So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:
Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work,
and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God.
You’ll be changed from the inside out.
Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.
Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity,
God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)
Because no one drifts into spiritual maturity, it is helpful to have an intentional plan, to be aware of what we are allowing to form us. The reality is we all have a soul-training plan whether we are conscious of it or not. We all have a rhythm through which we live out our days. And it is forming us. It is shaping who we are becoming.
Because we want to be focused on growing with God, so that God is the one shaping us from the inside out each day, we invite you to craft a God-focused soul-training plan.
“It (a soul-training plan) is a balanced and wholesome pattern that helps define how we want to live. It is a constant reminder of how we would like to live. It can help us to go beyond merely good intentions and into action.”
James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Community, p.191
A soul-training plan, at its most basic, is a list of practices you intend to engage with God through on a somewhat regular or consistent basis. It provides a framework for how we do “our part” in cooperation with the Holy Spirit on our spiritual journey.
It is important to remember that a soul-training plan is a means to an end. The end is to know God, follow Jesus, and pursue His purposes in the world. A soul-training plan is a like a trellis to help us – as Jesus invites in John 15 – to abide in the vine and bear much fruit.
Let’s craft a soul-training plan together:
We have created a template you may find useful in creating or updating a soul-training plan. You can download the template here.
Pray. Ask God to show you what practices He is inviting you into with him. Ask Him to show you how you can keep company with Jesus so you can develop with God an unforced rhythm of grace that allows you to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)
Select Practices. Write down any practice that attracts your attention or you feel drawn to include. Write down any practices you are already engaging in.
(On the template we have included categories of practices to get you started. We left space for you to write in specific practices. Some examples soul-training exercise are provided below.)
Be sure to include practices that you find fun and enjoyable as well as ones that might be a bit harder but address an area of needed growth. Pay attention to where you are (life-stage, discipleship stage, personality) and what YOU need. Avoid the temptation to overload your plan.
Determine Frequency. Decide how often you want to engage with each practice. Consider things you might practice daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Again, avoid the temptation to overload your plan. The goal is to have a balanced, sustainable plan.
Start Practicing Your Plan. Begin. Be prepared to re-evaluate and adjust. Don’t let your soul-training plan become legalistic or rigid. It should feel like freedom – it’s an invitation to be with Jesus. The goal of a healthy soul-training plan is to draw us closer to God, moving us on the life-long pathway of transformation, moving us from curiosity to Christoformity (having Christ formed in us).
Examples of Soul-Training Practices (Spiritual Disciplines):
12 Classical Spiritual Disciplines
(from Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster)
Inward Outward Corporate
Meditation Simplicity Confession
Prayer Solitude Worship
Fasting Submission Guidance
Study Service Celebration
Soul-Training Exercises from James Bryan Smith’s Good and Beautiful Trilogy
The Good and Beautiful God:
Sleep, Silence and Awareness of Creation, Counting Your Blessings, Praying Psalm 23, Lectio Divina, Margin, Reading the Gospel of John, Solitude, Slowing Down
The Good and Beautiful Life:
Writing a Letter to God, Play, Hospitality, Keeping the Sabbath, Media Fast, Silence, Praying for the Success of Competitors, Secret Service, Deaccumulation, Prayer, A Day without Gossip, Living One Day Devotionally
The Good and Beautiful Community:
Two Hours with God, Four Acts of Peculiarity, Sharing Your Faith, Treasuring Our Treasures, Loving Those We Disagree With, Experiencing Reconciliation, Finding an Accountability Friend, Stewardship of Resources, Worship, Writing a Soul-Training Plan
The list of possibilities is unlimited; nearly anything can be a spiritual practice if it turns our heart toward God. We have curated guides for scripture, prayer, and other soul-training exercises.