These days, New Year’s resolutions often get a bad rap. It can seem unrealistic or naive to set goals for an entire year, before all the pressures and distractions of everyday life have kicked in. In fact, the whole point of setting a New Year’s resolution is that your goal won’t happen without focus and determination – without resolve. For Christians, it might even seem legalistic to place so much emphasis on hard work and discipline.
But there is something to be said for setting a clear goal with a clear timeline, and who doesn’t love the idea of a fresh start? The way we relate to our goals and ambitions can indeed be crushing, but not because setting goals is wrong!
Perhaps especially in Protestant churches, many Western Christians have lost touch with the long and glorious traditions of Christian spirituality, which have so much potential to deepen our relationship with God and bolster our spiritual formation. Each of the seven spiritual practices below is hand-picked for those purposes.
This 1500-year-old tradition is easier than ever to start practising regularly in 2024.
1. Lectio Divina
A spiritual practice that has made a comeback in recent years, Lectio Divina – ‘divine reading’ – is a monastic practice of reading Scripture, meditating, praying and contemplating. This is not intended to replace extended, thoughtful reading and studying of Scripture; the focus is less on analysis and more on participation.
There are four steps: read, meditate, pray, contemplate. The Lectio 365 app provides daily devotionals using the Lectio Divina method, so this 1500-year-old tradition is easier than ever to start practising regularly in 2024.
2. Scripture memorisation
Have you ever considered memorising a verse, a chapter or even a bigger chunk of the Bible? Here are five reasons to consider it in 2024:
- Memorising Scripture requires slow, repetitive reading of a passage so that you begin to look past surface-level observations and notice each word and phrase.
- Memorising Scripture enables you to think in the vocabulary and patterns of God’s word.
- Memorising Scripture means you have it with you in times of trouble, confusion or quick decisions.
- Memorising Scripture means you have it with you in conversation, whether you’re sharing the gospel with a neighbour or encouraging your brother or sister in Christ.
- Memorising Scripture enables you to fight temptation like Jesus, who quoted Scripture to Satan when he was tempted to sin and to doubt God.
3. Three simple patterns for prayer
Do you struggle to get into a rhythm with prayer? Here are three simple frameworks to get you started. The first is ACTS.
Adoration – Praise God for his glorious character.
Confession – Confess your sin to God in repentance and seek his forgiveness.
Thanksgiving – Thank God for his generous gifts, big and small.
Supplication – Ask God to give you your daily bread, whatever that might be.
The second framework borrows directly from Jesus, who told his disciples how to pray. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, pausing to riff on each line with your own corresponding words of praise, requests and confessions.
The third option is to pick up your denomination’s prayer book or liturgy. These are often full of beautiful prayers and declarations, soaked in Scripture.
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” – James 2:17
The Hebrew word ‘sabbath’ means ‘to stop’. Just as God created for six days and rested on the seventh, he commanded Israel to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. While most Christians consider the Sabbath no longer a commandment to be kept, many continue to recognise it as a rhythm built into God’s creation, of which each of us is, after all, a part.
If you want to embrace this profoundly counter-cultural practice in 2024, you might find these resources from Practising the Way helpful. Another great proponent of Sabbath is Andy Crouch, so here’s an interview he did with Practising the Way in 2022:
One of the most revolutionary social implications of the Christian revolution has been the treatment of the marginalised and downtrodden. In the words of the apostle James, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
Who in your community is in need of generosity or hospitality? How could you proactively seek to meet that need in 2024?
5. The Examen
The Daily Examen is a prayerful reflection practice intended to help you detect God’s presence and discern his activity and intentions in your life. Here is one version of the method from St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, which you could practice each evening:
i) Become aware of God’s presence by looking back on the day’s events and asking God to bring clarity and understanding by his Spirit.
ii) Review the day with gratitude, noting its delightful gifts, its work and its interactions.
iii) Notice your emotions, including ways that you sinned and fell short, as well as looking beneath your emotions and actions to the deeper desires and influences that fuel them.
iv) Pray from a feature of your day, moving spontaneously through the feelings and memories of a significant moment or event into prayer.
v) Look forward to tomorrow, paying attention to your attitudes towards it, and asking for wisdom, guidance, providence and hope.
7. Community worship
This one almost goes without saying, but not quite, especially during the holiday season. As 2024 approaches, are you connected to a community of Christian worship? Are you participating actively in it, or turning up out of habit, sitting passively in the pew?
How could you invest deeply in the community of God’s people where he has put you in 2024, joining your brothers and sisters in worshipping him?