As a discipleship pastor I often describe what I do as creating new and strategic opportunities for people to engage in discipling relationships. These opportunities are meant to facilitate spiritual growth. One of the biggest challenges and questions leaders like me wrestle with is: Are we making a difference in people's lives? Or framed another way: How is God changing people's lives through this church? This line of thinking is similar to the business leader who wants to know if they and their company are winning. We all want to know if we're succeeding at accomplishing our mission.
So a couple years ago I created a tool to help our leadership measure how people are growing and maturing in their spiritual walk. It's called the Spiritual Growth Assessment and it's designed to create awareness in the participant related to specific spiritual disciplines and practices that we believe contribute the most to a person's growth. The assessment also helps participants identify strength areas as well as opportunities for future growth. As an aside, this is an annual requirement for membership within our church. A link to the most recent version is provided here.
As I began reviewing people's responses I was surprised by what I saw in response to the question, "How has your life been changed by God over the past year?" This is an open-ended, subjective question, but for us if lives aren't being changed by God's power and in His grace, then we're not doing our jobs very well. The responses were varied as you might expect, but I was most surprised and caught off guard by the number of times someone said something like this:
"I lost my relationship with God."
"Nothing has changed over the past year."
And my knee-jerk response to these comments is, "Really??? You mean after a year nothing has changed? Come on. You're kidding me." But what I realized is just how strange the assessment process is which is why I'm writing this post.
It's strange because self-reflection has quickly become a lost art to many of us. There is an ever-increasing need to cultivate a reflective mind - a mind that reflects on what's most important in life. I've noticed that when it comes to cultivating a reflective mind, there are internal and external barriers. The most often cited are fear, busyness, and noise.
- Fear. We're afraid of our own thoughts and what we'll discover about ourselves. We don't share King David's heart when he says, "Search me, O God, and know my anxious thoughts within me." Some of us are intimidated by our own thoughts. Reflection, we're afraid, will drudge up the stuff we've buried deep within.
- Busyness. It's a common misperception that there's simply not enough time during the day for self-reflection. We're simply too busy to stop for reflection. Our calendars reflect a flurry of activity with little or no time blocked out for taking stock of what matters most in our lives.
- Noise. Quiet is a luxury many of us cannot find. Nor are we sure we want to. We're accustomed to the constant barrage of noise around us. Noise inhibits our ability to be still even for a few moments to think, focus, and recall yesterday's events.
The bad news is there are forces working against your ability to cultivate a reflective mind. The good news is, it doesn't have to be this way. Equipped with the right tools, you can experience the many benefits of self-reflection like:
- Recall and remember God's faithfulness. God is always at work behind-the-scenes of our lives. Reflection gives us eyes to see how God showed up and builds up our confidence in Him.
- Express your gratitude. This one has been a biggie for me. Daily reflection gives me the chance to say "thanks" and to share what I'm most grateful for in my life.
- Life lessons learned. Without trying to be deeply profound, one of the best benefits of reflection is learning simple life lessons. The more often we ask ourselves what we're learning we realize we are actually learning - even if it's the simplest thing.
Cultivating a reflective mind doesn't take much to get started. But you do have to commit to the process to see the benefit. I've been practicing expressing my gratitude for 51 days now and it's quickly becoming my favorite spiritual discipline. Here's how I got started (thanks to Bill Hybels):
- You need a journal and pen or a journal app. Paper and pen are recommended.
- You need a time and space like every morning at 6:00am at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. That's what I do. Do what works best for you.
- Commit to reflecting for just 10 minutes a session.
- Begin with yesterday. Write a paragraph or two recounting yesterday's events.
- Don't be profound.
- Write no more than one page per day.
- Write out a daily prayer.
- Sit quietly and say, "Lord, I invite you to speak to me by your Holy Spirit. I'm listening."
Reflecting on his own spiritual pilgrimage, Bill Hybels says, "No one can become an authentic Christian on a steady diet of activity...Decisions that change the entire course of your life come out of the holy of holies, your times of stillness before God."
What disciplines or habits help you the most to cultivate a reflective mind? I'd love it if you'd share those with me.