‘Practice makes perfect’ … if only! Practice, however, can become a habit, which if it becomes such an instinctive part of you reaps the fruit of all that hard work and discipline. This remains true, whether you’re David Beckham who notoriously stayed behind after normal training sessions to practise free kicks, or Katherine Grainger, who became Great Britain’s most decorated female Olympian of all time at the Rio 2016 Games. It is also true, not only in the realm of physical sport, but also in terms of spiritual health and growth.
Developing healthy spiritual practices is at the heart of everything connected with the Seventy-two Network, precisely because discipleship is at the core, or as Mike Breen has said, ‘mission without discipleship is like a car without an engine’. Spiritual practices are simply another way of talking about spiritual disciplines, which is the language of a previous generation. I’m less concerned with the language, more concerned about the outcomes. Practices are not the outcomes we’re all looking for. What we all long for, from the deepest, most sincere, parts of our being is a deepening of our relationship with God. There is no shortcut. True, we enter into this relationship without paying an entry fee, or providing a list of appropriate qualifications, but growth and development … any relationship of depth, demands sufficient quantity of time. So a growing relationship through prayer, listening to God’s word, willing obedience, embracing grace and in many other ways remain the means of our experiencing God’s grace and mercy and entering more fully into the ‘life in all its fullness’ Jesus makes available.
The discipleship cycle (listening to what God is saying, looking for where God is working, living out where God is calling, learning what God is embedding) provides a helpful framework, which helps us identify something of how we are engaging with Him. Does this look like the habits of your spiritual life? Why not practice during Advent?
Practicing for Christmas is a series of reflections for Advent, specifically designed to help anyone reflect on their practices, or lack of, by drawing on the experiences of the characters in the well-known stories surrounding the birth of Jesus.
This year ‘Practising for Christmas’ will be available via seventy-two.network. Simply click on the gold ‘Practising for Christmas’ box which will be available on the right hand side of the home page from the start of advent. You will then be able to sign up to get each day’s reflection sent straight to your email inbox.
Instructions on how to make the most of Practising for Christmas:
- Decide when you are going to set aside 10 minutes each day to read and begin to reflect on the passage and reflection for that day.
- Before you read the passage for the day pray: ask God to bring to the forefront of your mind whatever he wants to grab your attention with.
- Read the Bible (quietly, or out loud works best for me, or listening to David Suchet on the NIV Audio Bible) and then be quiet and still, at least until you something arising from the passage, grabs your attention.
- Whatever it is, write it down. It may just be one word, or a verse from the passage, or something else from your circumstances.
- Read the reflection. The main concern is to encourage everyone to engage personally with the word of God. The reflections, I hope will be useful prompts and another’s angle, but that’s all.
- Then ask the Lord what you need to see, or do, as a result of being made more aware of whatever it is. Again make a note, so ensuring you have a notebook, or a dedicated page on your i-pad, available is always helpful.