Forget New Year resolutions and try these seven mini-adventures that should enrich your life and deepen your spiritual walk.Most New Year resolutions revolve around losing weight, taking exercise or dropping a bad habit. It’s a great idea to take stock at the end of the old year and at the start of the new. Here are seven alternative mini-adventures to do in 2007 that will enrich your life.
1 - Keep a Spiritual JournalKeeping a written record of your spiritual journey can be a powerful, surprising and encouraging spiritual discipline. If you are like me, you are quick to forget answers to prayer. Writing down what you are consistently praying for and then making a note of what happens, will help you to look back and remember the ways God has intervened in your life and situations you pray into.
But your journal can be much more than a record of prayer requests. Many use journals to record their personal responses to everyday experiences. Jot down lessons you learn, scripture verses that speak powerfully to you, significant conversations, spiritual insights that God gives you as you pray, read scripture, worship, listen to a sermon etc. Also jot down the ways God uses you – the opportunities to witness and share your faith. Write down what spiritual gift you are asking God to give you or stretch you in e.g. prophecy. Keep a record of the times you believe God is speaking to you/revealing a word, picture etc. Your journal does not necessarily need to be a daily record – some prefer to use it to record particular highlights or tough times. You could choose a cheap notebook from High Street stationers, but most prefer to select an attractively bound book. Or you could choose specific ‘Spiritual Journal’ notebooks available from Christian bookstores that include Bible verses and other prompts. One example, My Daily Walk 2007 (Abingdon Press/Alban Books), is a calendar and journal with a female friendly design and costs £8.99 (ISBN 06874729).
2 - Visit an art galleryMany of the best paintings represent an attempt by artists to capture the essence of a Bible story or some other spiritual truth. Since many national art galleries are free – don’t make the mistake of spending all day at an art gallery – after a while the pictures blur in your mind and start to lose their impact. Limit your visit to no more than 90 minutes. Instead of trying to look at the whole collection – focus on a few and really look at some of the pictures. Let your eyes feast on the work, look for detail, individual brush strokes and the more hidden images.
Read the comments that are often available in guidebooks or on captions beside the pictures to learn about each work. Ask yourself what you feel the artist was trying to express. Step back or take a seat and take in the picture as a whole. What is the spiritual mood and temperature of the work? What emotions or feelings does it trigger within you? Does it provide any insight or window into your own experiences?
Be open to hear God speaking to you through this work of art. Before you leave consider which of the pictures was the most memorable for you – then buy a postcard of that picture from the gift shop as you leave and stick it on your fridge, in your Bible or somewhere else where your eyes will be drawn to it.
Visit www.britisharts.co.uk for a listing of galleries in your area.
3 - Read through the Bible One of the many things I love about my parents is their strong Bible reading habit. Each morning and evening they read scripture aloud and pray together. They use Bible reading notes and on several occasions have read through the Bible in a year. I’ve never managed it in 12 months myself, but why not set yourself a realistic goal to regularly read scripture and to work through all 66 books. Absorbing God’s word will build you up and feed your soul. Tyndale publishes a One Year Bible in the New Living Translation – while other publishers offer it in a two-year package. A helpful website www.backtothebible.org/devotions/bible_guides.htm offers a range of Bible reading plans including the books of the Bible in ‘chronological’ order, or ‘blended’ a mix of daily readings between different parts of the bible – this usefully mixes more challenging passages on obscure dietary laws from the Old Testament for example, with the easier to access scriptures like the gospels. Do also visit: www.oneyearbibleonline.com/ which is a brilliant resource. As well as suggesting a Bible in a year reading plan, you can read the daily scripture section on screen in a variety of translations or you can listen to it read to you. At www.oneyearbibleblog.com you can read daily scripture passages and discuss them through a blog section. If reading through the whole Bible seems too difficult a target, why not invest in Through the Bible, Through the Year – which explores in 365 selected daily readings the whole biblical story from Genesis to Revelation. With devotional thoughts from evangelical elder statesman and highly respected Bible teacher John Stott, this is a brilliant daily scripture help (Candle Books £12.99 ISBN 9781859856581).
