4 Questions to Help You Grow Spiritually This Summer
One of the exciting things about summer is that it always offers something of a spiritual growth blank canvas. Vacations get planned, daylight comes sooner and lasts longer, and visions of golf courses, ice cream stands, and picnics begin to dance in my head! May has become an annual alarm to start dreaming about the book list I’m going to conquer, the state parks I’m going to hike through, and the new spiritual disciplines I’m going to begin. Whether “school’s out for summer” or we find ourselves in a nine-to-five job five days a week, summer beckons us with it’s relaxed rhythm and casual pace.
Several years ago, I was introduced to the beautiful imagery of Psalm 1:1-3 and began committing it to memory. Now I rarely go more than two or three weeks without closing my eyes and visualizing what the psalmist is trying to convey about the those who “delight in the law of the LORD.” As you read these verses, I invite you to slow down for a minute and picture the words. What thoughts do these images stir up? What are you feeling as you read?
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers. (italics mine)
Planted. Yielding fruit. No withering. Prospering. I don’t know about you, but I could use more of all that in my life!
When summer comes I always think this is going to be the year I develop the lifelong habits that propel me into a lifestyle of Psalm 1 living. And yet . . . I seem to get stifled year after year. My Psalm 1 dreams make less mental noise than the theme song of Goldie and Bear, which is passionately requested by my toddler most days. My desires to experience Psalm 1 benefits don’t have the staying power that completing that next season on Netflix does. My felt need to “meditate on [God’s] law day and night” just isn’t as urgent as the to-do list currently on my desk or the latest text request from my wife.
But before we all get bummed out, give up, and pack it in until football season, let me share some questions I’ll be asking myself over the next few weeks to try to make this summer different.
1. What is my spiritual growth plan for this summer?
I’m increasingly convinced that steadfast Psalm 1 living eludes me because I often fail to make a realistic plan. It’s not enough for me to read these three verses and simply desire for them to be true. I need to open a note on my phone, put a pen to paper, or tell a friend over a cup of coffee a real set of possible actions that I’d like to take.
How do I hope to grow spiritually?
What “helpful suggestions” have people oh-so-gently offered that have made me mad? (Hint: if I’m upset and defensive there’s a good chance those people are onto something!)
What have I been saying I need to do for a long time but simply haven’t put into action?
This could be the summer when we actually make a real plan.
2. What could derail my plan?
My wife lovingly tells me that I’ve trained our three-year-old to wrestle me and that his desire to climb on, tackle, and growl at me are 100 percent the result of my conditioning. While it’s completely worth it, I have learned that dissecting the book of Romans is challenging while simultaneously being a human jungle gym. It’s also quite challenging to spend eight hours at a state park with a newborn and toddler. And knocking out Nelson Mandela’s 625-page Long Walk to Freedom is downright depressing if I only budget 30 minutes a week to read it.
I need to accept the inevitable realities my current season of life has dealt me and proactively plan for what will derail me. What times of the day do I have the most energy to give toward implementing my plan? When am I most likely to be lazy and turn into a couch potato? Where is the off button on my phone and how frequently will I use it? (The Apple “User’s Manual” might be a helpful tool for you if you aren’t comprehending my line of logic here.) Let’s recognize where we’ll be derailed and get ahead of it!
3. Who can help me make or keep my plan?
My motivation toward a lifestyle of spiritual growth improves dramatically when I remember that I’m not alone in this quest of Psalm 1 living. What if groups of friends covenanted with me to “delight in the law of the LORD” in community? What if “a tree” in verse three is simply a description of one of the hundreds of trees along that particular section of the riverbank yielding fruit and prospering?
When my wife knows the commitments I’ve made, she can ever-so-politely ask me, “Sweetheart, do you think watching that episode of The Office for the sixth time is a better use of your time than reading some more of Long Walk to Freedom?” When my friends know that I’m trying to read the book of Nehemiah twice this summer, they can read it also and join me for some 4 for $4 at Wendy’s to discuss it.
Who are the seasoned people ahead of you in the faith whom you can invite into your spiritual growth planning? Who might God have placed in your path to invest in (and keep you accountable) as you execute your plan over the coming weeks?
4. What resources already exist that I might benefit from?
To state the obvious, the Bible is a good place to start! What translation of the Bible do you best connect with? How easy is it for you to cart your Bible around in your purse or satchel? I’ve been blessed in this season of life by listening to the Bible on my phone. The YouVersion Bible App makes this incredibly easy to do in a wide variety of translations.
InterVarsity Press also has a tremendous wealth of resources like LifeGuide Bible Studies that help me walk through various books of the Bible or topics. Fifteen minutes on the iTunes podcast collection could yield more resources than you could listen to for a year. The Spiritual Disciplines Handbookby Adele Calhoun and The Road Back to Youby Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile are two books that are already helping kick-start my summer growth plan. Where might you find some grab-and-go resources that will make it easier for you to implement your plan?
I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say, “You know, Andrew, I’m really just not busy at all. I’ve got so much energy and so little going on in my life that I’m just pretty bored.” Most of us live with far too much on our plates and significantly less space than we feel like we need. Executing a summer growth plan will simply not happen by accident or in the margins of your life. As my family adjusts to life with a newborn, I’m fully convinced that my plan will change, get derailed, desperately need the help of those around me, and depend completely on resources galore. Will you join me in making this a summer where we all actually plan for and act toward real spiritual growth?