It is January, and New Year’s resolutions are made and hung with pride like banners flapping in the wind. But just around the corner is February, when a vast majority of those new resolution banners will be ripped up, rolled up, and resigned, to be cast into the pile of resolutions that were so well intended, but designed to fail just the same.
If your New Year’s Resolution is to develop greater Spiritual Discipline (and if you don’t have one, this would be a good one: 1 Timothy 4:7,8 urges us to “train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things”) then how can you set yourself up for success instead of failure? There is a way. Know your enemy, know your allies, and be sure to place accountability in the hands of a trusted fellow warrior of the faith.
Know your enemy
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around round like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8). As soon as Satan learns of your new resolution to become more godly, you can expect a full assault of temptations, doubts, and every other type of snare he can muster. He is excited and desperate to see you fail. He knows that an increase in your spiritual discipline would produce a dramatic transformation in your own walk with God that would impact your ministry and the lives of the students in your care in a powerful way. He would like nothing more than to see your attempts at a strengthened prayer life, an increased amount of scripture reading, and growth in your relationship with God rot, disintegrate, and die.
Satan may even enlist the help of others, using your friends, family, colleagues, etc. to bombard you with reasons to do something better with your time. Be alert. Set the excuses aside. Keep marching under your new banner of spiritual discipline.
Know your allies
In the heat of this battle, it is important for you to remember that you do not march under this banner of spiritual discipline alone. In fact, you have a great multitude fighting for you and with you.
God himself is your chief ally. He desires more from you. He yearns for a deeper relationship with you. And he is eager to see your deepening spiritual discipline produce a bountiful harvest of spiritual fruits. He is marching right alongside you, helping you hold your banner of spiritual discipline high.
When you sense your strength getting sapped by the enemy, and doubts and temptations cause your banner to falter, remember, “the God of all grace will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). God is your greatest ally in this new crusade. And with him, all things are possible.
God will also send (and probably has sent) others to rally beside you to aid you in your cause of increased spiritual discipline. Seek them out. Open your eyes and heart to recognize who they are. You will see them as the ones who march with their own banner of spiritual discipline held out before them. Lean on them, and side-by-side you will gain strength and encouragement to battle Satan and his doubts and temptations. “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9). You are not alone. Join with others who struggle in the same battle.
Develop an ally of accountability
Aside from being the source of all our strength and encouragement, God also bolsters our chances of success through the gracious gift of accountability. When you see a brother or sister in the faith with a spiritual discipline banner held aloft, rally beside him or her. Seek to develop a deep relationship. Share your weaknesses; share your strengths. Lean on that ally when you are weak, and share his or her burden when you see him or her struggle.
It is a great joy to stand together in this battle with another spiritual warrior. God is at work in this type of relationship, fueling it with the passion for increased spiritual discipline. Work together, set goals together, and hold one another accountable to those goals.
Meet on a regular basis. Share a reading plan with your closest ally. Read the same portions of God’s Word together. Discuss those chapters, where you struggle, where you doubt, where you succeed, and where you see the other doing the same. Remember to minister to one another, generously pouring out the healing grace of Christ into each other’s aching wounds. In this way, you will be the continued incarnation of Jesus in your accountability partner’s life, and you will grow in your understanding of God through an understanding of one another.
In addition to God’s Word, study other books that challenge you and cause you to grow in your awareness of who God is calling you to become. Grow in your gifts, and strengthen your weaknesses. Read books that equip you to seek God’s will in your life. Read books that develop your interests and passions. And remember to set goals for yourself and enlist the help of your accountability ally to hold you to them.
And through the entire process, do not forget the power of prayer. Pray for your self, and pray for your accountability partner. Know that your God-given ally is doing the same for you. There comes great strength in knowing that your prayers are not alone, that someone else is caring for your needs, lifting you up to God for strength, courage, and passion to seek a higher level of spiritual discipline.
Develop a relationship that is open, genuine, and sincere. Develop a relationship that is surrounded by love. This is vital, so that when you see your brother or sister in this fight struggle, or show signs of faltering, you will have a credible, caring voice for admonishing, correcting, or strengthening your brother or sister. “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
And as your time together continues on a regular basis, you will strengthen each other, encourage each other, and rally each other forward under your common banner of spiritual discipline. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
So unfurl the banner of your New Year’s Resolution of greater spiritual discipline. Hold it high. Remain alert for the enemy. And rely on God and those he sends to rally around you. Stand firm in the faith and know that all the power of God is with you.