by Shannon Caughey
Here’s a goal you likely have for the new year: keep getting better. You want to continue getting better at coaching in transformational ways. If you’re married, you want to be an even better husband or wife. If you have kids, you want to keep getting better as a parent. As a follower of Jesus, your overall goal for the coming year is to grow spiritually: to keep getting better at living for Christ in all areas.
How does this growth happen? By God’s grace, it’s about to doing the right things in the right ways with the right consistency. The follow-up question is: what are these “right things”? Growth in living for Christ has many parallels to what’s needed for an athlete to keep getting better. It requires looking to the right leader, consuming the right things, developing the right muscle memory, drawing upon the right help, and being the right teammate. We’ll look more closely at each of these in this series of devotions.
First, growth requires looking to the right leader. Athletes who want to keep getting better seek out a knowledgeable coach. They depend upon this coach to enable them to improve. In the best situations, a strong relationship develops between the athlete and coach as the athlete trusts the coach and responds to this coach’s instruction. Similarly, to grow spiritually we need to look to the right leader: the One who is Lord over all and Lord of our life. He has the knowledge and ability to enable us to improve. We grow as we develop a strong relationship with the Lord, trusting him and responding to his leadership. A key way we do this is through prayer.
Prayer is a conversation with God that flows out of our dependence upon him and leads to a deepening relationship with him. The role of prayer in our spiritual life is often compared to the role of breathing in our physical life: it’s crucially important! The Bible is filled with teaching about prayer, examples of prayer, and encouragement to pray. Here’s just one verse, Colossians 4:2, that urges us to prioritize prayer: “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and thankful heart.”
Col. 4:2 highlights three characteristics of prayer. As you look to the Lord as your Leader and pray with these characteristics, you’ll keep getting better at living for Christ.
1) Diligence – To “devote yourselves to prayer” is to make conversation with God a daily part of your life. Diligence is needed. As you exercise this diligence in coming to God in prayer day after day, you experience a growing closeness with him. This deepening relationship with the Lord leads to all kinds of fruit in your life.
2) Responsiveness – Praying “with an alert mind” is about recognizing that God is communicating with you and responding to him. You talk to God, and you also pay attention to what he is saying to you. While we normally don’t hear an audible voice from God, he uses different ways to speak, lead, and work in our minds and hearts as we pray. You grow as you respond to what God is doing during your prayer conversations with him.
3) Gratitude – In addition to looking to God for direction and help, Col. 4:2 says to pray with “a thankful heart.” When you consistently come to God with thankfulness, something happens in your own heart and in your relationship with him. Gratitude involves recognizing what God’s already done – including in answer to previous prayers – and this encourages you to trust and follow him even more. Gratitude also honors the Lord as the source of your ability to grow. Apart from him you can do nothing of lasting value (John 15:5).
While so much more could be said about the crucial importance of prayer in growing spiritually, Col. 4:2 is a great place to start. Pray with diligence, responsiveness, and gratitude. Cultivate an ongoing conversation with God that flows out of your dependence upon him and leads to a deepening relationship with him. Look to the Lord as your Leader and he will enable you to get better at living for him.
For reflection: What specific steps is God leading you to take to grow in praying with diligence, responsiveness, and gratitude? Talk with him about this. Trust his power and grace to enable you to follow through on these steps.