all of these to heart. Go ahead and pick one or two and run with those! Here we go…
14. Read a book from “old, dead” writers. While modern books abound, let me suggest that this year you take some time to read something harder, something that demands your attention, something to read a bit slower. C.S. Lewis suggested that there is sort of a modern snobbery in thinking that everything “old” is somehow out of date. I would suggest that the older spiritual writers had much to say about the state of our soul and how the Christian life is much more than a ten-step program. My suggestion is starting with Devotional Classics or Spiritual Classics both by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith. These books provide a series of short readings from the spiritual writers down through the centuries. There are even questions at the end to clarify your own heart.
13. Regularly get out and serve the poor and disenfranchised. Besides benefiting others, serving the poor is actually be good for your own soul.
12. Turn off your phone and computer to actually learn how to observe a Sabbath. This one is harder than it seems. The honest truth is that there should be regular times when I am off the grid and not available for anyone else other than God.
11. Spend time thinking deeply about how much consumerism has affected you. Think about living with a little less and giving away a little bit more. Contentment is essential virtue in this day and age of more, better, and faster.
10. Sit down and enjoy a good meal with friends. Have you ever noticed how fast you actually eat? There is something about enjoying your meal as a gift from God. And do this with friends, which is a wonderful picture of fellowship!
9. Take a breather from clichés or even statements that sound good or spiritual but mean nothing. What am I talking about? It can be as inane as, “I’m busy” or “Fine”, when people ask how you are. Learn to be honest with friends when they ask and don’t be in such a hurry!
8. Focus on one sin of the heart for an extended time. This one is a bit longer… We have this preoccupation with getting as much Christian content as we can – books, sermons, online, Bible studies. These are all good and we should not cease to learn as much as we can. However, what it can do is make is an inch deep and a mile wide. If the goal of this teaching is to get the hearers to apply, you know what happens… we make all sorts of application to our lives with nothing ever “sticking”. Thomas à Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ that it’s better to focus on one sin for an entire year and get to the root of the sin in one’s heart. In that way, à Kempis says that we will find our progress in spiritual growth will be much fuller and fruitful.
7. Mentor someone else. If discipleship is largely missing in the church today, then those of you who have been discipled by another, look for someone at church to take under your wing.
6. Join a small (or smaller) group! The Christian life was not meant to be lived alone but rather with others. As I heard one church say, as good as the worship service on Sunday morning is, spiritual growth is more effective face to face, than it is shoulder to shoulder.
5. Take in a movie that actually makes you think. While we all like the romantic comedies or action thrillers, there is something good about taking in a movie that gets you to think and then discuss with others. Look for themes that speak to the average person’s heart, themes that are universal. Then talk about the connection of those existential longings or emotions to the gospel. Look at the arc of the story, the plot twists, the dilemma that needs resolution, and how the conflict is solved. How does this mesh with God’s overarching narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration in human history?
4. Commit to reading through the Bible in a year. There are many resources out there…. How bout starting with Pastor Lionel’s Lectio Divina! Begin each day prayerfully – something like the sinner’s prayer, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner” or even Peter’s words in John 6:68, “Jesus, where else will I go, for you have the words of real life, eternal life.” Read with interest not looking for facts, listening to the Lord as you read.
3. Begin to think of and treat your immediate surroundings (work, neighborhood, and coffee houses) as places where God has placed you to represent Him well. Prayerfully enter into these spaces and looking for opportunities God places before you.
2. Regularly think about your life in the context of the two great commandments – to love God fully with all of who you are and to love others with as much attention as you give to yourself. What does it mean to treat God and others as an end in themselves and not as a means to get something else with no sense that they must reciprocate toward you?
1. Take an extended spiritual retreat at a monastery or Abbey. Check with someone who has taken one before to help you plan a weekend away with God in order to care for your soul.