These past couple of weeks we have been looking at discipline…something we all need but don’t always know how to go about pursuing. For believers, dependent discipline must be our heartbeat as we seek to depend on the Lord moment by moment…”striving with His strength that works powerfully in (us)” (Col. 1:29), and our daily discipline must find it’s foundation in sitting at Jesus’s feet and spending time in His Word. These truths are the starting point to living a disciplined and fruitful life…not an end in themselves. Spurgeon said it beautifully in his commentary on Ephesians 5:1-2:
“Meditation is a happy, holy, profitable engagement; and it will instruct us, strengthen us, comfort us, inspire our hearts, and make our soul steadfast. But we may not stop at meditation. We must go on to imitation of the character of God. We must let our spiritual life not only bud and blossom in devout thought, but let it bring forth fruit in holy action. We must not be satisfied with feeding the soul by meditation but rise up from the banquet and use the strength we have gained. Sitting at the feet of Jesus must be succeeded by following in the footsteps of Jesus.”
When it comes to daily discipline, planning is critical. You’ve probably heard the quote before, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”, but there is much truth in those words. If we “aim at nothing, we’ll hit it every time”. So, how do we “follow in the footsteps of Jesus” in this area of our lives? How do we pursue the fruit of “holy action”?
Jesus modeled this for us often in the Gospels. In Luke 5:15-16 we read, “But the news about him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet he often withdrew to deserted places to pray.” Author Jean Fleming says this about Jesus’s personal “retreats”:
“Jesus modeled and taught regular withdrawal into God’s presence. The Gospel of Mark, the most action-packed account of the life of Jesus, shows Him continually pulling back from opportunities to minister so that He could pray and listen to His Father. His life illustrates the perfect life; one of retreat followed by intense involvement in the world.”
A time of “retreat” may be just the place we need, too!
If we are going to properly plan for each day, we need to first prioritize our needs and the needs of those around us, as we prayerfully seek to discern God’s will in the season we find ourselves in. I have found this is best served by taking time away to plan…by retreating in order to ultimately advance (thanks, again, to the advice in “Shopping for Time”). For me, when it comes to planning, a few hours once a month is typically all I need in order to evaluate life and examine the routines that make up my family’s days. In those few hours, I typically seek to “map out” the coming month. A coffee shop is my favorite place to “retreat”, and my bag is packed with the essentials: my Bible, computer, calendar, paper for thoughts and meal plans, and my recipe folder.
Again, this could look different for you…but here’s how that time goes for me:
- I start with my calendar by writing down all the dates of activities and events that are already known to me: church related events, school events, and any personal activities that are already planned. Obviously, there are always activities that creep up or I was unaware of…but I have found this is a great start. Once those “fixed dates” are in place, I evaluate how many days we are “out” in a week (at night) vs. how many days we are home. I look for the weeks that are “lighter” and highlight a day or two to invite a family over for dinner. I usually pencil that time in and then plan to talk to Bryan about it later. This is also a great time to take note of birthdays. 🙂 If you are anything like me…it’s amazing how easy it is to forget to get that card out on time…or at least send that birthday email.
- Next, I move on to some personal goals. What blog posts do I want to write this month? I think through themes and ideas. I also evaluate areas such as: Bible study, exercise and diet, book reading and even my cleaning schedule. Was I consistent? What worked, what didn’t? Is there anything that needs to change? Do I need to involve the kids more in the day to day routines or are they already involved enough.
- Lastly, I take a good chunk of time to work on meal planning. Maybe this is not a critical area for you…but it’s a HUGE one for me. We do not have extra money to eat out and I can’t “fly by the seat of my pants” with 6 teenagers in the house. There may be levels of wiggle room in many other daily routines…but this is an area of “constant”. And, in all transparency, cooking has just never been on my list of “favorite things to do”, so I have to be extra diligent or it’s easy to make excuses and shirk my responsibility in this area. I don’t usually get a full month of meal plans written down, but I aim for 2 weeks at a time. That includes making up the grocery list to go with it. Yes, it takes time. Yes it is work, but it is TOTALLY worth it. And, invariably, we end up having enough food to do a leftover night here or there…or I don’t end up having to make a meal on a given night…and that extends my meal plan for another half a week or so.
These monthly “retreats” help me prioritize what is truly important…and look at the big picture of my life and the life of my family so that I can watch over the activities of my household with care and prayerfully laugh at the days to come more than I am stressed out by them (Prov. 31). Of course, I can guarantee that if I am not pursuing dependent discipline….there is always more crying than laughing going on. I’m amazed how quickly I rely on my own plans and organization instead of constantly surrendering my moments and days to the Lord! What hope is found in His Word, though!
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know Him, and He will make your paths straight. Don’t be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” Prov. 3:5-7
(There is one more tip that is indispensable in planning with purpose. On the human level, it is the key that allows my monthly planning to be executed with relative efficiency in our day to day operations. Next week I’ll share that tip as I wrap up this short series on discipline.)