During the COVID-19 shutdowns and home-based work, I have taken up running again. It’s been a few decades since I last ran with any sort of commitment. As I’ve slowly stretched my legs, timidly stepped back onto the road, and actually started running, I’ve been surprised by how lessons from my middle school track coach (30+ years ago) have come back to mind.
“Concentrate on your breathing: In, 2, 3, 4; out, 2, 3, 4.”
“Keep your elbows moving close to your sides. Don’t let them stick out or flail around while you run. That way your whole body will move forward, instead of your top half moving side to side.”
“Lift with your quads. Let your bigger muscles do more of the work.”
In the past few months, I’ve met some physical obstacles. I’ve felt my quads and hamstrings stretch and then tighten up, reminding me that I’ve not used them like this for quite some time. Getting my neck, shoulders, and jaw to relax while running has been a bit of a challenge. But I’m getting there.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome has been mental: believing that I can actually run again, after all this time and with the extra weight I’ve put on. Even on my best days now, I’m taking nearly twice as long to cover the same distances I did 30 years ago. And that’s a battle in itself, just to give what I have today instead of comparing myself to what I used to do. It sounds weird to say, but running takes practice.
For the Present Life
Writing to Timothy, Paul advises: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Many of us have a basic understanding of how to go about physical training. But how do we train for godliness? In other words, how do we become more like Jesus?
The typical response to “spiritual disciplines” has been one of appreciation from a distance. “It’s great for those who can do them, but that’s not me.” The thought of actually succeeding at spiritual disciplines feels as daunting as competing in an ultramarathon. We simply can’t imagine a future where spiritual disciplines become consistent, formative practices in our lives. But the good news is that God meets each of us right where we are, and invites us to come “further up and further in” (as C.S. Lewis puts it) in our relationship with him.
An Aspirational Vision
The CRC is just about to launch into a new aspirational vision, naming four priorities, or milestones, for the next five years that can help us imagine who God is forming us to be. The first Our Journey 2025 priority is that we will “cultivate practices of prayer and spiritual discipline, transforming our lives and communities by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I really like this vision for three reasons: cultivate, personal and communal transformation, and the Holy Spirit.
Cultivate. We don’t put seeds in the ground on Day 1 and expect a fully mature fruit-bearing plant on Day 2. Cultivating takes time, attention, and resources. These same actions are at the heart of spiritual formation practices. In one sense, practices help create the conditions in which our love for God and for our neighbors can grow.
Personal and Communal Transformation. Faith practices are meant to help us live with each other more fully and faithfully as a community of Jesus’ followers. The transformation aspect helps us realize that these practices are not simply “good things to do,” but catalysts to help us grow.
The Holy Spirit. Ultimately, faith practices are not about what we can do. Rather, they are designed to help us become more attentive to the Holy Spirit’s presence and work within us and in the world around us. As we engage in faith practices, we learn in new and deeper ways that the Holy Spirit is the primary actor in making us more like Jesus Christ.
Help for the Journey
In support of this first milestone, Faith Formation Ministries is launching a five-year initiative called the Faith Practices Project. This project’s purpose is to curate and create resources, facilitate experiences, and encourage conversations that will invite all of us to more fully embrace an intentional, holistic, faith formative way of living.
Starting in September 2020, we will focus on one faith practice each month to create a baseline of resources that you can draw from to encourage and cultivate your own faith formation. Whether in your home, your church, your neighborhood, or your work and school settings, we believe these resources will strengthen all of us to live more fully and faithfully as disciples of Jesus Christ. We’re starting with sabbath, and you’ll soon see resources related to practicing gratitude and generosity. In the coming months and years—and in dialogue with you—we’ll release more opportunities for all of us to grow our faith in Jesus Christ together.
You will probably notice that there is no discipleship program to purchase. We’re not mass marketing a curriculum kit. The Faith Practices Project is designed to provide you with suggestions, perspectives, and stories of how you can cultivate a rich and life-giving faith. We invite you to freely adapt and apply these resources to your particular circumstances.
As you have questions or suggestions along the way, or if you want to share a story of how God is transforming your life through these practices, we’d love to connect with you: