“Your priorities are the things you plan for.”1
We make plans for lots of things: vacations, projects around the house, and many things in our jobs. But do we plan to become more holy?
Either I must intend to stop sinning or not intend to stop. There is no third possibility. I must plan to follow Jesus fully or not plan to follow him.2
Planning speaks of intention. What do we intend? Lent is a time to reflect on our spiritual progress. It is a time to make a plan for a period of time to develop our holiness and knowledge of God. It is often a time of both renunciation (giving up something) and increased activity. One may decide to give up a type of food or certain pursuits, as well as increasing time spent in prayer or reading Scripture.
How do we make a “spiritual plan?” Some of the following principles of Lenten observance apply more widely. The church calendar has other seasons outside of Lent and we can plan for the seasons of Easter, Pentecost, Advent, or Epiphany as well.
We make a spiritual plan the same way we make any other plan. I’ve spent a fair amount of time working in organizations obsessed with planning and I have come to realize there are really only a few steps to making and executing a plan, despite the myriad emphasis and ways of packaging them. As I look back and interpret various planning frameworks in light of each other, from academic to military, it occurred to me that this could (should!) be applied to my religious activity as well.
Here is a basic outline for how to make a “spiritual growth plan.”
- Where am I? I need to take an honest assessment of the current situation. What are my challenges, limits, struggles, needs? What demands are upon me that I don’t have much control over?
- Where do I want to go? This may be easy to answer, or it might take more discernment and prayer, but try to keep this separate from step #3 on ways to get there. My goal might be to eliminate sin or increase my love for God while one “way to get there” might be to memorize 20 verses of scripture. Memorizing scripture itself should not be the goal. It may be helpful to seek the counsel of someone wise in the faith.
- How do I get there? Considering where I am and where I want to go, I need to try to figure out how to get closer to my destination. Here again, wise counsel can be helpful. I must consider what spiritual disciplines may aid in my pursuit.
- Draft plan. At this point, I should write down my goal, some ways to move toward that goal, a way to know if I am making progress, and a time limit. A way to evaluate progress is necessary to know if the plan is effective, and a time limit keeps me from becoming overwhelmed. It gives me a fixed point to move toward.
- Discern. Is this God or is it me? Do I have what I need to carry out this plan? Is it attainable? Am I willing to commit to this? Here again, I might discuss my plan with someone else and then make any adjustments as necessary.
- Commit. I will begin on _____.
- Prepare to begin. This may be minimal or it might take some time depending on the plan I have committed to. Do I need to buy a book? Re-arrange my schedule?
- Begin. I should carry out my plan until I reach my end-date or my goal, resisting the urge to adjust too much mid-stream.
- End. Commemorate the end-date. Maybe set a meeting with my trusted mentor.
- Evaluate. What did I seek? What did I find? Where did I fall short? What did God teach me through this? Where I am now? (This leads easily back to #1)
Eventually, this can become our natural rhythm of life. Just as we don’t have to consciously work through the steps of driving to a new location—get directions, take license, check gas level—some seasons will present themselves to us, like Lent, Advent, or a major life change. Sometimes we just have to listen to the prompting of the Spirit to know it is time to re-look at what we are doing and how we are doing it.
May we all plan to follow Christ.
2Willard, Dallas, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Harper One: New York, 1988. p. 13