Practical steps to cultivate a Spiritual Life
“You don’t have to live in the past. You don’t have to live in the future. You only have this moment.”
What an easy-sounding quote, right? It's simple, compact, and immediately actionable—just what you need when you're feeling stressed or anxious. But can we really just be present? Can we keep our anxiety from taking over our life?
Can attending a yoga class and eating a whole bag of kale chips really put me back on track? Or will I still wake up the next day with bill collectors on speed dial and that weird feeling that my identity is still based on being good at my job?
There are practical steps we can take to help us make spiritual growth happen in our lives. They might not be easy, but they're worth it. If we keep working at them, then over time, by God's grace, we will begin to make progress and begin to develop spiritually: making progress towards maturity as Christians; progressing towards Christlikeness; growing into people who are more effective at work; growing into people who are more effective in our relationships with other people.
Plan to wake up early.
Many religious traditions value the importance of waking up early. The Prophet Muhammad, for example, would wake up at dawn to pray and meditate. If you want to find a good balance between your spiritual life and other responsibilities, consider adopting his routine. It can be easy to get distracted by television or video games when you wake up late in the morning, but if you set an early alarm instead, you'll have a better chance of actually staying on track with your practice.
I recommend setting a time to wake up every day (even on days when step 2—having a plan for what you will do—isn't yet clear) because it provides the structure that is so helpful in keeping yourself on track in the long-term. Here's how I personally structure my morning routine:
Set an alarm for 5:30 AM every morning
Spend 15 minutes reading something spiritual (e.g., Koran or Torah)
Spend 15 minutes praying and/or meditating
Spend 10 minutes journaling about my reflections from prayer/meditation and goals for the rest of the day
Set aside a specific amount of time for your spiritual growth each day.
With so many responsibilities in your life and so many choices to make each day, it's easy to let spiritual growth slip off the radar. But if it's important to you, it's worth carving out time every day to work on your spiritual health. If you're struggling to find the time or want a plan, here are some steps we've found helpful:
First, decide how much of your day you want to dedicate specifically toward spiritual focus. Then divide that amount by the number of days in a week and set aside that specific amount of time for this purpose each day. For example, if you have decided that three hours is an appropriate amount of time for daily spiritual growth (the recommended minimum is one hour), divide three hours by five days and set aside 60 minutes for this purpose every day.
Next, determine what activities will fulfill your designated daily amount of spiritual growth through prayer, meditation, Bible reading/study, reflection, scripture journaling, giving charity or service to others (workshops can be particularly helpful for this), attending church services/activities/institutes/retreats/etc., discussing faith with friends and family members who share similar beliefs (as long as they are willing), etc. Make sure these activities are ones that will help move you toward achieving your personal goal(s) related to spirituality—for instance, finding peace within yourself or working on strengthening your testimony—and not just general practices like saying prayers at nighttime before bed or listening to religious music while driving in the car alone each morning during rush hour traffic.
Find a small group that meets regularly for prayer and Bible study.
Is it possible that, by your own inability to manage your time well, you're missing out on the chance to grow spiritually and understand God's purpose for your life? The Bible says that all of us are "called" to live for Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:21), so if you feel like somebody is calling or prodding you toward taking advantage of the opportunities that life offers you, take a moment and consider some ways in which God may be trying to get your attention.
Consider starting a small group of Christians who regularly meet in an atmosphere where their only task is fellowship with each other. Ideally they would meet every week and ideally they would pray together as a group. Maybe they share their study questions by email or post them on their blog.
Maybe they read Bible passages aloud together on a regular basis. They can keep journals of what happens during the service, but this material should never be shared outside the informal setting. It could also be called "the Lord's notebook," because these types of groups are designed to help people understand what exactly God has planned for them next in His divine plan.
Make a habit of rest and solitude.
When you're starting out in your spiritual growth journey, one of the most important lessons is that it's not always necessary to be doing something at the same time. We found ourselves feeling guilty all the time because we were spending too much time worrying about our how-to-manage-time list and not enough time just stopping and reflecting on what we'd learned. In reality, it's best to take a break from your busy life for one hour or so every day, whether that's by taking a walk, going to a museum, or doing a hobby like making masks or dolls.
Allowing yourself as much silence and rest as possible can help you gather more energy for spiritual growth—and remember, there is no such thing as downtime!
Learn something new.
Learning something new—whether it's a new language or an entirely new art form—is one of the best ways to grow as a person. In addition to increasing your knowledge, you'll find that you develop a deeper appreciation for the world around you, and once this appreciation is widespread and genuine, it will translate into more spiritual growth.
In addition to being pleasantly surprising, learning something new can also be extremely fun. You may get excited because of the personal reward (e.g., gaining a skill that makes you feel accomplished) or because of the sheer novelty (e.g., discovering something new in a culture or society that you're unfamiliar with). Either way, getting off on the right foot by learning something new is generally easier than getting off on the wrong foot by not trying at all.