4 - Grow your own foodMany of us who live in urban or suburban Britain are in danger of losing touch with how the food we eat is grown or reared. Jamie Oliver, among others, has attempted to wake us up to the way the food we eat has been produced. We take our daily bread for granted but it is important to be thankful and to be aware of whether our consumption damages God’s world or exploits farmers and other producers. Choosing Fairtrade products whenever we can is one practical step. Another is to grow some of our own food. If you live in a flat with no access to a garden you can still grow some plants on your windowsill. Humble mustard and cress on a damp piece of kitchen paper or herbs like parsley or mint are possible. With a garden or allotment the choice is huge. Eating a carrot that you have lifted from the ground minutes earlier is a taste sensation and so satisfying. Food you have grown yourself will not be coated with a cocktail of chemicals and will reconnect you with the miracle of the seasons and God’s creation. Contact your local council to find out about the cost and availability of allotments in your area. Gardening is also a great way for thegenerations to mix. I’ve had memorable conversations with older men offering me advice about growing vegetables and then telling me their life story as they lean on their spade at the allotments, while my children enjoy digging in the soil, hunting for bugs or harvesting blackberries.
I’ve just planted a Victoria plum tree in my back garden – this variety is selffertile so does not rely on another plum tree nearby. It may be that if we move I will not particularly benefit from the fruit – but planting a tree for the future benefit of others is a good environmental investment and a reminder of the uncertainty and frailty of our own lives.
Another possibility if your garden is big enough is chickens. Collecting warm eggs or digging up your own spuds is good fun and a great reminder where KFC chicken and fries actually come from!
5 - Music for the soulDiary some time when you will be in the house alone, then select an appropriate worship CD and get yourself comfortable. I like to have all the lights turned off and the curtains drawn with just one candle lit to help create a restful atmosphere. Then I lie out on the sofa, or flat on my back on some carpet and close my eyes, or you could adopt a kneeling position or sit with your eyes focused on the flickering light of the candle with the palms of your hands cupped in your lap. Confess your sins, ask for God’s forgiveness and cleansing then ask Him to fill you afresh with the Holy Spirit. Let your breathing slow and become deeper as you listen to the music. Meditate on the lyrics; let your focus dwell on God.
There are lots of praise and worship CDs to choose from or you might prefer instrumental music or a classical CD. As well as music you are familiar and comfortable with, try something different, you could borrow a CD from a friend or from your local library. Using music to help create an oasis space is a wonderfully intimate way to worship God and soak in his presence.
6 - Pray in an ancient churchIt can be inspiring to visit an ancient church to soak up the atmosphere and to pray. The knowledge that believers have met to worship God in that very place for centuries reminds us that whatever triumphs or struggles the church may be experiencing now in 2007 – we are part of a long-line of Christians who have experienced God’s transforming power and presence. This sense of history is most obvious in our ancient churches and cathedrals – absorb and delight in the acoustics, the architecture and glorious stained glass of our ancient churches. The larger churches and cathedrals were partly built to increase our sense of awe and wonder. They help us gain a different sense of perspective as we sense our smallness and God’s greatness.
Spend some time in silent prayer and ask God to help you capture His perspective on history. Harris’s Guide to Churches Cathedrals is a useful guide to over 500 unusual and ancient churches and cathedrals in England (Ebury Press, £25 ISBN 0091912512).
7 - Read for your lifeThere are some fantastic Christian books out there that will help you in your Christian walk – and there are some truly average Christian books out there that will bore you silly! How to choose a good book? One way is to read the reviews in Christianity magazine, but reviews are just one person’s opinion and the book they slate may be just right for you. So reviews are helpful but unless you know the individual reviewer and have discovered they love what you love, it is just a starting place. Visiting a good Christian bookshop and browsing for yourself - reading the book jacket blurb and asking the manager what they recommend - is probably your best route. A personal recommendation is helpful - friends at church or your small group, or if your minister is raving about a book, that’s a good sign. Also, websites sometimes include comments and reviews about individual books that can be informative.
Whatever route you choose I encourage you to read a book that will feed your spirit in the early months of 2007. Personally the three most helpful books that I have read in the past 12 months are; Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (Zondervan), Prayer by Phillip Yancey (Hodder Stoughton), and The Spirit Who Heals by Peter Lawrence (Kingsway). I have just started reading Issues Facing Christians Today by John Stott (Zondervan) – the fourth edition of this book has just been released and I am discovering why it is widely regarded as a classic.
John Buckeridge is the senior editor of Christianity magazine.