Spiritual strength is a bit like physical strength – if you don’t allocate time to it, it is foolish to think it will improve.
So, a key is to figure out how to allocate time consistently to develop spiritually. The classic formula for this is pray in the morning and then in the evening. First in the morning is a time pregnant with possibility, before the concerns of the day have a chance to distract or preoccupy the mind. Just before bed is particularly interesting because it can prime the mind to work on problems while asleep (but the downside is people are often tired at this point, even falling asleep if they attempt to pray). Regardless, figure out a time that might work for your schedule, and then develop it into a habit.
Allocating time is the first step. Then, you have to get results, so the question becomes how to get more rapid results – again, just as with developing physical strength. A person can set aside time for developing physical strength, but not get rapid results, and so with spiritual practice. So, you need to be experimenting, reading, trying things, and noticing what works for you – what gets results.
There is another arch-habit before we get into more specific habits, and that is to walk with God.
In the story of Noah (Genesis 6:9), Noah walks with God, and it is this walking with God that allows him to save humanity in a time of a disaster. So, walking with God is very important in this story.
To walk with God is to make time to be with Him, and to follow his way.
So, first, make time to walk with God. This can be any part of your day, but you need to make time to focus on your connection to God. It is in this time that you can cultivate the sense of God’s presence in your heart and mind.
Once you’ve made time, you reach out your heart and mind to sense his presence. Internally, this is being quietly open to God. It is in this state that you can ask and listen, again being open to God’s guidance.
This then leads to acting based on the inspiration you receive not only at this time, but also that this time allows you to receive later on. So, this leads to following His way.
One way to ‘walk with God’ is to literally walk with God. To go out on a walk, and during that time, to open up to God’s presence. This can be done with many other activities, and this practice can then be extended to more and more time during the day. This is the prayer that ‘never ceases’, a continual practice of walking with God throughout your day.
Here I discussed the habit of opening up your heart. Let’s get into some more details on this core habit, including more details on just how to do this.
Here is a diagram showing the basic relations surrounding this practice.
You can see that God’s love flows into you because you have an open heart, and that results in God’s presence in your heart. This then flows through you to others in your actions.
When God is present in our hearts, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the archetypal temple of the Holy Spirit, and made this clear when he told people that if they ‘destroyed this temple he would raise it up in 3 days’. In ancient Jewish tradition, God was present in the temple (a building), but Jesus is saying here God is present in him.
So in Christianity, buildings are temples -> people are temples. We become a temple by letting God into our heart. A simple way to do this is by saying
“God, please enter into my heart, fill it with your goodness and love.”
The words here are not as important as the feeling or sentiment – the sincere movement of the will and heart towards this.
Once we are acting as a temple and God’s love is present,the next step is to let that love flow out into the world. When Jesus gives the parable of the talents, he says “To those who have much, more will be given.” The talent (a kind of coin) was connotative of the presence of God, and it is this cycle he presumably had in mind.
The more you open yourself to God’s presence and let His love flow through you, the more it will flow into (and through) you.
The ask-listen-act cycle is central to Christian practice, but before or simultaneous with that cycle is another habit that is very important. This habit is
Open up your heart, ask God to come.
Opening up your heart to God can lead to experiencing the presence of God, and to cultivating the live connection between you and Him. It therefore helps in all of the ask-listen-act habits. In a way it is an arch-ask-listen-act habit, as you are simultaneously opening your heart and mind, and asking God to come into your heart, life, and day.
It is only by having this live connection, this concrete sense of God, the feeling of God in your heart, that much of other Christian practice makes sense. For example, thanksgiving and loving God make more sense when you have a large number of experiences of God’s presence, which involves a sense of His love.
God’s spirit is often described in Christianity as the ‘living water’ – the more you allow Him to flow through you, the more He flows through you. This virtuous cycle starts with opening your heart to God, and asking him to come.
The ask-listen-act cycle is a cornerstone of Christian practice. The steps are simple.
- Ask God. (“Ask and ye shall receive.”)
- Listen to God for possibilities.
- Act. (“Thy will be done.” Done by whom? You. When? Now.)
The most important instance of this cycle is the one involving asking God what it is we ought to ask for. That is the arch-cycle. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” is essentially this core cycle of the ask-listen-act cycle – seek to find out what God wants, listen to what He tells you, and act on it.
Why ask and listen to God? Because He is very wise and wants what is best for you. The possibilities that God knows are probably much greater than the possibilities you would conventionally consider.
The ask-listen-act cycle is a central Christian habit to implement in your everyday life, and leads naturally to much of the other core Christian habits.
Each of the steps is a habit in its own right, which can be expanded upon, but knowing the basic cycle is important as well.