Anyone who wants to succeed at something needs a plan. The woman training for a marathon sets aside time for her workouts. The entrepreneur creates a business plan. The architect and engineer create floor plans and schematics. How much more ought we to attend to the growth and structure of our immortal souls?
In Numbers 28 God gives the Israelites a summary of the various sacrifices and festivals they are commanded to have each year. There are daily, weekly, monthly, and annual sacrifices and gatherings that the Lord’s people are called to. Thinking in this framework has been immensely helpful for me when it comes to structuring my own rhythms of spiritual growth. Here’s a breakdown of how I apply each of these;
In Numbers 28:1-8 God describes the sacrifices that are to be made to him every morning and evening, as “a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” For the Israelites this sacrifice was a constant reminder of their sin and their need for purification by blood. For us Jesus’ blood has completely covered our sins once and for all. However, we are called to offer ourselves as “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12) day by day.
The practical way that I do this is by setting aside time first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening for getting in the Lord’s presence. In the morning I’ve carved out 20 minutes in my schedule to read the Word and pray. In the evening I end my day with several minutes of thought and prayer as I prepare for bed. Create daily space for interaction with our Lord. Develop a rhythm of daily devotion. This is the cornerstone of our spiritual growth.
In addition to the daily sacrifices the Israelites were called to set aside the Sabbath as a holy day, free from work and focused on their Savior King. Most Christians already have the weekly rhythm of attending church, however, we are desperately in need of Sabbath. In a culture that worships productivity one of the hardest things to do is actually set aside a day for rest.
In Isaiah 58 God declares that if his people “call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable…then you shall take delight in the Lord.” (v. 13, 14a) These verses deserve their own post, but it’s an amazing statement that when we keep the Sabbath our love for God grows. Is your spiritual life dry and lacking in passion? It may well be because you’re spirit is in need of rest.
Put in place the weekly rhythm of Sabbath. Set aside a day where you will not work, do homework, or fill up your schedule with activities. Make it a day holy to the Lord, set aside for rest and joy. For my wife and I that means we don’t do any of the work on our to-do list and generally spend the day doing whatever fills us up. Things like going on walks, reading a good book together, taking a nap, praying together, and more than likely watching a good movie in the evening are what make up our Sabbaths. Want to grow spiritually? Start practicing Sabbath.
We generally understand the concept of daily and weekly “devotions,” but these last two sections found in Numbers 28 are somewhat outside the evangelical norm. God commands the Israelites to set aside the first day of each month for specific extra sacrifices. The way I’ve translated this into my life is to set aside a day or two each month for reflection and special focus. I think back over the last month, praising God for the things that he blessed and repenting of any sins that stand out. I review the goals I’d set and their progress, making new goals for the next month.
For those who are married or perhaps have a family, setting aside one weekend a month as a “family weekend” would be an amazing thing. Take a family trip or stay at home all weekend. Play games together, explore somewhere new. Pray together as a family or a couple. Push out space in your schedule on a monthly basis for engaging in something different. Use it as a way to break your normal rhythms. Try fasting for a day. Turn off all the electronics you own for a full 24 hours. When used well this monthly rhythm can be a massively rejuvenating escape from day-to-day life and allow you to return with renewed vigor to the labor God has for you.
Within Israel’s life as a nation God instituted several annual festivals, ranging in length from a day or two to up to a week. These were times for communal celebration, thanksgiving, repentance, and re-orientation toward the Lord. They were times where families traveled to be together and feast before the Lord.
In America we already have holidays in place with things like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July. The problem is that our rushing culture leaves our holidays as nothing more than a consumerist blur. I’ve certainly noticed this in myself as I’ve grown up. The last couple Christmases and Thanksgivings have barely been a day long affair that came upon me and then was gone. There was no real emotional or physical preparation, no making holy the days, and almost no time given to enjoying the space that has been instituted to call us back to the Lord.
As Christians I believe we need to set aside the sacred space of holidays for remembrance and rest. My hope for this quick-approaching holiday season is to make sure that Thanksgiving and Christmas are actually valuable things, not just a day of hurry. That means we invest the time and money needed to really celebrate. We decorate, make delicious food, tell stories, worship, spend time with family, ignore work, and basically have a load of fun.
My prayer is that these rhythms will give you a framework to build on. As the Apostle Paul writes, we are to “work out our salvation”. There is rich peace and joy found in a life that is connected with its creator in daily, weekly, monthly, and annual rhythms. May the Lord bless you and give you the taste of his glorious grace that leaves you hungry for more.