The events of the year 2020 will plague the thoughts of many people throughout the world for a very long time. And it’s not over. As we traverse into 2021, we bring with us the traumas and crises of the past year. At the top of the list: the COVID-19 pandemic. This single event has made 2020 the deadliest year in U.S. history with deaths predicted to reach more than 3 million before the year ends. The strain of this virus has taxed our national institutions, our families, our churches, and our hopes. And even though a vaccine has begun to be administered, experts advise it may be early summer 2021 before we return to some semblance of normalcy.
God did not exempt believers from the devastations of 2020. We have suffered through the impact of the coronavirus like everyone else in the world. Personally, I have lost several loved ones and friends who contracted COVID-19. Through it all, I managed to remain focused and doubled down on the practice of spiritual disciplines. I recognized that the response of believers to this deadly disease should be different, because it afforded us a great opportunity to “be still” and know the power of God in our lives and in the lives of people around us (Psalm 46:10).
Our heavenly Father desires a close walk with us, closer than many of us can imagine, and 2020 was the year to be still so we could pursue our God. The way to grow close to God in a pandemic is to use lock-down mandates to our advantage—be still and practice spiritual disciplines.
Though the phrase “spiritual disciplines” is not in the Bible, they were behaviors practiced by Paul and Jesus Himself. Notice how often they were engaged in prayer and how the study of the Word undergirded their ministries. The purpose of spiritual disciplines is to develop us spiritually so we can walk with God in an intimate relationship and be used by Him in the world around us. An intimate relationship with God requires that we be changed into the image of our Father (Colossians 3:9-10). Practicing spiritual disciplines is the way we change.
Whether we practiced spiritual disciplines during the still moments of 2020 or not, one thing is for sure: Because of the extreme nature of the events of 2020, our flesh is too weak to endure it all. Only the power of God can sustain us. Here are suggestions for incorporating two of the spiritual disciplines into our lives for the new year.
Set a Spiritual Standard.
Begin by determining the person you want to be in Christ. When your new life in Christ began, you were made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet some believers don’t move any further from that point in their spiritual growth. Church attendance and maybe an occasional Bible study or church event is the extent of one’s commitment. As a result, worldly attitudes and behaviors remain front and center. If this is you, make 2021 the year you move forward to begin your journey to spiritual maturity. If this is not you, make it a goal to grow even deeper in your walk with God in 2021.
Study Your Bible.
Spiritual growth does not happen in a vacuum. And attending church and Bible study once a week will not get the job done. There needs to be an intentional, set aside time when we can “be still” to study God’s Word. Neglecting this spiritual discipline results in a weak spiritual constitution and an inability to resist our sin nature. We need to take advantage of the overlooked blessing of the pandemic which is time to study the Word. Personal Bible study requires a discipline we were not born with. However, behaviors can change through an act of our will and just by saying yes to God. There is no replacement for the study of God’s Word.
The spiritual discipline that should come easy to believers is prayer. If we can talk, then we can pray, right? However, like the study of God’s Word, the prayer lives of believers are often anemic or nonexistent. The evidence of this can be seen in our churches, our families, and our own lives. “Prayer changes things” is not a cliché. Prayer is a very real behavior that can impact positively the pray-er and his or her world. This discipline is a face-to-face conversation we have with God. In doing so, we can develop a deep and meaningful relationship with Him. How can our relationship with God not grow when we are in conversation with the God of love who created us? He demonstrated His unconditional, sacrificial love for us. Now it’s our turn. We can show God our love by communicating with Him through prayer.
The new year will bring with it the same challenges of the old year. More than ever, as those who follow Christ, let us set our sights on God, so we can develop a closer and deeper walk with Him. It’s a simple measure to take; we just need to “be still” so we can practice spiritual disciplines. Through the spiritual disciplines of the study of God’s Word and prayer, we can stand strong despite the traumas around us. These disciplines will also empower us to represent God to those around us who are losing hope. They will see the meaningful relationship we have with the God who loves us more than we will ever know.